Jim Lighthizer knows about saving battlefields. As president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, he is devoted to the cause and has learned that a passion for history is not enough.
"When it gets down to land, it's all about money," he said. "There is nothing else to it. Good intentions in land preservation are just that. They get you nowhere."
Finding money just got a little bit easier, though, for Lighthizer and other preservationists. President Bush signed legislation last month making $50 million in grants available over five years for purchase of battlefields to save them from development.
The law covers about 10,500 sites. Among the most endangered sites are one in the District, seven in Maryland and 123 in Virginia, where more than half of the Civil War battles were fought. Two previous, one-year versions of the preservation act led to purchase of pieces of battlefields in Virginia, including Kernstown near Winchester, and in Maryland, including Antietam and South Mountain.
The purpose of the act is to move quickly to preserve and protect nationally significant Civil War battlefields through conservation easements, purchase or public-private partnerships. The act requires that the land be outside National Park Service boundaries, have a willing seller and be listed on the park service's Civil War Sites Advisory Commission report of 1993.
The commission identified about 10,500 locations where encounters, from minor skirmishes to major battles, took place, and then it narrowed the list to the 384 most threatened by development.
Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) was a sponsor of the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act of 2002 and the two earlier, almost identical laws that made grant money available in 1999 and 2001.
A self-described history buff, Miller said he was inspired to introduce the legislation after visiting Memphis and searching for the battlefield there. What he found was a housing development, with only a plaque along the road to commemorate what happened at the site.
"There was nothing left," he said in an interview. "That got my attention."
More recently, he was reminded of the loss of battlefields when he played a bit part in the soon-to-be-released Civil War movie, "Gods and Generals."
"It was suppose to be shot at Fredericksburg," he said. "But there was so little there that we shot it in Maryland at a place with similar topography."
Under the two earlier programs, $19 million was available, and more than 7,000 acres were purchased. In 1999, the government required a 2 to 1 match, meaning that the buyer had to raise two-thirds of the purchase price. In 2001, as in the newest version, the match was to 1 to 1.
The Kernstown Battlefield Association obtained a grant to help purchase 315 acres just outside Winchester where two battles were fought. On March 23, 1862, Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson lost the opening engagement of the famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign, and on July 24, 1864, Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early won a battle at the same site.
Association President Larry Duncan said the federal funds were key to the purchase.
"It was a 99 percent lifesaver," he said. "The grant became the center of the whole movement to purchase the property. . . . It was great to be able to say this is a nationally significant property."
Other Virginia sites eligible for grant money in the Washington region include Aldie, Berryville, Brandy Station, Cedar Creek, Chancellorsville, Dranesville, Fredericksburg, Manassas, Middleburg and Upperville.
In the District, there is only one battlefield site, Fort Stevens park just off Georgia Avenue, where Early tried unsuccessfully to take the capital on July 11-12, 1864. President Abraham Lincoln rode to the fort to watch the battle. Unlike some of the Maryland and Virginia sites, there is little room for expansion around Fort Stevens, a small federal park that shares a city block with a church and is in a residential neighborhood.
In Maryland, endangered sites are identified in Boonsborough, Folck's Mill, Hancock, Monocacy, South Mountain and Williamsport.
Grant Dehart, policy director for the Capital Grants and Loans Administration of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said grant money was used to buy 330 acres at Antietam and South Mountain.
"It has been extremely helpful to us," he said.
Antietam, also called Sharpsburg, was fought Sept. 16-18, 1862, and resulted in the greatest number of casualties in a single day in the war. Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan fought Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to a draw before Lee escaped across the Potomac River, returning to Virginia.
South Mountain was a prelude to Antietam, a victory for McClellan on Sept. 14.
Lighthizer said rural areas, far from Richmond and Washington, offer the best opportunity for preservationists because the land costs less.
"Closer to Richmond and Washington, there is the pressure of sprawl," he said. "Competition in the suburbs is with the land developer . . . and they have deep pockets. In the rural areas, it is with other farmers."
He said Virginia's Dinwiddie County, on the North Carolina border, is a good example. The trust was able to buy battlefield acreage at about one-fourth of what it would cost closer to the suburbs.
"We can buy land at better prices," he said. "So far, in the last two years, we have spent over a half million dollars. In the next three years, we will spend in excess of a million dollars."
He said the purchases were financed through the grant program.