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Developers and Battlefields

History won out over development at the Second Battle of Chancellorsville last week. The Spottsylvania (Va.) County Board of Supervisors unanimously rejected a proposal to build a huge residential and commercial development in the core of the historic battlefield, some 60 miles south of Washington, D.C.

The 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville is considered one of the most important of the Civil War. Outnumbered by Union troops, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee divided his army and sent Lt. Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson on a flank attack that nearly spelled disaster for the Federals.

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The Rebel victory led directly to Lee's second invasion of the North and the Battle of Gettysburg. But the cost was high - Stonewall Jackson was fatally injured in one of history's most infamous friendly fire incidents.

One speaker at the Board of Supervisors compared the proposed development to parking a cruise ship next to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

While much of Chancellorsville is protected by the National Park Service, approximately 300 crucial acres are not. The Civil War Preservation Trust, a nonprofit organization working to save battle sites, now hopes to work with the landowner on a less intrusive development that will allow him to make a profit while protecting the historic area. The group's deal with a developer to save the core of the Bristoe Station Battlefield outside Manassas, Va., can serve as a model.

Congress has set aside matching funds for groups that can raise money to protect Civil War sites. Now it's up to the public, as in Spottsylvania County, to do its part. The modern United States was forged in these battles. Preserving their lessons for future generations seems the least today's generation can do.