Many Wisconsin soldiers were killed or wounded at Civil War battle sites. Now, preservationists are worried that urban sprawl and business development are threatening to nibble away at some of that famous land.
This fall, the city of Waukesha held a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga.
Waukesha and the battle site near Chattanooga, Tenn., are 700 miles apart and might not seem to have a close connection. Here at a Civil War monument outside the Waukesha Public Library, Craig Wheeler starts to make the link by reading the monument's inscription: “Erected in honor of the men who faithfully served our country in the war for the Union, 1861-1865.”
Wheeler, a member of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, goes on to explain the Waukesha monument was dedicated in 1911 on the mid-September anniversary of the Chickamauga battle, due to the high number of Wisconsin soldiers killed or wounded.
“There were four infantry regiments, three artillery batteries, and a cavalry regiment, and they all suffered heavy casualties in that engagement,” says Wheeler.
Wheeler says Colonel Hans Christian Heg was among the dead; a statue of Heg is now outside the state Capitol in Madison.
Marji Saye’s great-great-grandfather, Thomas Thompson, served under Heg and was wounded at Chickamauga. Saye says Thompson's sacrifice – and that of her military-serving father, uncle, and husband – make her proud. “Without them, freedom would be less,” says Saye. “Our freedoms would be fewer.”
Chickamauga wasn’t the only fight near Chattanooga with strong connections to Wisconsin. 150 years ago this coming Monday, the Battle of Missionary Ridge took place. As part of the action, Wisconsin soldier Arthur McArthur grabbed a regimental flag and led a charge – by most accounts, yelling “On Wisconsin!” His accomplishment is noted in a film that plays in a museum near the battle site, which also notes that McArthur's son was General Douglas McArthur.
Some preservationists say the bravery at the Civil War battlefields of Chattanooga is in danger of being diminished by a growing a haze of noise and development around the military parks.
The Chickamauga battlefield is hardly a quiet sanctuary now – a busy north Georgia highway runs through it. There are worries about more businesses and suburban homes being built nearby, potentially preventing more discoveries about the battles. Private fundraising is going on to try to protect additional land.
Don Barger of the National Parks Conservation Association worries about federal dollars not being there to help maintain any more purchases. He says being cheap on battlefield preservation now would not bode well for the next century and a half.
“I don’t think there's a real answer to the question when's enough,” says Barger. “I think what we're seeing is 150 years out, we have a few last chances to get as much as we can to tell the story as best we can 150 from now.”
The idea of additional protection of Civil War battlefields sounds good to Wisconsinites like Marji Saye. “Besides the Revolutionary War, this is one of the main battles that our country has had here on its own soil, so I believe it's important,” she says.
Saye says the historical sites can also be a place for solemn thought, peace, and much needed green space.