It took almost 150 years, but Virginia has finally surrendered at the Battle for the Wilderness — without firing a shot. In a terrible blow to historians and preservationists, the Orange County Board of Supervisors caved into pressure from Walmart and business groups to allow the construction of a huge Walmart store next to the historic Wilderness battlefield where 145,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought and close to 30,000 were killed or wounded. Despite international objections to the damage to this historic area, the pro-development board voted 4-1 to side put a big box store ahead of its own proud legacy.
I will admit to being a military history nut, but this is a story that should outrage every American.
One of the most intriguing things about these historic areas is how locals will often show away such legacies to developers, even for a big box store. It is a sharp contrast to the courage shown by thousands of men who gave their lives in the area. Rather than protect the sacred ground around this site, they selected a Superstore.
The Wilderness battlefield is where generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee first met in battle. It turns out that if General Grant had simply offered retail opportunities, he would have been welcomed with open arms.
We are now approaching the 150th anniversary of the battle — just in time to coincide with the opening of the Superstore. No doubt many of these board members will be present to espouse pride in their legacy at those celebrations after selling out to a big box store. It will also not likely stop some citizens from denouncing the lack of patriotism of other citizens and waiving the flag when they just sold out part of our history for cheap Superstore.
For historians, that is not even thirty pieces of silver, it is more like selling out for a slurpie and a discount card.
Only one-fourth of the Wilderness area is protected. Supervisor Chairman Lee Frame insists that “the current proposal … is the best way to protect the battlefield.” That is much like the theory that you must destroy a village to save it.
Barbara Wigger insisted in one article that “I know we’ve been referred to as ignorant shoppers. I feel bad about that but I’ll live with it. Let us have our Walmart and let us stop the battle.”
Locals ignored one of the most impressive collections of world leaders and historians ever assembled. They included authors David McCullough and James M. McPherson, filmmaker Ken Burns, actor Robert Duvall, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, and congressmen from Vermont and Texas. However, Wal-Mart and its lobbyists were on the other side with a promise of jobs and tax revenue. That was an easy choice for the board.
It is quite a legacy for these four board members who voted to sell out to Wal-Mart: Supervisors R. Mark Johnson, Zack Burkett, Teel Goodwin and Lee Frame.