By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The Wilderness battlefield cannot be moved.
It is a one-of-a-kind place, where tens of thousands of Union and Confederate boys died in the Civil War. You can't just shift the signs down the road a mile and call another tract of ground the battlefield.
But a Wal-Mart shopping center? How special is that?
Assuming that what America needs is another Wal-Mart, how hard can it be for corporate planners to choose a location that isn't within the boundaries of a national battle park?
These are the questions being asked by historians, legislators, and preservationists as Wal-Mart plans to build a 138,000-square-foot supercenter on the Wilderness battlefield in Northern Virginia. It would be the fifth Wal-Mart store within a 20-mile radius and a major new commercial threat to a necklace of Civil War fields—Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania—in the area that have already been ravaged by development.
In December, a group of 253 historians—including David McCullough, Ken Burns, James McPherson, and Edwin Bearss, the chief historian emeritus of the National Park Service—asked Wal-Mart to reconsider.
The Vermont Legislature (the state lost its heaviest casualties of the war at the Wilderness, repulsing a Confederate attack) adopted a joint resolution in February asking Wal-Mart to move its store.
U.S. Reps. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, and Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, have led a contingent in Congress urging Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke to think this through.
And the Civil War Preservation Trust put the Wilderness battlefield on its list of "most threatened" battlefields in March.
The land that Wal-Mart covets is commercially zoned, but the company needs a special use permit from the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and preservationists are hoping to block the development there. A coalition of local and national preservation groups have offered to pay for a comprehensive, long-range planning study to help local officials.
All they need is a little flexibility from Wal-Mart. How about it, Mr. Duke?
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