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 - pgs
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"The Antietam Plan"

The hearing on April 2, 1902, dealt primarily with the question of how to accomplish the needed work of historic preservation and marking, represented by pending bills, without incurring exorbitant costs. General Davis testified that the acquisition of additional large tracts of land was not necessary; that small tracts and markers should be sufficient in almost every pending case. During his service as chairman of the Official Records Commission, and especially between 1890 and 1895, General Davis had gone into the field several times, he testified, to study a number of battlefield proposals and in some cases to place markers. He was in charge of marking the lines of battle at Antietam early in the 1890s and very shortly reached this conclusion: "If it is the purpose of Congress to perpetuate this field in the condition in which it was when the battle was fought, it should undertake to perpetuate an agricultural community.... That was its condition in 1862, and that is the condition in which it should be preserved." [80] General Davis had therefore arranged that no large tracts of land be bought at Antietam but rather that narrow lanes be obtained along the lines of battle and fences erected on either side so as to preserve the farming lands intact. The land cost was very little, the expense of constructing roads was small, and the historical markers were well located and accessible in a setting still basically agricultural. [81] This method of battlefield park treatment came to be known as the "Antietam plan," in contrast to the plan of acquiring large tracts of park lands as was done at Gettysburg and Chickamauga. The "Antietam plan" remained an important feature of War Department and congressional thinking on battlefield preservation until the transfer of the national military parks to the Interior Department in 1933. For example, the 1927 legislation which authorized preservation of the battlefields of Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Chancellorsville and the Wilderness specifically named the Antietam system as the guide to be used in preserving these four areas.

General Davis also testified to some of his other early activities in historic battlefield preservation. In 1892, as the volume of War Records relating to the Appomattox campaign was in preparation, he sent an aide to check over the maps on the ground before they were published. The aide reported back that the old Appomattox Courthouse had burned, the McLean House had been taken down, brick by brick, with a view to its removal to Chicago, Illinois, for exhibition purposes, and the house occupied by General Grant as his headquarters had disappeared. General Davis immediately reported the matter to Secretary of War Daniel S. Lamont and recommended that these and other important sites at Appomattox be permanently marked by tablets. Secretary Lamont approved and General Davis then had these and several other spots carefully marked including the "place where the apple tree stood under which General Lee awaited... a message from General Grant; the place where General Lee issued his farewell order to the Army of Northern Virginia, and the place where Grant met Lee on April 10." At the request of the House Military Affairs Committee, General Davis visited Appomattox again in 1902 and checked the condition of these markers placed ten years before. They were still in excellent condition except for the need of painting. If the Congress concluded that land should be acquired around these markers, then 150 acres would be amply sufficient to embrace all the main points of interest, General Davis testified, rather than the 2500 acres proposed in pending legislation. [82]

General Davis also reported to the committee on several conferences he had with Secretary Lamont about the Manassas battlefields, which resulted in the Secretary directing him to visit the area and make recommendations. After carefully studying the terrain of both the first and second battles of Manassas, General Davis concluded that the only land acquisition required was the Henry House and field, the central point of the first battle, and a small tract on the Dogan Place. Still later, General Davis went over the ground of the Atlanta Campaign in Georgia for the War Department. Again he concluded that substantial land acquisition was unnecessary and that "tablets could be erected largely in the public roads, marking points... where the lines of battle crossed... and giving directions to travelers as to the points of interest as they passed along the road." [83]

These ideas of careful but inexpensive historic marking and preservation met with the warm approval of the House Military Affairs Committee. As Chairman Parker reported to the House on May 14, 1902, "It is not desirable that all those battlefields should be turned into great military parks, adorned with monuments, and so changed as to be utterly unlike the country at the time of the battle.... The farm land, the woods, the pastures, and, in some cases, the buildings should be left as they were...." And again, "the work ought to be done as it was done at Antietam, by acquiring narrow roadways, maintaining the general condition of the country, setting up proper monuments and markers, and thus enabling the student and patriot to see how the battle was fought." [84]

Next Proposal for a Central National Military Park Commission

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