Feature: Preservationists battle proposed Walmart near Virginia Civil War battlefields

Russ Smith, a low-key, 60-year-old superintendent with the National Park Service, noses his official white Chevy Impala off four-lane Route 3 in Orange County, Virginia, and onto a dirt road called Lyons Lane. We drive past the brick remains of an outbuilding and down around a curve, where he pulls to the side. In a few seconds, we're standing at a literal turning point of the American Civil War.

On May 5 and 6, 1864, Union troops marched south along the old Orange Turnpike here and clashed with Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the Battle of the Wilderness, a brutal encounter that involved more than 170,000 men and left nearly 30,000 of them dead, dying, or wounded.

The battle (its name refers to the dense undergrowth common to this region) is still recalled for a specific horror: Acres of nearly impenetrable scrub caught fire, incinerating hundreds of wounded soldiers caught in the no-man's land between opposing forces. But what truly distinguished the battle was its aftermath.

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