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Project will commemorate Civil War casualties

By CAROL KINSLEY

Asked four years ago by their governor to create a legacy project to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, mayors in Virginia decided, "We don't need another monument or flagpole. Can't we do something together that we can't do alone?"
They turned to Cathleen ("Cate") Magennis Wyatt, who, five years earlier had founded The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, a four-state, non-profit corporation dedicated to creating awareness of the unparalleled history and cultural resources in the 180-mile swath of land from Gettysburg, Pa., to Monticello, Va.  Wyatt, former state secretary of Commerce and Trade, had spearheaded a campaign to secure designation for the "Old Carolina Road" — a former Native American trail traced by Route 15 from Gettysburg, jogging to Routes 20, 231 and 43 into Charlottesville — as the 99th road to be a National Scenic Byway. She is working to have Congress designate the entire area as a National Heritage Area.
"It was easy to tell the governors, 'sure,'" said Wyatt. Within the JTHG corridor is the largest concentration of battlefields where most of the 620,000 lives were lost in that war. "Why not plant one tree for each man, march trees along the road?" she suggested. The Australians had created a similar allee after World War I.
Actually, if lined up like that, on both sides of the road, the trees would be only 3 feet apart. Instead, communities are being asked to devote small swaths of land along the route for creating groves. At Bliss Orchard in Gettysburg, 248 trees were planted as part of a larger effort by the National Park Service to restore the battlefield site to what it looked like in 1863.
Wyatt noted in a recent telephone interview, that most Civil War casualties were not properly buried. Half of them were unknown. There were no dog tags, no identification. Many are buried in mass graves. This would be the first national memorial to the Civil War fallen.
The mayors all passed resolutions to support the Living Legacy Tree Planting Project and worked collaboratively to bring it to fruition. You can see the results at www.hallowedground.org.
"We have 1,413 soldiers memorialized now," she said. "We plan to plant about 2,000 more trees over the next few weeks."
Once in the ground, each tree is geo-tagged (so it can be located, within inches, like a geo-cache) and placed on an interactive online map created with the support of GIS software industry leader ESRI. Each tree is dedicated to a particular soldier, and a vignette explains where he came from and where he died. Also available is information about the type of tree, its source and care requirements.
Schools are getting involved, with students doing research on individual soldiers and taking part in the dedication of "their soldier's" tree. Ancestry.com provides access to its websites so that participating JTHG classrooms can research soldiers’ stories.
Wyatt said some students working on the project in after-school sessions complained when their teachers planned to cut out early for Halloween.
The History Channel has also become a partner and sponsor. Barlett Tree Experts, which has a number of local offices within the JTHG area, has become a strategic partner and will help maintain the trees once planted.
Chief Arborist Peter Hart was working with his own tree company, Hart Tree Preservation in Clear Brook, Va., when he learned about the project. “I started helping as a volunteer and became more and more saturated in it. They hired me full time this fall. I didn’t really need more work, but it’s a passion that gets a hold of you.
“What a testimony to this nation, that it can heal, forgive and go on and create something beautiful from something that was such a dark time in our history. This wonderful allee of trees will be recognized around the world. It will be seen from outer space!”
Hart will dedicate trees in memory of two of his great-grandfathers who fought at Gettysburg. He cannot praise Wyatt enough for her efforts in this project. “I never saw anyone who works as hard as she does. Leave it to a woman who has the maternal instinct to want to remember all these fallen men. I’ve heard World War II veterans said the worst thing is to die anonymously, to be blasted to pieces. We want to bring remembrance to these people who marched into the face of death, knowing they would not return.”
For a $100 contribution, anyone can donate a tree in the name of his or her ancestor. One lady in Illinois gave a tree in honor of an unknown soldier as a tribute to her nephew, who was becoming an Eagle Scout. He will receive a certificate identifying “his” tree.
Many organizations are becoming partners. National Guard troops have planted trees and spoken on the importance of remembering these fallen.
A Tennessee couple, Ray and Cindy Jackson of Jackson Nursery in Belvidere, Tenn., have provided 1,135 Rising Sun redbuds, many of them donated, others sold at wholesale cost.
Fred Beshears of Simpson Nursery in Monticello, Fla., donated 705 trees and paid to have them shipped to Virginia.
John and JulieMcMakin of McMakin farms in Lyman, S.C., donated 57 sawtooth oaks, Armstrong maples, swamp white oak, winterberry holly and serviceberry. They've been installed in Orange, Va.
The overall master plan is for travelers to be guided by a red color palette in all seasons: redbud in spring, red oak in summer, red maple in fall and red cedar and red twig dogwood in winter. Canopy and understory plants also will feature a predominantly red color, including black gum, sassafras and winterberry.
The 150th Civil War commemoration runs through the end of 2015. Wyatt hopes The Living Legacy Tree Planting Project will complete the plantings within the next few years.
To participate, go to the website, hallowedground.org or call (540) 882-4929.