From Charlotte Observer, May 2008
Spencer-- It's a clash between two Southern staples -- the Civil War and racing.
The dispute centers on a former textile mill and 130 acres of forest just north of this Rowan County railroad town near the Yadkin River.
Here, former Boston investment banker Dave Risdon, now of Huntersville, N.C., is clearing land to build a 2.15-mile "country club" raceway for amateur drivers of souped up sports cars and motorcycles. The raceway would include a clubhouse and 120 townhouses lining the track.
But for preservationists, the land is sacred. They claim it as part of a Civil War battlefield where Confederates won their last victory in the Carolinas on April 12, 1865 - three days after Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox, but two weeks before N.C. troops surrendered.
Last week, the non-profit Civil War Preservation Trust included the site, about 45 miles north of Charlotte, among it's annual list of the nation's 25 most-endangered Civil War battlefields.
"We're not anti-development, but we try to get people to take a hard look at where theiy're trying to build things," said the trust's Mary Koik. "You can move a school - or in this case a racetrack - but you can't move a battlefield."
Sides for the current skirmish were quickly drawn in 2005, when Risdon announced his track plans. The debate is over how much of his land was occupied by troops during the 1865 battle for a vital railroad bridge over the Yadkin River.
Preservationist Ann Brownlee, Risdon's most vocal critic, argues that the racetrack would be "smack in the heart of the battleground. If you take out the heart, the periphery will be meaningless."
She said her assertion is backed by cannonballs and other artifacts found at the site, along with an eyewitness account of a Union cavalryman being shot off his horse there.
She's not the lone voice. Several residents have written letters to local newspapers decrying anymore destruction of the battlefield.
Most of the fighting did take place on or near the bridge.
In the war's waning days, Union forces led by General George Stoneman had stormed through Western North Carolina in what became known as "Stoneman's Raid." Early on April 12, they captured Salisbury, determined to destroy supply lines.
Stoneman liberated and burned the city's infamous Confederate prison, then turned a brigade of about 1,200 troops on the bridge.
The raiders arrived about 2 p.m. But, across the river into Davidson County, Confederate General Zebulon York had spread a like number of troops - with four or five pieces of artillery - along a bluff that overlooked the bridge.
As the Federal troops approached, the Confederates fired from "York Hill" and drove them back. After more than five hours of fighting, the Union raiders retreated to Salisbury. More than 15 had been killed or mortally wounded.
Yet after three years of controversy, not one turn has been cut into the rolling terrain. the project was slowed by two lawsuits Brownlee's group filed but ultimately dropped. The town of Spencer annexed Risdon's land, hopeful of the track's economic benefits. Last August, its zoning board gave him the go-ahead - concluding that the land's historical significance was destroyed decades ago. A month later, a court order stopped work after workers began grading more land than the town permit allowed.