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Preservationists win Wilderness battle

Rather than face what would likely have been an image-bruising court fight, Walmart has abandoned plans to build a retail supercenter on the doorstep of the Wilderness battlefield in central Virginia.

“This project has been controversial, and consequently it’s been the subject of a lot of internal discussion and debate,” Walmart spokesman William Wertz told the Washington Post. “We’ve tried to weigh the pros and cons of the project and balance the need for economic growth and the need for preservation.”

The announcement ends more than two years of intrigue, government votes and court filings. It’s a huge win for Civil War Trust, which led the fight, along with historians and local residents who had taken Walmart to court after exhausting other government recourse.

CWT called the decision “unexpected” and encouraging. “We stand ready to work with Walmart to put this controversy behind us and protect the battlefield from further encroachment,” CWT President James Lighthizer said in a prepared release. “We firmly believe that preservation and progress need not be mutually exclusive, and welcome Walmart as a thoughtful partner in efforts to protect the Wilderness Battlefield.”

These were kinder words than Walmart had grown accustomed to from Civil War activists, who had strongly criticized the corporate giant for tone-deafness toward historical interests. But Lighthizer said he expected Walmart would eventually come around.

“We have long believed that Walmart would ultimately recognize that it is in the best interests of all concerned to move their intended store away from the battlefield,” he said. “We applaud Walmart officials for putting the interests of historic preservation first. Sam Walton would be proud of this decision.”

CWT calls the Battle of the Wilderness “one of the most significant engagements of the American Civil War.” One-sixth of the 185,000 soldiers who fought there were killed, wounded or counted among the missing.