Book Cover "The Origin & Evolution of the National Military Park Idea" by Ronald F. Lee 1973




General Observations

Monuments for
American Revolution Battlefields

The First Battlefield Parks

Later Evolution of the National Military Park Idea





Bunker Hill Monument
Bunker Hill Monument.

Daniel Webster delivered one of his greatest orations, a fascinating commentary on the first half-century of our national history, at the cornerstone laying for the Bunker Hill Monument on the fiftieth anniversary of the battle on June 17, 1825. It took eighteen years for a voluntary association of citizens to complete the monument but it was finally dedicated in 1843, again to the accompaniment of Daniel Webster's rolling sentences. Most of the other important battlefields of the American Revolution had to wait for the coming of the Centennial years to receive similar attention. In the 1870s a series of historical societies and monument associations sprang up along the Atlantic seaboard, oftentimes working in cooperation with local governments, to mark familiar battlefields. Their efforts were dedicated but uneven; and in many cases they fell short of what was needed to commemorate the battlefields of greatest interest to the whole Nation. At this point, the Congress of the United States for the first time took up several fundamental questions of national historic preservation policy. Between 1876 and 1886, Congress considered or took action on five significant aspects of preservation: (1) it appropriated funds to erect, or to assist in the erection of monuments on eight Revolutionary battlefields in seven States; (2) it seriously considered a general program of matching projects; (3) it arranged, through one of its committees, for a study and evaluation of all the battlefields of the Revolution; (4) it considered a classification of such battlefields into two categories as recommended by one of its committees; and (5) it considered the creation of a national board to guide the work.

Eight bills were introduced in the Senate and House between 1880 and 1886 incorporating one or more of these ideas. Although in the end none were enacted, these bills and the accompanying committee hearings and reports raised important questions of national historic preservation policy in Congress for the first time. The solutions proposed reappear many times in one form or another in the long history of national preservation legislation down to the present day.

The first member of Congress to sponsor legislation to help historical societies erect monuments on Revolutionary battlefields was Senator Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont (whose home in Strafford is now a national historic landmark). On May 31, 1880, Senator Morrill introduced S.1805, "A Bill Relative to Revolutionary Battlefields." He had already served twelve years in the House and fourteen years in the Senate and was one of the most influential leaders in Congress. His public services were many but today he is best known for the Land-Grant College Act, which led to the important federally supported system of state colleges and universities, and the Second Morrill Act under which the Federal Government annually gives $25,000 to each of the land-grant institutions. With his long experience with Federal grants, it is not surprising that in his bill, Senator Morrill proposed a system of matching grants to help chartered historical societies and associations erect monuments on Revolutionary battlefields not yet commemorated in this manner. The grants were to go to "any monument association or historical society" which "shall have procured a charter from one of the United States..." and shall have "commenced to raise money to carry out its patriotic object." If it met these requirements, the society or association would "be entitled to one dollar from the Treasury of the United States for every dollar actually raised by its own efforts: Provided, the sum so raised shall not be less than ten thousand dollars and not more than fifty thousand dollars." [3] Senator Morrill had a well-established interest in matters of this kind. As chairman of the Senate committee on buildings and grounds, he had been largely responsible, not only for terraces, fountains, and gardens around the Capitol, but also for legislation to complete the Washington Monument. [4] He was one of the first historic preservationists in Congress.

In 1880, however, Congress was far from ready for this kind of general legislation. Senator Morrill's bill was soon amended by the Committee on Military Affairs to eliminate the general program of matching grants and limit the bill to one project only -- Bennington battlefield. As amended, the bill authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to pay forty thousand dollars to the governor of Vermont to be transferred by him to the Bennington Monument Association which had raised an equal amount to erect a monument "to commemorate the Revolutionary battle of Bennington." Like the general measure, the amended bill provided that "no moneys shall be paid out of the Treasury until the design of the monument shall have been approved by the President of the United States, or by a commission appointed by him...," and until a board of three Army officers had certified that the combined funds were sufficient to complete the monument according to the approved design. [5] In this amended form the bill passed Congress and was approved by the President on February 11, 1881.

