In a paean to the dead of the Civil War, The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership kicked off its Living Legacy program Tuesday in a fitting place—Oatlands.
It was at the historic mansion that the creation of Journey was announced six years ago. It was also at Oatlands that the announcement of Journey’s Sesquicentennial initiative to plant a tree dedicated to each of the more than 620,000 soldiers who died during the Civil War took place in February of 2011. The trees will be planted along the Rt. 15 corridor that stretches from Gettysburg, PA, to Monticello and for which Journey achieved National Scenic Byway status.
Tuesday morning it was at Oatlands that the first tree was dedicated to the “unknown” of the Civil War, those men who forever will remain anonymous. Oatlands is partnering with Journey to be the site of a pilot project to plant the first 400 trees as part of the Living Legacy program.
The Oatlands Carriage House was filled with state and local elected representatives, historians, Journey partners and trustees, Oatlands directors and supporters and friends as Oatlands Director Andrea McGimsey welcomed them to the National Trust property. Among them were Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, State Sen. Mark Herring (D-33), Del. Randy Minchew (R-10), Leesburg Supervisor (D-Leesburg) and Middleburg Mayor Betsy Davis.
McGimsey said 337 trees and 125 red twig dogwood bushes are being planted along a ridge overlooking the property’s point-to-point racecourse, while another 100 trees are planned for a later planting in the historic core of the estate.
Oatlands Board Chairman Mike O’Connor said Oatlands was honored to have been chosen to be the pilot site for the tree planting and said the legacy initiative would have an impact on the nation, and “be a great example to all of us for the future.”
In addition to citing Journey President Cate Magennis Wyatt for her leadership and commitment, O’Connor singled out Joan Williams, owner of Little Oatlands, calling her “a mainstay.” It was Williams’ family, the Eustis family, that owned the property before it was given to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Williams herself has deep roots at Oatlands.
“She milked the cow in the Carter barn,” he said, adding if anyone has credit at Oatlands it was she.
And the deeper meaning of Tuesday’s ceremony comes from thinking about “those who did fall,” he said. “Win or lose, those men created the fiber that made America what it is today,” he said. As a businessman, O’Connor said he always looks for a return on investment, and the return “on this investment is that these trees will be here for our children and our children’s children.”
Magennis Wyatt said one of the biggest challenges was in determining the locations for the 620,000 trees, citing the multiplicity of road changes—the road is two lane in some places and six in others and crosses open countryside and passes through historic downtowns.
Another challenge was making the purpose of the tree plantings evident to those passing by.
“How do you show that tree is a life, that had a story, had a story?”
One way was to hold a national competition—which was won by Elliott Rhodeside’s Rhodeside & Harwell Company, a planning, urban design and landscape architecture firm based in Alexandria.
Magennis Wyatt also cited the assistance of Virginia Department of Forestry’s Terry Lasher for picking out the right trees and soils; VDOT’s Bill Cutler for being able to pull together both transportation and tree safety concerns; and Journey’s Chairman of the Board David Williams for driving home the need to get the project done. Lastly, she thanked Williams’ brother Richard and his mother for their generosity in having the front fields at Little Oatlands prepared for planting.
The project will “not be inexpensive,” Magennis Wyatt said to laughter, estimating the total cost at about $55 million. “We needed a visionary,” she said, as she segued nicely into an introduction of Connaughton, who stepped up to join the Journey partnership when he was chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.
And he got the Journey concept quickly. “In a world of talkers, he’s a doer,” she said, noting it was Connaughton 20 months ago who found the $300,000 in state funding for the study for the project.
“When you get an introduction like that from Cate, you know she’ll be stopping by for more money,” Connaughton quipped. But he admitted he did jump on the idea. “We’re normally known for the trees we take down, not put up,” he said. Praising the project, Connaughton hinted the state would probably be able to find more money to support it, noting the state’s recent grant awards to help save endangered Civil War sites.
Noting only there are only 99 National Scenic Byways, Connaughton said the Living Legacy project is a key element. “There were more killed during the Civil War than in all U.S. wars.” And the timing of the planting of the first trees is appropriate, he said, noting it was President Lincoln who designated the third Thursday of November as the official celebration of Thanksgiving. “It brings it all home,” he said.
National Trust President Stephanie Meeks spoke of “the power of place.” She recalled her Norwegian ancestors and her grandmother’s stories of her farm, where there was a dug-out used while her great-great grandparents were building their house. His wife birthed four children in the dug-out. When Meeks was facing her first child’s birth in Fairfax Hospital, “I was terrified,” she said. But she remembered her ancestor: “If she could do it underground in a sod house, I can do it.”
Protecting the places, the physical remnants of what’s gone—and the stories they tell—and getting people involved and inspiring action, that’s what historic preservation is all about, Meeks said.
The most moving part of the ceremony, was a silent video showing the names of the Civil War soldiers who died in Loudoun, where known—some who came from Loudoun communities and some from far away; some who died in combat and some from disease and malnutrition. Some were marked “Unknown,” and Magennis Wyatt said, “this is the little we know of the men we honor.”
Some 50 percent of those who died remain anonymous, according to Manassas Battlefield National Park Superintendent and historian Bob Sutton. And of the 53 soldiers buried in Ball’s Bluff Cemetery, all but one are unknown.
But the stories of two men who died Oct. 21, 1861 at that battle are known. Thomas Clinton Lovett Hatcher, a tall red-bearded youngster of 21, flag bearer and a member of the 8th Virginia’s Blue Ridge Boys, is buried in Catoctin Cemetery in Purcellville. On the Union side, Col. William Baker, 50, was one of President Lincoln’s closest friends. He had been at the White House the day before the battle, where he was met by Mary Todd Lincoln, who gave him a bouquet. Baker is said to have commented on their beauty and said, “these flowers and my memory will wither together.” He was killed the following day.
Echoing President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address remarks, Magennis Wyatt said, “we today cannot ever forget what they did here…”
Thanking all those present for their in helping bring the vision to fruition, Magennis Wyatt asked for their further help “so we can do all 626,000.”
Outside, the group gathered at a small copse of trees, many bearing the small trees they had purchased to be part of the project, for the tagging dedication of the tree to the unknown. The Rev. W. Brown Morton III delivered a prayer and Col. Meg Roosma from the West Point Alumni Glee Club sang Amazing Grace.
To donate a tree for one of those who died, go to www.hallowedground.org or call 540-882-4929.