Thursday, February 26, 2009

Preservation of The Wilderness Battlefield

Today I’ve joined with the non-profit Civil War Preservation Trust to help save one of America’s most important Civil War battlefields. The Virginia lands where the Battle of The Wilderness was fought--May 5 and 6, 1864--are currently under a commercial development attack. The mega-retailer Walmart has launched a plan to build another 141,000-square-foot SuperCenter on a large plot of land located less than 2500 feet from the historic The Wilderness Battlefield. This when there are presently four existing Walmart stores all within twenty miles and an easy commute of The Wilderness Battlefield. Great success of Walmart SuperCenters in any location is a matter of record and fact. And the presence of this business historically generates additional business that feeds off the shopping appeal of Walmart. The Herkimer, New York Walmart SuperCenter was constructed on an abandoned factory site, and Walmart’s business operations have yielded additional business activity that currently surround Walmart including such stores as Agway, The Dollar Store, Taco Bell-KFC, Applebee's, Rite-Aid, McDonald’s, et al. Indeed, all of this new business activity is good for Herkimer County. But business activity that a new Walmart generates is unwelcome and will potentially destroy the rural beauty of the historic The Wilderness Battlefield.

The Battle of The Wilderness was the first time General Grant faced General Lee as opposing commanding Generals-of-the-Army. This battle was a horribly blind and vicious fight where the surrounding heavy woodlands blazed with many fires ignited by the explosive discharge of weaponry from opposing forces. Many of the wounded soldiers were burned alive where they lay by the wildfires. Battle causalities totaling 29,000 men killed, wounded, or missing-in-action resulted from the ensuing forty-eight hours of fierce and brutal combat. Those incredible 1861-1865 military services and sacrifices offered by the War of the Rebellion combatants must be forever respected and fittingly honored.

My reading on the activities of several regiments of New York State Volunteers (NYSV) during the “War Of The Rebellion” has recently focused on the gallant 121st Infantry Regiment of NYSV. The 121st NY was formed in July 1862 by orders from New York Governor Morgan to a committee representing New York State's Twentieth Senatorial District. The Honorable Richard Franchot, U.S. Congressman from Otsego County, chaired this State Committee of local activist from district townships. Committee members were empowered to immediately provision and form the new regiment. Regimental enlisted volunteers were residents mainly from the various townships of Herkimer and Otsego Counties. Representative Franchot was named colonel of the new regiment, and resigned and honorable discharged in late September 1862 to resume his congressional duties.

During the Battle Of The Wilderness, with Lieutenant Colonel Olcott commanding, the ten combat-hardened companies of the 121st NY Infantry fought this confusing and disorganized battle in a heavily wooded setting. The two-day battle found the regiment in frequent close contact and often hand-to-hand-combat with those "Johnnie-Rebs". Action was capably described by fellow Second Brigade soldier Isaac O. Best in his written account, “History of the 121st New York State Infantry.” It is not my purpose here to disclose the many heroic exploits of the 121st NY Regiment, except to report that commanding Colonel Olcott was shot in the head and taken prisoner by Rebels, the captains of both Company A and C were captured and taken prisoner, that following the battle about 100 men from the 121st NY were missing-in-action (some perhaps later found as burned corpses), and that about half of the regiment was either killed, wounded, or missing during the fog of combat. Several soldiers of the 121st NY were captured sent to the southern hell-hole Andersonville. So the lands surrounding this sacred The Wilderness Battlefield is soaked with the blood of many Herkimer and Otsego County residents who answered President Lincoln’s call to defend the Union. These brave and principled men voluntarily enlisted with the noble 121st Infantry Regiment of New York State Volunteers. This is why the lands around The Wilderness Battlefield must be preserved and forever honored as hallowed ground.

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