Senator Morrill's bill took care of Bennington, but none of the other neglected battlefields. At this point other members of the Senate and the House took up the idea of general legislation to authorize Federal grants-in-aid to help historical societies erect monuments on Revolutionary battlefields. Between 1881 and 1886 seven more bills were introduced embodying this concept. On March 16, 1882, Representative G. W. Geddes of Ohio reported adversely to the House on one of these bills, H. R. 4347, on behalf of the Joint Committee on the Library. The reasons Congressman Geddes gave for the Committee's adverse report reveal one of the important difficulties in the way of adopting a just national historic preservation policy, a difficulty not finally resolved by Congress until passage of the Historic Sites Act in 1935. He observed first that the provisions of the bill "are entirely too general and comprehensive," and that by its terms "large sums of money would be appropriated to objects, the particular merits of which we are not and cannot be advised." Representative Geddes then offered the following intriguing observations about the relative importance of military and civil history. "Your committee cheerfully and unhesitatingly assent to the fact that no event in the history of this country is more worthy of being commemorated in monument, history and song than the military achievements of our fathers in our Revolutionary struggle with the mother country. Of equal merit, however, and as deserving of the admiration of the present generation and all future ages, is the work of our fathers immediately following the termination of the Revolutionary struggle.... We should not discriminate between the great historic events of the battlefields and of civil life, so as to confer on either undue importance, or a disproportionate amount of the praise and glory due for the rich blessings we now enjoy.... History plainly demonstrates that when the war of the Revolution closed,... the delicate and responsible duties incumbent upon our fathers were not half accomplished.... A national government was yet to be established, a constitution by the voluntary consent of the whole people was yet to be agreed upon and adopted.... The scenes of...trials and triumphs are so numerous in both military and civil life that the most grateful posterity cannot feel it expedient to commemorate each and all by the means proposed in this bill. What your committee might feel called upon to recommend in any particular case can only be determined when it is presented. Your committee therefore report adversely...." [6]

The matter did not end there, however. Two years later, on July 2, 1884, Representative G. M. Woodward of Wisconsin brought to the floor of the House of Representatives a favorable report from the Committee on the Library on H.R. 2435, still another general bill "To encourage societies of the vicinage to erect monuments on the few important battlefields of the Revolution." [7] This bill contained all the former grant-in-aid features as well as some new provisions and was introduced on January 8, 1884, by Representative Samuel Sullivan Cox of New York City. A descendant of General James Cox, soldier of Brandywine and Germantown, "Sunset" Cox, as the Congressman was called by his friends, was a lawyer, prolific writer, and a talented and influential member of the House who had already served with distinction for almost a quarter of a century. [8]

Representative Woodward's favorable report on Cox's bill is unusually interesting. He began by carefully reviewing the actions Congress had taken or considered up to that time to commemorate the battlefields of the American Revolution. He pointed out that during the Centennial years, Congress had appropriated funds: "For a monument at Yorktown, $100,000; for Bennington, $40,000; for Saratoga, $30,000; for Newburg, $25,000; for the Cowpens, $20,000; for Monmouth, $20,000; for Groton, Conn., $5,000...; for Oriskany, $4,000." He went on to observe that "Bills were introduced during the same time, but not acted on, for monuments to commemorate the battles of Guilford Court House, King's Mountain, Bemis Heights (the first of the two Saratoga battles), and the Brandywine...." These appropriations, made by an almost unanimous vote of the Congress, he said had been wise and met with the approval of the whole country. Nevertheless, there were serious "inequalities" in the result, for some very important battlefields had not yet been marked by monuments while others of lesser interest were already well taken care of. It was the purpose of H.R.2435 to attempt to correct these inequalities. [9]

At this point Representative Woodward presented the results of an analysis of Revolutionary battlefields made for the House Committee on the Library at their request by Benson J. Lossing, the well-known traveler, wood-engraver and author of the Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution. Lossing submitted his views to the committee in a communication dated February 26, 1884. According to Lossing there were fifty-eight engagements of the Revolution which might be designated as battles. Of these, four were in Canada and therefore outside the jurisdiction of Congress. Of those remaining, about twenty were already marked or in a fair way to be, including all the battlefields of first importance, several of second rank, and some of even lower grade. This left about fifteen battlefields of considerable note which should be made eligible for matching funds toward the cost of fairly substantial monuments, ranging from projects involving a minimum of $5,000 of matching Federal funds to a maximum of $100,000. Among these fifteen were Trenton, Princeton, Eutaw Springs, Guilford Court-House, Germantown, and the Brandywine. The committee estimated that, on the average, $20,000 of matching funds would be sufficient for each of these fifteen battlefields, making a total Federal cost of $300,000 for this portion of the program. This would take care of the first category of battlefields. Following Lossing, the committee estimated further that there were thirty-one places where minor collisions took place between American and British forces. Under the bill, qualified local historical societies would be eligible to secure matching funds, not to exceed $500 each, to place inexpensive stones at these locations. Forty other lesser places on the larger battlefields but still unmarked could also be commemorated by similar inexpensive stones. These steps would take care of the second category. With these costs all added together, the entire Federal financial burden of the bill, in round numbers, would be $350,000. Spread over twenty-five years, this would represent an insignificant annual sum for such important historical and patriotic work. "The scenes enacted at these spots," the Committee reported, "changed the world's history from Yorktown to this day. The nation, brought into being by the enactment of these scenes, cannot afford to neglect the memory of those who enacted them, nor fail to mark the places of their enactment." [10]

