New Battle Mounted Over Civil War Ground

Wal-Mart wants to move in; actor Robert Duvall and others wage fight in Va.

ByABC News
May 24, 2009, 4:31 PM

WILDERNESS BATTLEFIELD, Va., May 24, 2009 — -- The battle of the Wilderness is not over.

The Civil War battlefield where Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant first faced Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is once again the site of a titanic struggle between powerful forces.

On one side is Wal-Mart, which plans to build a superstore near the park's entrance.

On the other side are preservationists, led by actor Robert Duvall, a Virginian and descendant of Lee who played him in the film, "Gods and Generals."

"Wal-Mart with their deep pockets full o' cash. I mean if they have that much money they can move down the road a couple of miles because I believe they'd have the money to do that, I mean I would think. I certainly believe in capitalism, but I believe in capitalism coupled with sensitivity," Duvall said recently during a news conference at the battlefield. "Whatever we can do to help we'll help. But we'll help first by graciously chasing out Wal-Mart."

Opponents want Wal-Mart to move down the road, but while the site near the battlefield is zoned for commercial development, the other options are largely zoned agricultural and would require time-consuming changes before Wal-Mart could locate there.

"We've gone to great lengths to try to work with residents, county planners, state officials to come up with a very unique design that fits within the unique character of Orange County Wilderness. And we've built the store to be furthest back from the site as possible. You won't be able to see it from any of the battlefield park," said Keith Morris, Wal-Mart's public affairs director.

The only option for stopping the project now appears to be to appeal to Orange County supervisors or to Wal-Mart itself. A planning board will offer its recommendation in June. The county board of supervisors, now leaning in favor of approving the project, is expected to vote this summer.

The Wilderness battle marked a crucial yet little-known point in the Civil War. Some 180,000 Union and Confederate troops faced off at Wilderness -- more Americans than are now in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.