A Southwestern desert peak where cavalry clashed nearly 150 years ago has joined an annual list of the nation's most endangered Civil War battlefields because state budget cuts are set to close the park that marks the site.
Picacho Peak in Arizona, the Western frontier in the battle between the North and the South, was named for the first time on the Civil War Preservation Trust's annual list of 10 historic battlefields most threatened by development or neglect. The list was released Thursday in Washington, D.C.
In addition to Pennsylvania's Gettysburg and the Wilderness Battlefield in Virginia, the list includes some memorable battles waged in states where the Civil War still resonates on the eve of its 150th anniversary. They are located primarily in the South and the Mid-Atlantic.
Slated to close June 3
For sheer distance, Picacho Peak stands apart from the rest. The state park is slated to close June 3 because of budget cuts.
On April 12, 1862, Lt. James Barrett led a detachment of Union cavalry to the rocky spire 50 miles northwest of Tucson and skirmished with Confederate Rangers, intent on blunting an ocean-to-ocean Confederacy. While Barrett was killed and the Union army retreated, Union forces from California eventually moved on to Tucson and snuffed a Confederate settlement.
The battle, while a footnote in Civil War history, still attracts annual visits by re-enactors.
"A lot of people who come from the East use it as a vacation," Ellen Bilbrey, a spokeswoman for Arizona State Parks, said of the Civil War re-enactors.
A fund drive launched in nearby Eloy, Ariz., is attempting to keep the park open, and the inclusion by the trust in its annual endangered list is a boost to that effort, she said.
"Any attention, of course is going to assist people who are trying to keep that park open," she said.
The Arizona State Parks Board next week will consider an agreement that would keep Picacho Peak open for at least a year. Under the agreement, the city of Eloy would pay $20,000 to subsidize the operation and maintenance of the park.
The board has adopted a number of similar agreements to keep open historical and recreational parks across Arizona.
"Nothing creates an emotional connection between present and past like walking in the footsteps of our Civil War soldiers," Shaara said in remarks prepared for the formal release of the list.
His father, Michael Shaara, wrote "The Killer Angels," a historical novel on Gettysburg. The battlefield where 160,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought in the summer of 1863 is on the endangered list because of a second attempt to bring casino gambling within one-half-mile of Gettysburg National Military Park.
Like Gettysburg, Virginia's Wilderness Battlefield was also making a repeat appearance on the list. In this case, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is facing fierce resistance to building a Supercenter within a cannon's shot of where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first met on the field of battle.
The others in the top 10 and the threats, as defined by the trust:
- Camp Allegheny, W.Va., where wind turbines on a high ridge across the border in Virginia threaten to blot the view from the battlefield.
- Pickett's Mill, Ga., which is amid cuts in public funding and, last fall, saw foot bridges and portions of a mill damaged by flood waters.
- Fort Stevens, Washington, D.C., threatened by a proposed church community center that will tower over the fort where President Lincoln was the target of sharpshooters.
- Cedar Creek, Va., a mine expansion that would chew up nearly 400 acres of battlefield.
- Richmond, Ky., a new highway interchange that will likely attract commercial growth.
- South Mountain, Md., the feared development of an energy plant.
- Thoroughfare Gap, Va., the possible construction of a 150-foot communications tower.
Besides the 10 most-endangered list, the trust also included 15 "at risk" sites.