The country's two largest Civil War battlefield preservation organizations have merged as part of a plan to increase fund-raising, purchase more threatened sites and reach a larger audience through education programs.

The Civil War Trust of Arlington and the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites of Hagerstown, Md., are now the Civil War Preservation Trust. The new organization, voted into existence Nov. 12, represents more than 40,000 members nationwide.

The public announcement was made yesterday at Washington's historic Willard Hotel by the new top officials, board Chairman Carrington Williams and President O. James Lighthizer. Williams is a former trustee of the Hagerstown association, founded in 1987, and Lighthizer is a former board member of the trust, which was formed in 1991.

"The needs are great, the funds are few and the time to save many of these battlefields is running short," said Williams, chairman of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield National Historic District Commission. "This merger represents a rare opportunity to combine the talents of two formidable organizations to preserve Civil War history."

Lighthizer, a former Maryland transportation secretary who used federal transportation enhancement funds to preserve Civil War battlefields, said the merger represents "a combination of the very best the Civil War community has to offer for the purpose of saving threatened battlefields."

Together, the two former organizations already have saved nearly 10,000 acres of endangered battlefield land at more than 50 sites in 15 states. The new target list of 11 "highly endangered battlefields" was released yesterday and included South Mountain in Maryland and Brandy Station and Third Winchester in Virginia.

The merger brings together two groups that sometimes competed with each other for the same pool of money. The new organization's first goal is a campaign to raise $16 million to be eligible for a 2 to 1 match from the $8 million made available by Congress for Civil War preservation through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

After the announcement, Civil War historian and lecturer Ed Bearss said that although the association had been more involved with purchasing endangered land and the trust with interperting battlefield sites and creating tourist trails, there always had been a perception that the two groups were doing the same work.

"In the merger, we are getting the strong elements of both: land acquisition and site interpretation," he said.

The union also was praised by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe.

"All who worked on this creation will have ample reason to look back and mark this as a turning point," Babbitt said.

Moe pledged to work with the new organization, saying the Civil War is a national story. "The event shaped us and is still shaping us, but some of the battlefields are being erased," he said. "Sprawl is with us as a force and is encouraging incursions into sites that tell our story. We must preserve these sites."