Saving the Battlefields Where America Was Forged

A Project of the Civil War Trust |  civilwar.org

Join the First Campaign 1776 Effort to Save a Revolutionary War Battlefield at Princeton, N.J.

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

** Victory at Princeton: First success of Campaign 1776 achieved **

Jim Lighthizer

Dear Friend and Fellow Preservationist,

Because you are such a committed and loyal defender of Civil War battlefields, I wanted to write to you directly today to announce an exciting opportunity to help save even more of America’s history and heritage.

On November 11, 2014, at a press conference in Princeton, New Jersey, it was my honor to announce that the Civil War Trust is launching a new project called Campaign 1776, an effort that will work to save threatened and endangered battlefield land where key battles from the American Revolution and the War of 1812 occurred.

Just as you and I have worked together over the years to save more than 40,000 acres of hallowed ground associated with the Civil War, now, for the first time in our nation’s history, we have the opportunity to launch a nationwide effort to save the remaining important battlefield land from America’s founding era.

And to kick off this new effort in our accustomed style, I am excited to tell you that today we have the opportunity to help save 4 crucial acres of the Princeton battlefield in New Jersey. This was a January 1777 victory for General George Washington and his Continental Army over Lord Cornwallis and his Redcoats – and right now I can turn every $1.00 of your support into about $36!

In partnership with Princeton localities, the State of New Jersey and the Princeton Battlefield Society, you and I can ensure the preservation of this crucial Revolutionary War battlefield land at a $36-to-$1 match.

(I have a very special battle map for you today, showing you exactly where the land is that you will be helping to save. I’ve also included a brief timeline of the battle to help you understand the action even better.)

If you and I can raise just $25,000 between now and January 3, 2015 (the 238th anniversary of the battle), we can help save this property – adjacent to the existing state park – in a deal worth approximately $900,000!

But I am getting ahead of myself. I’m certain you have some questions about this important project, so let me quickly explain how the Board of Trustees and I came to the decision to extend our battlefield preservation mission – on a very limited and controlled basis – into these other American wars.

Your natural first question would be: Why do this? Why take on this extra challenge in this economy, especially when there is still much important Civil War land left to save?

Well, aside from the obvious answer that Revolutionary War battlefields are just as important to our nation’s history as those of the Civil War, and I believe saving them is the right thing to do, there’s a much more practical reason as well:

The National Park Service – our key partner in preservation, and the keeper of the battlefield matching grant funds that multiply your support so effectively and make so much of our work possible – directly asked us to consider taking on this challenge.

They recognize that there is no other national heritage land preservation organization in America that is as effective and efficient as we are . . . we already have the “business model” and infrastructure in place to hit the ground running and make an immediate impact.

Of course, that level of success is directly attributable to you. We couldn’t have achieved the – quite frankly – astonishing string of preservation victories that we have over the years if not for your absolute dedication to this cause, and your generosity in supporting that passion.

I want to assure you, however, that we are not doing this simply because of the high regard of the National Park Service. The hard reality is that Congress is set to re-write the legislation that provides for federal battlefield preservation matching grants. And that new legislation will – for the first time in history – include those other wars.

What that means, of course, is that if we decided not to expand our mission, then any number of other organizations – existing groups or new ones that pop up – could apply for that same limited pool of matching funds. That could, in some cases, actually reduce the amount of matching money available for Civil War battlefields!

We determined that it would be better if we – the acknowledged national leader in heritage land preservation – took up the challenge of saving battlefield land associated with the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, using our already-established rigorous prioritization process, to ensure that we continue to get the biggest bang for your preservation dollar.

For those of us who love history, this is hard to admit, but not every acre of battlefield land – in terms of historic significance, cost, level of integrity, etc. – is created equal. I want to be certain that we are spending YOUR money in the best possible and most effective way!

We are going to bring that same critical eye to evaluating all these projects and ensure that the most truly significant pieces of American history are protected.

Let me assure you that all of us – I, the Trust staff and our dedicated Board – have scrutinized every aspect of this limited extension of our mission long and hard. Months of discussions, countless conference calls, draft budgets, surveys of our members, focus groups, etc., have guided our thinking and planning every step of the way.

And we listened: Many of our members agreed that it was a great idea for us to get involved in saving Revolutionary War-era battlefields, but they also wanted to make sure of two things:

1) That no funds dedicated for Civil War battlefields be used for the Revolutionary War effort; and 2) that we did not “dilute” our efforts, and lose the chance to save Civil War land. These are both very valid concerns.

As to the first concern, let me assure you that no donations you make toward Civil War battlefields or education efforts will be diverted to Campaign 1776. While the two efforts will naturally share some overhead and logistical expenses — office space and some limited staff time — to maximize efficiency, the Board of Trustees has instituted entirely separate accounting structures to track donations and expenses.

Campaign 1776 is a project of the Civil War Trust, but when it comes to fundraising and paying the bills, you can and should think of them as being two completely separate operations.

In fact, we are financing the launch phase, until the project is self-sustaining, with seed money that has already been contributed by trustees and major donors who are absolutely committed to the project. One foundation even told us they were glad “to support this new effort of the Civil War Trust. We are grateful for all the work the Trust continues to take on.”

To the second question, the idea that we risk somehow “diluting” our efforts at saving Civil War battlefields, let me just say two things:

First, no one is more opposed to “mission creep” than I am. That’s why I have always insisted on our laser-like focus on protecting battlefield land, even as other worthy projects such as saving cemeteries, prison camps, etc., have come up. The answer is, “We save battlefields.” That’s not going to change.

