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Central Virginia Battlefields Trust selects Donald C. Pfanz as the recipient Ralph Happel Award

Donald C. Pfanz at Chancellorsville Battlefield, 2021

Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT) has selected Donald C. Pfanz as the recipient of its Ralph Happel Lifetime Achievement Award in Civil War Preservation.

In 1987, while working as a historian at Petersburg National Battlefield, Pfanz wrote a letter to several colleagues expressing concern over the destruction of battlefield lands in Chantilly, located in northern Virginia. Pfanz’s letter called for the creation of an organization “to preserve battlefield land by direct purchase”—a call that led to the creation of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites and the start of the modern Civil War battlefield preservation movement.

“The group first met in a riverside restaurant in Fredericksburg,” noted CVBT President Tom Van Winkle. “Their efforts sparked a national movement, centered right here in central Virginia. The organization eventually grew into what is today the American Battlefield Trust, with its nation-wide mission, and it also inspired the creation of local battlefield preservation groups like CVBT.”

In 2001, Pfanz was inducted into the American Battlefield Trust’s Hall of Fame and presented with the Trust’s Edwin C. Bearss Lifetime Achievement Award.

Pfanz was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. In his 32-year career with the National Park Service, he worked at three parks: Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park, Petersburg National Battlefield, and Fort Sumter National Monument. He retired in 2013.

Pfanz has written seven books about the Civil War, including Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life, Clara Barton’s Civil War, and War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg. He and his wife, Zandra, live in Spotsylvania County.

In 2003, the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust received a $150,000 bequest from the estate of the late Ralph A. Happel. A local son of the region, Mr. Happel had a very distinguished 36-year career as the first historian of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. Recognizing the unique battlefields and historic resources in the Fredericksburg area, Mr. Happel had directed that a portion of his estate be used to support CVBT’s ongoing preservation efforts. To honor the lifelong work of this dedicated historian, the Trust’s Board of Directors established the Ralph A. Happel Preservation Award, to be bestowed on individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to battlefield preservation in the central Virginia region. Since 2004, CVBT has honored nine individuals with this award. Past award recipients include:

  • Former New York Congressman Robert J. Mrazek, of N.Y.'s Third Congressional District.

  • Brian C. Pohanka

  • NPS Chief Historian Emeritus Ed Bearss

  • CVBT founding director Enos Richardson

  • Former Virginia Speaker of the House of Delegates William J. Howell

  • Historian/Preservationist Clark B. "Bud" Hall

  • Richmond attorney John P. "Jack" Ackerly III

  • Hal Wiggins, formerly - Fredericksburg Field Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

  • Dr. Michael P. Stevens, Founding Member and Past President CVBT

Central Virginia Battlefields Trust has been saving hallowed ground since 1996 and has preserved nearly 1,500 acres at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. To learn more, please visit their website,


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