RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — From Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia to Pennsylvania's Gettysburg, an ambitious memorial is slowly sinking roots: the planting of 620,000 trees representing the Civil War's human toll.
With only about 2,000 trees in the ground, the goal of the nonprofit Living Legacy Project will likely extend well beyond the Civil War's Sesquicentennial, which concludes this year. The project is undaunted, with 8,000 plantings scheduled in 2015.
Organizers already are looking ahead to another milestone for completion of the $65 million memorial.
"What I personally envision is 50 years from now, when this country commemorates its bicentennial of the Civil War, these trees will be in full bloom," said Shaun Butcher, spokesman for the project. "Future generations can visit this region and see that there is a national memorial for the Civil War fallen."
The project is part of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, a national heritage tourism nonprofit that aims to highlight the rich American history along the 180-mile route through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. It is not limited to Civil War attractions, such as Harpers Ferry in West Virginia and historic Frederick, Md.
Designated a National Scenic Byway by Congress, the historic, 75-mile-wide corridor claims 13 national parks, nine presidential homes and hundreds of sites recognizing African-American and Native American heritage sites.
It also traverses the largest concentration of Civil War battlegrounds, with Virginia claiming the most.
The Living Legacy tree plantings will be within the scenic byway but it will not be an unbroken green line. The trees are being planted on public and private land, as well as at tourist attractions such as Oak Hill, James Monroe's former estate in Leesburg.
Butcher said the tree plantings are intended to honor every single Civil War death, including the many felled by disease, not just towering figures such as the South's Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
"There's a big Jackson statue at Manassas and other places," Butcher said. "But then there are a lot of enlisted who don't have a memorial, who don't have a big statute of them on a horse in granite. The idea is to honor those individuals."
Each of the fallen, in fact, will be recognized by name through each individual tree, though many of the war dead remain unidentified.
At Bliss Farm at Gettysburg, for instance, 168 apple trees were planted to restore an orchard that thrived before the battle. Students from around the country were recruited to research the soldiers who fell at the orchard and to whom the trees were dedicated.
The trees were geo-tagged to allow smartphone users to learn the story of the soldiers by going to the Living Legacy website.
Besides apple trees, a palette of seasonal trees are being used to create the memorial. They include redbuds, red oaks, red maples and red cedars. The trees' colors peak at various seasons. The red color scheme symbolizes bravery and sacrifice.
Individuals, businesses, schools and community groups can participate in the project, which is seeking $100 contributions for each tree. Donors may select a soldier to honor.
Butcher said the project is gaining momentum as more people and groups sign on, including nurseries. "We feel we're beginning to reach a tipping point," he said.
The Living Legacy Project has worked with local communities to enlist their support and ideas for a Civil War memorial, said Cate Magennis Wyatt, who heads the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership.
They told her, "We don't want another flagpole. We don't need another monument," she said.
Monte and Darby Gingery's Somerset Plantation have planted red maples and redbuds, among others, as part of the Legacy Project. Located between Culpeper and Charlottesville, the farm saw many Civil War battles.
Gingery is working with the local historical society to get local names of the war dead linked to the trees.
"We just thought as a family it was a proper and fitting way to honor the brave fallen men from the Confederacy and the Union," Gingery said.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.
The Journey Through Hallowed Ground and the Living Legacy: http://www.hallowedground.org/Get-Involved/Plant-a-Tree/About-Living-Legacy