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McPherson to testify against Wal-Mart site

James McPherson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and one of the top Civil War historians in the country, has agreed to testify as a volunteer expert for the plaintiffs seeking to prevent Wal-Mart from building on the Wilderness battlefield. The trial is set for Jan. 25, 2011 in the Orange County, Va. circuit court.

As a part of the pre-trial process, a summary of his testimony was released this week to the defendants. The Civil War Preservation Trust and others sent copies to the press. In his testimony, McPherson refuted those who claim that nothing significant took place on the proposed Wal-Mart site and makes a strong case for preserving the land.

The land where Wal-Mart plans to build a super center is on the Wilderness Battlefield but outside the boundaries of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Following several contentious public hearings, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved Wal-Mart’s application for a special use permit in August 2009. A group of local residents and the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield filed suit to overturn the decision.

In his testimony, McPherson said the historical record makes clear that the land on or immediately adjacent to the Wal-Mart site was where significant battle-related events occurred, such as the erection of Union hospital tents where thousands of wounded and dying soldiers were treated. The battle took place between May 5 and 7, 1864. A year earlier, during the Battle of Chancellorsville, Confederates used the same area for medical treatment.

According to McPherson, on May 5, 1864, a Union officer present at the hospital site wrote that rough tables “had been erected under trees where surgeons were hacking off arms and legs in an effort to save lives.” McPherson continues, “The hospitals for the Union Army’s 5th and 6th Corps were located on or near the Wal-Mart site. There were in total about 8,300 wounded Union soldiers treated there and at the 2nd Corps hospitals about a mile away.”

As to the importance of the Battle of the Wilderness, McPherson writes that those “three days of trauma in the Wilderness” were the beginning of the end of the war, “even if that end was still 11 months in the future. The hinge of fate in the Wilderness did indeed decide the destiny of the continent for centuries.”

By Linda Wheeler  | October 14, 2010; 3:07 PM ET
Categories:  Battlefields, News  | Tags:  Wilderness Battlefield  
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