A cen­tury af­ter the Civil War, a new kind of fight on its bat­tle­fields

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - REVIEW BY MARY HADAR Mary Hadar was edi­tor of the 10 spe­cial sec­tions pub­lished by The Wash­ing­ton Post mark­ing the 150th an­niver­sary of the Civil War.

Just 25 years af­ter the Civil War, the veter­ans who had sur­vived that bloody con­flict per­suaded Congress to pre­serve por­tions of the land where their com­rades had fought and died. Their ef­forts re­sulted in the cre­ation of na­tional mil­i­tary parks we know well to­day: Get­tys­burg, Shiloh, An­ti­etam, Vicks­burg, Chicka­mauga.

A cen­tury would pass be­fore other preser­va­tion at­tempts gained trac­tion, and by that time subur­ban sprawl had de­voured much of the bat­tle­fields. Dis­tressed by the loss, a group of war buffs came to­gether in 1987 to halt any fur­ther de­vel­op­ment on hal­lowed ground. Bob Zeller’s “Fight­ing the Sec­ond Civil War” chron­i­cles their strug­gle — and as­ton­ish­ing suc­cess.

They were a de­ter­mined lot. Sev­eral worked for the Na­tional Park Ser­vice as bat­tle­field his­to­ri­ans, oth­ers were Civil War schol­ars and au­thors. Their cam­paign started in Vir­ginia, home of the Con­fed­er­acy and the lo­ca­tion of dozens of bat­tle sites that were in pri­vate hands. They fought off pro­pos­als for a giant mall in Manas­sas, an au­to­mo­bile race­track at Brandy Sta­tion, a Dis­ney theme park in Hay­mar­ket, a Wal­mart at the Wilder­ness bat­tle­field. They went to war with lo­cal gov­ern­ments ea­ger for the jobs and in­come that de­vel­op­ment brings and be­came adept at fil­ing law­suits, lob­by­ing, ral­ly­ing pub­lic opin­ion and fundrais­ing. Many of the fights dragged on for years.

And those con­flicts were just with the de­vel­op­ers. Much of this highly read­able book is de­voted to the bat­tles among the preser­va­tion­ists them­selves. The As­so­ci­a­tion for the Preser­va­tion of Civil War Sites (APCWS), a grass-roots or­ga­ni­za­tion formed in 1987 with a fo­cus on buy­ing land im­me­di­ately, was joined four years later by the Civil War Trust, a pri­vate foun­da­tion cre­ated at the sug­ges­tion of the in­te­rior sec­re­tary to at­tract cor­po­rate do­na­tions (which it failed to do).

Though they worked to­gether on sev­eral ac­qui­si­tions, the two groups were bound to clash, and they did — over who got credit for some of the big saves, over the pace at which money was dis­bursed, over their dif­fer­ent cul­tures. When they fi­nally merged in 1999, the board of the APCWS had to over­rule its chair­man to make it hap­pen.

Zeller, who is pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Civil War Pho­tog­ra­phy and edi­tor of its jour­nal, cap­tures the pas­sion as well as the pet­ti­ness of the strug­gle to save his­toric bat­tle­grounds.

“I was crazed . . . ob­sessed . . . a zealot,” a preser­va­tion­ist ad­mits af­ter meet­ing with a de­vel­oper. “I’ll go stand in front of your bull­doz­ers if I have to.”

“They de­mo­nized me,” the trust’s pres­i­dent says af­ter a dis­agree­ment with APCWS over strat­egy. “It’s a holy war for some of them.”

“What ar­ro­gance!” the APCWS chair writes af­ter the trust de­layed award­ing money for land pur­chases.

The story has a happy end­ing. More than 45,000 acres at 132 bat­tle­fields have been saved since 1987. In 2014 the Na­tional Park Ser­vice asked the Civil War Trust to ex­pand its mis­sion by also pre­serv­ing land from the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War and the War of 1812.

FIGHT­ING THE SEC­OND CIVIL WAR A His­tory of Bat­tle­field Preser­va­tion and the Emer­gence of the Civil War Trust By Bob Zeller Knox Press. 448 pp. $17.95 pa­per­back

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