Walmart has won approval to build a Supercenter on the edge one of the most important battlefields from the Civil War: the Wilderness Battlefield.
Wilderness was the location when Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first met in battle, on May 4, 1864. Altogether, on both sides of the fighting, 160,000 soldiers total took part with approximately 29,000 killed or wounded. It was the beginning of the turning point of the Civil War.
Supervisors in Orange County, Virginia voted Monday night to grant a permit to the corporate giant, despite public outcry, especially from historians and Civil War buffs.
Jim Campi, of the Civil War Preservation Trust, is against it because,
What Walmart is proposing would absolutely transform the landscape. Walmart is proposing a superstore closer to a national park boundary than any previous Walmart, and this is right on the boundary of the national park.
Only one-quarter of the historic battlefield is protected, so the controversy has surrounded the question, “What is a battlefield?” Is the battlefield only where the war was fought, or was it where troops were deployed from or where they were taken when they were injured? (Interesting fact: General Stonewall Jackson’s arm is buried nearby.)
The 138,000-square-foot-store will not sit on the 2,773 protected acres of the Wilderness, but on the edge, overlooking the battlefield.
County supervisors point to the tax revenue and 300 jobs provided to the area by the big box retailer. Opponents cite the estimated 6,500 more cars skirting the Wilderness daily.
Even high profile names joined the rally cry against Walmart in this fight. Everyone from actor Robert Duvall to Virginia Governor Tim to congressmen from states that had big losses at Wilderness have spoken out against the plan. Historians like David McCullough and James M. McPherson argued against it. Even filmmaker Ken Burns, who set part of his Civil War documentary at Wilderness, fought the plan.
But Monday, county supervisors showed it was to no avail. They voted 4-1 for the store.
The rural county–population 32,000–needs the jobs and revenue, especially in this economy. District 2 Supervisor Zack Burkett, countered the protest with this,
If some guy wants to come in and put in a 59,000-square-foot porno shop, there’s nothing in our ordinances that lets us stop that. I think this will be an attractive development.
You can’t argue with that kind of logic.
I live about three hours south of the Orange County battle area. And here in Virginia, almost everything is historic. That’s not to disparage the fight for this site. I also live near one historical Civil War marker fastened to the building next to a Subway sandwich shop. (No, I’m not kidding.) That marks a “skirmish,” not a battle.
As far as fights like this go, I wonder: is it worth razing historic grounds for low, low prices? Is sprawl the “historical marker” we’d like to leave for our children and grandchildren?
Image: Koonisutra on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.