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From Rural Fields to Battlefields Part 5: Virginia

This blog is part four in a five-part series about Clark Hall by 2019 National History Academy student Dominique Castanheira. 

Part 5: Virginia

Clark Hall’s journey into the private sector led him to The Fairfax Group, a global security and investigative firm. As the Senior Managing Director, he currently travels the world while conducting inquiries for multinational companies, major law firms, and sovereign governments.

“I went to work for The Fairfax Group in March of 1995,” Mr. Hall said. “And since then I have traveled to every part of the globe. You name it, I’ve been there. The cases I do mostly involve conflicts of interest. Bribery, systemic workplace violence, drugs in the workplace. Serious stuff, not just individual cases. I’ve done a lot of work for a lot of players over the years. Now, I’m still doing some of that. But only when they call to send me to a nice place. I’ll go to Amsterdam, I will not go to Bogota.”

When he isn’t investigating systemic misconduct violations overseas, Mr. Hall conducts work that he is deeply passionate about: battlefield preservation. His father’s books on the Second World War sparked his interest in the Marines. The ones on the FBI began his desire to join the Bureau. And the books on the Civil War were the foundation for Clark Hall’s fascination with the historic conflict.

“A lot of people ask when my interest in the Civil War started, but I don’t remember when it wasn’t a part of my life. I was reading about the Civil War as a 7-year-old boy, and I kept that interest throughout my life. I have probably the largest single private Civil War photograph and map collection of anybody,” Mr. Hall said.

Clark Hall, who resides in Virginia, has been involved in landscape battlefield preservation for 35 years. During that time, he has worked with the American Battlefield Trust to protect America’s hallowed ground and has gained a keen eye when it comes to choosing what land to preserve.

“Right now I’m working on a battlefield that no one even knows about called Freeman’s Ford in Culpeper County, Virginia,” Mr. Hall said. “That battlefield is significant because a Union general was killed there in a valiant effort on the part of his brigade to attack the Confederacy. The battle’s been overlooked, and the battlefield is the same way today as it was August 22 of 1862. So to me, that’s almost perfect because you’ve got a little-known battle with serious casualties, the death of a prominent Union officer, and a connection to the Second Manassas Campaign. That’s the recipe for success right there.”

But finding battlefields to save is just the tip of the iceberg. Rough waters wade in when the preservationist has to fight developers. Throughout the years, he has co-founded multiple organizations to save battlefields from development (the Chantilly Battlefield Association in 1986 and the Brandy Station Foundation in 1988). It is a struggle that has dominated his work, and it is one he will never stop fighting.

“The most challenging part of preservation is when we want to protect a battlefield and someone comes in and views that acreage as prime development property. We then find ourselves in competition with the developers. We go to County Officials, who must approve any and all rezonings. Battlefields are always agriculturally zoned; these are farms. So if you want to rezone it for industrial use, the Board of Supervisors must approve that. So we’ll go to the Board of Supervisors and say, ‘We’d like very much not to see this rezoned. Because it’s going to damage this battlefield.’ We deal with it every single day and I’m dealing with it right now,” Mr. Hall said.

Clark Hall and his wife Deborah W. Fitts (Courtesy Clark Hall)

But he has faced more formidable adversaries than property developers. After decades of facing the mob and confronting political corruption, the preservationist has learned a valuable skill: relentlessness.

“We’re like George Washington, we keep our army in the field,” Mr. Hall said. “We’re here in the winter, and we’re not going to go home to get warm, we’re gonna stay in the field. We’re gonna resist. And whatever we do, we do not give up, ever. It’s the same as being an investigator; we don’t give up.”

After a lifetime of dangerous work, Clark Hall is no stranger to loss. He lost his pet cat Percy to the fatal bite of a water moccasin. He lost men in Vietnam to the spoils of war. He lost Deborah, the love of his life, to breast cancer. But when he works in battlefield preservation, he can, at last, save something.

“Battlefields where young men fought and died are sacred to me. Vietnam has a lot to do with that. In Vietnam, well, we fought and we died. And those that were killed were left there, buried on the side of the trail. I can’t save any of that. But I can work hard, and I can save this place. I can save them.”