Return to story
British Redcoats fire at Minutemen during a re-enactment in Concord, Mass. Preservation advocates say saving historic battlefields can boost tourism and community pride.
British soldiers march from the muddy battlefield during
Re-enactors fire their muskets at a Revolutionary War event in Waterford, Conn. A measure passed by the House
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
This week brings hope for those who seek to put a strong sense of place in people's understanding of American history.
The U.S. House of Representatives wants to preserve the most important battlefields and associated sites of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
Legislation passed by voice vote Monday would add hundreds of those landscapes to the National Park Service program that has saved 17,000 acres of Civil War sites since 1988.
The measure, if approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president, would also renew the highly successful American Battlefield Protection Program.
Advocates praised the legislation's progress in a Wednesday afternoon teleconference with reporters.
Historic landscapes are critical to helping people connect with the past--with making it real, said David Hackett Fischer, a historian at Brandeis University whose book "Washington's Crossing" earned him the Pulitzer Prize for history.
"One of the best ways to learn history is to study it on the ground," said Fischer, who testified for the bill early this year before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. "These are some of the most effective classrooms we've got."
Many Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites are endangered and little time is left to save them, said Fischer and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.
"Sprawl and commercial development are threatening the historic sites where our nation was forged and shaped," Holt said. "Each time a historic battlefield is replaced with a parking lot, a chapter of American history is obscured, and future generations lose an important window onto their heritage."
New Jersey has more Revolutionary War sites than any other state, but Virginia is also rich in such places.
A recent National Park Service study ordered by Congress catalogued sites from the Revolution and War of 1812, ranking their historic integrity and degree of importance.
The Battlefield Protection Program acquires property only from willing sellers and excludes land that already lies within the congressionally authorized boundary of a national park. It leverages matching grants with money from private groups, such as the Civil War Trust, and state and local governments.
Holt's bill applies only to the sites of "nationally significant battles" and associated places. In Virginia, examples of sites that might qualify for preservation include:
Hunter's Iron Works, along the Rappahannock River in southern Stafford County, ranked as a Priority 1 site in the Park Service's study, and the Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory. Both manufactured arms for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
Green Spring, an intact Revolutionary War battlefield near Yorktown.
Guinn's Island in Tidewater, where the Ethiopian Regiment--a unit of emancipated slaves formed by Lord Dunmore, the royal governor--were engaged.
The legislation would authorize appropriating $10 million annually from 2014 through 2017, allocated in matching grants to local or state governments seeking to buy land declared eligible by the Park Service for protection.
James Lighthizer, president of the nonprofit Civil War Trust, was cautiously optimistic about the proposal's chances. Given the nation's fiscal situation and the polarized nature of Congress, House passage of the measure is highly significant, he said.
"Congress has been very sympathetic to Civil War battlefield preservation for 14 years, knock on wood," Lighthizer said. "That bodes well for the program if it gets authorized."
Noreen Bodman, executive director of the Crossroads of the American Revolution Association, said preserved battlefield sites provide "incredible" economic benefits from tourism for localities and also revitalize community pride.
Fischer noted that studies show people who read history are more apt to vote and shoulder civic responsibilities.
The events of the American Revolution, War of 1812 and the Civil War--all part of our American history--can bring us together in a period of strong differences," the scholar said. "We can use more of that."House bill: bit.ly/House2489 American Battlefield Protection Program: nps.gov/hps/abpp Civil War Trust: civilwar.org
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029
Lafayette and his 3,000-plus Continental Army soldiers and militia camped June 2, 1781, in Spotsylvania. The French general's campaign was critical in the broader effort of Gen. George Washington and American forces to pin down the British army and force its surrender at Yorktown.
The Mine Run Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is hosting the dedication at Corbin's Bridge near Todds Tavern, which will follow an 11 a.m. reception at the Spotsylvania County Museum in Spotsylvania Courthouse Village.
The public is invited to both.
The reception will feature brief remarks by Lafayette biographer Marc Leepson. Lafayette artifacts will be exhibited at the museum.