Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Booknotes: Battlefield (2017 edition)

New Arrival:
Battlefield: Farming a Civil War Battleground by Peter Svenson (Burford Books, 2017).

First published in hardcover in 1992, Peter Svenson's Battlefield: Farming a Civil War Battleground was a popular and critical success. A National Book Award finalist, the title sat on the shelves of practically every bookstore I visited during that decade. Burford Books reissued the book in a new 2017 paperback edition a short time ago.

From the description: "Battlefield chronicles the author's experiences building a farmhouse on a forty-acre site near Harrisonburg, Virginia, which years before had been the site of the Civil War “Battle of Cross Keys,” in which Confederate forces stopped a Union advance and provided Stonewall Jackson with an important victory in his Shenandoah Valley campaign. Svenson intertwines a detailed description of the battle with self-deprecating accounts of a fledgling hay farmer attempting to farm his land while holding a new “army” of real-estate developers at bay. While reviving his long-neglected farmland, he unearths spent cartridges and artillery shells, and meditates on how best to commemorate the men who fell in battle on his forty acres. Exploring the intimate connections between landscape and history, Battlefield offers an engaging, reverent, and highly personal view of the Civil War and its ongoing legacy."

The 2017 edition has a new foreword and afterword written by the author, and some new photographs of the battlefield have also been added. Svenson's afterword is particularly poignant. In 1994, before he sold the farm, Svenson had a preservation easement placed on the entire property through the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. Knowing that this would make selling the farm much more difficult and greatly decrease its market value, the move was a commendable sacrifice on Svenson's part, one that he thought worth it to ensure that the battlefield topography would remain unaltered in perpetuity. The author then revisited the farm fourteen years after its sale only to discover that the owner had years earlier proceeded to obliterate an important part of the battleground and reshape it into a horse riding ring, all with the apparent acquiescence of the VOF. It sounds like a smaller-scale version of the Fleetwood Hill stewardship debacle.

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