The bill, as reported by the committee, contained all the matching provisions of earlier bills, as well as their requirements for approval of monument designs. But the bill went further. It set up a board to guide the whole program: "...the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War, and the Librarian of Congress are hereby constituted a board to determine what remaining battlefields of Revolutionary War are of so dignified a character as to be, in their judgment, worthy of national commemoration in accordance with the provisions of this act and to what extent...the cooperation of the Government...shall be accorded." [11] This is the first time that establishment of a national board to guide or advise on general matters of historic preservation or commemoration was considered by the Congress of the United States.

In answer to the adverse report on a similar bill made by the same Committee on the Library two years before, Representative Woodward offered this comment: "If it be said that the notable civic events of the Revolutionary worthy of commemoration as the military is sufficient answer to say that these are an indefinite number and cannot be grouped together and classified as the battles of the Revolution can be. These are...a definite number, and the money needed for their commemoration can be approximately estimated." [12] As we shall see, somewhat similar reasoning appears to have guided Congress some forty years later in 1926 in adopting a general program for surveying, preserving, and marking the battle fields of all wars fought on American soil.

Site Marker--Washington's Marquee, Valley Forge
Site Marker--Washington's Marquee, Valley Forge

In addition to its general provisions, H.R.2435 contained two special sections that for the first time went beyond monuments and battlefields to include historic houses. One of these sections stated that as soon as $20,000 had been raised by its members, the provisions of the act would apply to the Washington Association of New Jersey, which had voluntarily purchased Washington's headquarters at Morristown and needed matching funds for related work. The other section extended the matching provisions to projects of local historical societies seeking to preserve Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge, erect a monument there, and acquire land on which the entrenchments and forts used by Washington's army were "still plainly visible."

Representative Woodward concluded his report with some general comments. He pointed out that the bill avoided the imputation that special legislation was sure to create "of having been procured in the interest of Representative's district." On the other hand the measure was "broad enough to include everything of the class to which it applies and restricted enough to exclude everything else." The main principle of the bill, he said, had been commended by committees of Congress, the public press, historical societies, and distinguished citizens. The committee urged its passage. [13]

This was not to be. No further action was taken by Congress in 1884. Although similar bills were again introduced in 1885 and 1886, they were never reported out of committee, much less voted upon. One might expect that as the years of the great centennial faded into the past, congressional and public interest turned to other issues and problems.

But not entirely so. In 1861, as the country trembled on the verge of civil war, Abraham Lincoln had appealed to the national memory of these very historic places of the Revolution in the words of his First Inaugural that have themselves become part of our familiar national heritage: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and every patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." Although Lincoln's appeal fell on deaf ears in 1861, when the centennial of the Revolution came around Northerners and Southerners alike looked back, past the years of tragic strife, to common memories of 1776 and 1783 and 1787. "The first public demonstration of fraternizing between the former enemies" of North and South, wrote Paul Buck in Road to Reunion, occurred in 1875 when companies of Confederate veterans of Virginia and South Carolina journeyed to Boston to participate in celebrating the centennial of Bunker Hill. By 1881 veterans of both armies met "for the sole reason of rejoicing that they were no longer foes. Then quickly the practice [of reunions] spread, culminating in two great spectacles, one commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, the other the dedication of the national military park at Chickamauga and Chattanooga in 1895." [14] As veterans of both armies turned to meet in reunions on the very fields where they had fought a generation before, they, with others, took up the task of preserving and marking the major battlefields of the Civil War. To that subject we now turn.

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