Editor’s Note: At its annual dinner on Saturday, April 6, the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust presented its Ralph Happel Award for lifetime achievement to Dr. Mike Stevens, a former president of the organization (and early ECW contributor!) renowned throughout the preservation community for his impassioned work. In accepting the award, Dr. Mike offered what he called “a comment about the importance, indeed the righteousness, of our cause.” We’re proud to pass along, with his permission, a portion of Dr. Mike’s comments:
A Civil War battlefield is literally sacred soil, consecrated by the blood and by the bravery of the men who fought and fell there, and we who are in full possession of the heritage purchased by that blood and by that bravery, we who are the future for whom they fought, stand quite literally as the guardians of their memory and stewards of their sacrifice.
We preservationists have a deep desire and commitment to honor and to remember these men, and we believe there is no better way to do that than to save the very ground they sanctified with their suffering and their sacrifice, ground “well-watered with the blood of heroes,” ground which because of our efforts will be there for as long as there is an America.
Having the preserved ground of a Civil War battlefield to walk upon allows us to reflect upon these men who believed that there are things more important than life itself, who risked everything for the promise of nothing save honor and principle. Walking this ground allows us a unique opportunity to ponder not only what they did but also why and how they did it.
And by so doing, we can learn more about ourselves, about the human condition, about the higher virtues of honor, and duty, and love of God and country, of courage and self-sacrifice and loyalty to cause and comrade, about the difference between giving one’s life and not simply losing it.
These men made the ultimate sacrifice, paid the ultimate price, and we who understand have an obligation.to preserve and to protect and to remember. By so doing, we will allow those Americans yet to come to share in the company of heroes.
Each of us understands that the past vanishes all too swiftly, and that without preservation of these fields, the men who died there simply die and disappear, first from sight, and then from memory. Allowing these fields to be destroyed assures that only memory remains , and this alone, untethered by physical associations, will inevitably dissipate like morning mist and be lost forever and for all time.
Each of us understands why we must continue to do everything in our power to see to it that that does not happen.