Second, let me reiterate, restate and repeat that Campaign 1776 will be a limited and controlled effort. That’s not just my promise to you, it’s a simple fact driven by nature of the battlefield land itself.

The armies of those earlier conflicts were smaller, making the area over which they fought smaller. And fewer engagements, too — there were 384 principle battles of the Civil War, but just 243 battles from the Revolution and the War of 1812 combined, and many of those are already gone forever!

As it stands right now, I cannot imagine that we will have the opportunity to engage in more than a handful of Campaign 1776 preservation efforts in a given year (as opposed to the 40 to 50 Civil War transactions we tackle each year) – but by their very nature, they will be extremely urgent and important.

And as always, we will seek to put together incredible matching opportunities that multiply the value of every dollar you donate for the cause of battlefield preservation, such as the break we have at Princeton right now, where there is a $36-to-$1 match in place.

Come back with me to that frigid morning, January 3, 1777, as General George Washington executed a bold stroke – eager to follow up on his improbable Christmas night victory at Trenton, after he famously crossed the Delaware River, and before the expiration of 90-day enlistments threatened to dissolve his army completely.

Evading Cornwallis’ main army, Washington and his outnumbered army stole a night march, to attack the British reserve troops and baggage train, headquartered at Princeton.

But as Washington’s forces approached the town, the British commander there spotted the American vanguard, and fighting flared. Lines of infantry blazed away at each other from a mere 40 yards, until finally the Redcoats launched a howling, furious bayonet attack, causing the Americans to break.

American General Hugh Mercer – fighting off the blows with his sword – was bayonetted seven times and left for dead, as were many other American officers and men. It was into this swirling chaos, with the army on the brink of destruction, that – in the words of historian Richard M. Ketchum – “a tall man on a white horse could be seen galloping toward the scene of battle.” Washington had arrived on the Princeton battlefield.

Washington rallied his men, gave the order to advance, and led them to within 30 yards of the British line, ordering them to fire. The British returned the volley. Historian W.J. Wood writes that “Colonel John Fitzgerald of [Washington’s] staff covered his eyes so that he would not see his commander blasted from the saddle. Yet when the smoke began to clear, there was Washington, standing in his stirrups, calmly waving his men forward.”

It was too much for the British, and now it was their turn to break and run, with Washington shouting, “It’s a fine fox chase, boys!” as he led the pursuit. Some British soldiers retreated all the way to Nassau Hall (now Princeton University) in the town, until a young artillery captain named Alexander Hamilton fired a few shots into the grand building, one of which, legend has it, beheaded a portrait of King George II. The 194 British defenders finally waved a white flag, ending the Battle of Princeton.

The target property at Princeton is shown here, to the right of the colonnades. (Doug Ullman)

My friend, if the Continental Army had been destroyed – or General Washington killed – that day at Princeton, just imagine how different our country, if we even had one, might be today.

Those patriots who fought and fell on fields in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey deserve to have their sacrifices remembered and honored just as much as those who took up arms “four score and seven years” later in Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri. All these battlefields are hallowed ground. They are living memorials to this nation’s brave soldiers, past, present and future.

I believe that my duty is to present to you opportunities that help you fulfill your personal goals in saving America’s heritage. That’s why today, I invite you to become a Charter Member of Campaign 1776.

By supporting Campaign 1776 today — taking advantage of the great $36-to-$1 matching opportunity to help save these 4 crucial acres at the Princeton Battlefield — I will make you a Charter Member for a full year. You — like those brave patriots who answered our young nation’s call 238 years ago — will be one of the first people in the world to rally on the banner of Revolutionary War battlefield preservation.

Even more exciting, part of our $25,000 contribution will go to fund a “ground penetrating radar” study, as it is entirely possible that there are soldier graves on this property from the Battle of Princeton. (Remember, after the Revolutionary War, soldiers’ bodies were not exhumed and later moved to large national cemeteries, as they were during the Civil War; you were buried where you fell. I don’t know about you, but the thought of perhaps finding long-lost “patriot graves” gets my heart pumping.)

National Geographic Map of the War of 1812

This National Geographic Map showing every battle of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 is yours for your gift of $50 or more to save Princeton. (National Geographic)

If you could support this effort today with your gift of $50 or more, it will be my honor to send you a very special gift — a beautiful, double-sided map produced by the National Geographic Society, which shows every battle of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. I predict this map will come in handy over the next few years, when you get an occasional letter from me about an opportunity to save more hallowed ground.

In closing, let me leave you with a note I recently received from Jack Warren, Executive Director of the Society of the Cincinnati, the fraternal organization created by the officers in Washington’s army.

“Many of the battlefields of our Revolutionary War were lost long ago — buried beneath the concrete and asphalt of Brooklyn and Trenton and consumed by the sprawl of Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The few that remain unspoiled are precious reminders of the long and desperate struggle to achieve American independence and create a republic dedicated to the liberty of ordinary people. We have to save them, and no organization is better equipped to lead us than the Civil War Trust through Campaign 1776 — the most effective historic preservation organization in the United States.”

Please support Campaign 1776 today with your most generous contribution, and help save even more of America’s precious and irreplaceable history. Thank you.

With deep gratitude and appreciation,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. Please see the information about the benefits of becoming a charter member of Campaign 1776 today, and visit our website at www.campaign1776.org/princeton. But of course, the greatest benefit is the knowledge that you are helping to save even more of our nation’s history and heritage for future generations. That makes you a hero, in my book. There has never been a national push like this to protect Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields. And given the remarkable success you and I have achieved at saving Civil War battlefields, don’t we owe it to those future generations of Americans to save this part of our history, too? I obviously think so, and hope you will join me as a Charter Member of Campaign 1776 right now. Thank you again.