The Wilderness Campaign

Mega-retailer or Historic Preservation?

Please join with me in supporting activities of the non-profit Civil War Preservation Trust to help save one of America’s most important Civil War battlefields. The Virginia lands where the Battle of The Wilderness was fought––May 5 and 6, 1864—is currently under a commercial development attack. The mega-retailer Walmart has launched a plan to build another 141,000-square-foot “SuperCenter” on a large plot of land located less than 2500 feet from the historic The Wilderness Battlefield. This when there are presently four existing Walmart stores all within twenty miles and an easy commute of The Wilderness Battlefield. Walmart’s great success with their SuperCenters is a matter of record and fact in any location. And the presence of Walmart traditionally generates additional business pursuits that feed from Walmart’s shopping appeal. The Herkimer, New York Walmart SuperCenter was constructed on an abandoned factory site, and Walmart’s business operations have yielded additional business activity that currently surround Walmart including such stores as Agway, The Dollar Store, Taco Bell-KFC, Rite-Aid, McDonald’s, et al. Indeed, all of this new business activity is good for Herkimer and the surrounding area. But similar business activity that a new Walmart generates is unwelcome and will potentially destroy the rural beauty of The Wilderness Battlefield.

The Battle of The Wilderness was the first time General Grant faced General Lee during the American Civil War. This conflict was also the first of twelve major rebellion battles that collectively form General Grant’s brutal “Wilderness Campaign”…and is forever distinguished as a horribly blind and vicious fight where the surrounding woodlands blazed with numerous wildfires. Those many fires were ignited by the explosive discharge of weaponry from opposing forces. Scores of soldiers were burned alive and consumed by that inferno, where they lay wounded—struggling to survive. Union battle action causalities totaling 29,000 men killed, wounded, or missing resulted from the ensuing forty-eight hours of fierce combat. Those incredible 1861-1865 military services and sacrifices offered by Civil War combatants must be forever respected and fittingly honored.

My reading on the activities of several regiments of New York State Volunteers (NYSV) during the “War Of The Rebellion” has recently focused on the gallant 121st Infantry Regiment of NYSV. The 121st New York was formed in July 1862 on orders from Governor Morgan to a committee representing New York State's Twentieth Senatorial District. The Honorable Richard Franchot chaired this Senatorial Committee organized with local activist from district townships. Committee members were empowered to immediately provision and form the new regiment. Regimental enlisted volunteers were mainly residents from the various townships of Herkimer and Otsego Counties. During the Battle Of The Wilderness, with Lieutenant Colonel Olcott commanding, the ten combat-hardened companies of the 121st New York Infantry fought this confusing and disorganized battle in a heavily wooded setting. The two-day battle found the regiment in frequent very close and often hand-to-hand-combat with those "Johnnie-Rebs". Fellow Second Brigade soldier Isaac O. Best in his written account, “History of the 121st New York State Infantry”, capably describes this action. It is not my purpose here to disclose the heroic exploits of the 121st New York Regiment, except to report that commanding Colonel Olcott was shot in the head, left for dead, taken prisoner by Rebels, escaped, and later returned to lead his regiment until war’s end. The Captains of both Company A and Company C were captured and taken prisoner, and following this battle, about 100 men from the 121st New York were missing-in-action--some perhaps later found as unidentifiable burned corpses. About half of the regiment was killed, wounded, or missing during the fog of combat. Several soldiers of the 121st New York were captured sent to that southern hellhole Andersonville POW camp.

So the land surrounding this sacred The Wilderness Battlefield is soaked with the blood of many Herkimer and Otsego County residents who answered President Lincoln’s call to defend the Union and voluntarily enlisted with the noble 121st Infantry Regiment of New York State Volunteers. This is why the lands around The Wilderness Battlefield must be preserved and forever honored as hallowed ground. On the occasion of the forthcoming 145th anniversary of the Battle of The Wilderness, please help to preserve this important Civil War battlefield.

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