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Neglected battlefields

Oscar winning actor calls attention to plight of Civil War battlefields

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POSTED: March 21, 2009 6:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss visited the nation's capital on Wednesday to call attention to the most endangered Civil War battlefields.

The actor joined the Civil War Preservation Trust as the group released its annual report on 10 battlefields that it says are deteriorating due to neglect, land development and other threats.

At a news conference, Dreyfuss said his interest in preserving Civil War battlefields grew out of his love for history and the significance of the war.

"We are the consequences of that war and the more we know about our past, the better," said Dreyfuss, who won an Academy Award for "The Goodbye Girl" and also portrayed Vice President Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone's "W''.

The Washington-based preservation group issues the "History Under Siege" report annually. The sites on this year's list include Gettysburg, Pa.; South Mountain and Monocacy in Maryland; Cedar Creek, New Market Heights, and Wilderness in Virginia; Fort Gaines, Ala.; Port Gibson, Miss.; Sabine Pass, Texas; and Spring Hill, Tenn.

The Monocacy battlefield along the Monocacy River in Maryland is where Confederate General Jubal A. Early and his troops were stopped from taking Fort Stevens in Washington. According to the report, the site stands to lose open space and clean air because Frederick County officials may build an incinerator there with a 350-foot smokestack.

The battle of the Wilderness opened the Union's offensive against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. After the fighting ended, more than 25,000 troops had been killed. Today, it may become the site of a Wal-Mart Supercenter, which opponents fear will bring an overwhelming amount of traffic and encourage other retailers to encroach on the area.

The sites were nominated by the members of the group and then selected for the list by board members.

James Lighthizer, president of the preservation trust, said other Civil War battlefields also face deterioration but didn't make the list.

"They're all threatened by destruction, and with destruction a portion of our national memory is destroyed and that's a tragedy," Lighthizer said Wednesday.

The report also lists natural disasters as a danger.

In 2008, Hurricane Ike stopped efforts to reopen Sabine Pass, Texas — a site already recovering from a direct hit by Hurricane Rita in 2005. At the battlefield, Union troops prevented Confederates from establishing a trade route through Mexico. It's now undergoing repairs and is expected to reopen this year.

Dr. Libby O'Connell, chief historian for the History Channel, presented the trust with a donation of $80,000 on Wednesday. She said 30 acres of "hallowed ground" are lost every day.

"Once we lose these places we can't get them back," she said.

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On the Net:

Civil War Preservation Trust: http://www.civilwar.org/


Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

 

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