Brief History of Civil War Battlefield Preservation
In anticipation of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, we will focus on how Civil War battlefield preservation occurs and why its important to the discussion of the Civil War in 2016.
Memorializing and preserving the battlefields of the Civil War is a huge undertaking that started during and immediately after the war. In 1861, Less than 8 weeks after the battle of Manassas Confederate soldiers erected a monument to their fallen general on the battlefield. Union soldiers performed similar remembrances during the war to commemorate the fallen. Similarly, mere weeks after Gettysburg, the wheels were put in motion to preserve the site of the battle as a National Military Park.
In the 1880’s several National Military Parks were created. These parks were specifically designed for training purposes for active servicemen at the time. After the 1890’s, there wasn’t a concerted effort to focus on Civil War battlefield preservation for decades. The biggest advancement in Civil War battlefield preservation happened in 1990 when the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission was established by the U.S. Congress.
The result of the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission was the "Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields". The report is jam packed with fascinating insight into the philosophy behind Civil War battlefield preservation.
The statistics behind Civil War battlefield preservation
- There were about 10,500 Civil War armed conflicts
- Of these armed conflicts, 384 were considered principal Civil War battlefields
- The principal sites were identified if they had “special strategic, tactical or thematic importance to local operations, campaigns, theaters, or to the war as a whole.”
- The approximately 10,000 conflict sites excluded from this list of significant sites were most likely eligible to be put on the National Register of Historic Places because of their local and historical significance.
The principle battlefield sites are in the following states:
North Carolina: 20
Who owned the battlefield sites as of 1990:
- 16 Battlefields were owned by the Federal government and other public agencies
- 164 Battlefields were privately owned
- 187 have various combinations of Federal, state, local and private ownership
The case for preservation
- Out of the 384 sites, 235 battlefields were considered to be in good or fair condition
- 71 battlefields were considered lost because of development, pollution or other landscape alteration
- 161 battlefields were considered immediately threatened
The solutions based approach recommended by the commission:
We will examine each of these solutions in greater detail throughout the month of August
- Government Leadership
Private Sector Preservation
Preservation and Local Jurisdictions
Public and Private Funding
Technical Support and Educational Programs
An Urgent Call to Action
The urgency of the matter of battlefield preservation is not understated in the Commission’s report. They recommended immediate action from federal and state governments to provide leadership and incentives to cultivate preservation of these precious historical sites. What followed, and the theme of our next blog post is how incetivized organizations were able preserve large parcels of historic battlefields becasue the proper incentives were in place.
If it weren’t for this breakthrough in understanding of how preservation would ultimately impact the public’s interpretation of the war, these critical sites could be lost to the development of another strip mall or parking structure. Civil War reenactors are able to benefit from the preservation of this land every weekend when they are able to recreate battles on, or directly adjacent to, these historic battlefields. One of the best motivations that reenactors have is to help the general public to better interpret our nation’s Civil War heritage. This understanding of the war and how it impacts us today is why it’s important to not only continue the discussion of these profoundly tragic times, but to keep a physical reminder within the impacted communities to help to preserve a reverence for war.
All source material is from the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields. The report can be found by following this link: Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields