At the wheel of his German luxury sedan, William F. Chaney cuts off the main road through Sharpsburg, Md., and makes his assault up a grassy hill near the spot where the Battle of Antietam began.
Over to the left, he says, extending his arm out the window, is the sunken road that had earned the name Bloody Lane when the fighting stopped. To the right, across the creek that ran red with blood, is where the Yankees massed their troops and prepared for the clash that became the costliest single day of the American Civil War.
Historians will tell you that the Union stand on these fields in September 1862 forced the retreat of the Confederate Army and helped move the war to a faster conclusion.
But the postscript to the story wasn't written until this year when, with the stroke of a pen, 101 acres of battlefield fell into the hands of a Confederate descendant.
The dirt where Chaney now stretches his long legs, leans against his car and puffs on a cigarette belongs to him. The eccentric, 54-year-old Anne Arundel County, Md., millionaire, who traces his roots to relatives of Gen. Robert E. Lee, outbid the National Park Service for the Washington County, Md., property last spring.
Now, on that hallowed ground, Chaney has announced he will build three towering monuments to Confederate heroes--notable additions on a Civil War battlefield where only two of the 104 statues pay tribute to Southerners.
Despite a moratorium on monuments at the 3,245-acre site, the National Park Service concluded it has "no authority to deny permission" to Chaney to erect 30-foot-high sculptures of Lee, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart.
An Obsession With War Between the States
Antietam Battlefield Superintendent J.W. Howard called Chaney's plan an "unusual development" for a place that has changed so little over the past century.
"The monuments we have there now were placed there by the veterans, paid for by the units that fought here. But this is his land, and he is entitled to proceed," Howard said.
For Chaney, it will be no small undertaking.
The land alone, which he bought from a farmer, cost him $300,000. To commission the sculptures, he will have to raise close to $1 million. But those who know him say this grand gesture follows the logical progression of his growing fascination--some might say obsession--with the Civil War.
A private man with a penchant for the audacious, Chaney grew up in the town of Lothian, a stretch of rolling tobacco fields 10 miles from the Chesapeake Bay where his ancestors settled in the 18th century. He inherited much of his wealth from his father, who built a rock and gravel pit into one of Anne Arundel County's busiest concrete operations.
After a short time in the family business, he soured on the work and instead began investing in such ventures as Annapolis Federal Savings Bank and the small Annapolis firm Clark Melvin Brokerage.
Land Protected From Development
His chief indulgence has been his interest in the Civil War. In 1996, Chaney published his own book about Lee based on letters the general wrote to his "Maryland cousins" the Carter family, a branch of Lee's family tree that Chaney says extends to him.
He also began collecting memorabilia: war-era weapons, letters signed by Abraham Lincoln and Lee, even a lock of hair purportedly from the head of Lee's grandmother.
But the jewel of his collection is the battlefield itself.
Chaney purchased the parcel from the farmer in March, snatching it out of the hands of the National Park Service. Howard acknowledged that the Park Service wanted the farm. But the agency was hamstrung by bidding restrictions and could offer the farm's owner only the appraised value. Enter Chaney.
"I thought it would be great to own it and bring it back to the way it looked on the day of the battle," Chaney said. "Coming out here is like traveling back in time."
While it is rare for an individual to purchase a stretch of battlefield, Chaney is not the only one who has done it. Ruff Fant, 58, a Washington lawyer, saw a Sharpsburg alfalfa farm advertised in a Civil War magazine and jumped at the chance to buy.
Unlike many of the dozens of battlefields in the South, Antietam is protected by government-owned easements that keep builders from plowing it under for town houses or shopping malls. To a developer, the land is useless. To Fant, it is ideal.
"It is not an investment," he said. "I bought this farm because I was interested in the history of the battle. The easements only made it more affordable."
The easements do not, however, prevent Chaney from commemorating Southern soldiers.
The statues he plans, showing the commanders sitting stiffly atop their horses, are designed in the same architectural style as the other 104 monuments at the field. With the exception of two markers, for the soldiers of Texas and Georgia, these will be the only ones to honor Southerners.
It's a project Chaney says he will undertake quietly, in hopes of avoiding the kind of stir that greeted commemorations of Lee and Jackson in Richmond this year, and that fueled protests in Anne Arundel County this summer.
Chaney provoked some anger in June when he announced he would display a statue honoring the courage of a Confederate foot soldier in front of his Lothian church. African American leaders said the tribute was akin to honoring Germans for courage during World War II.
O. James Lighthizer, the former Maryland transportation secretary and Anne Arundel County executive who is president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, defended Chaney in that dispute and supports him now.
"If he wants to include a tribute there, I say more power to him."