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 1926 Act for the Study and Investigation of Battlefields

Interest in the establishment of new national military parks revived in the 1920s after the victorious conclusion of World War I. The Nation was prosperous, the coming of the automobile in large numbers and better roads was making travel more and more popular, and there was a backlog of preservation projects to be considered, some of which had been first introduced in Congress over a generation before.

As in the case of all wars, before the Nation could take up the pursuit of peaceful domestic projects, it first had to pay its respects to its fallen soldiers. This time the battlefields and cemeteries were far away in Europe and there were many of them. On March 4, 1923, President Warren G. Harding approved general legislation previously passed in the Congress "for the creation of an American Battle Monuments Commission to erect suitable memorials commemorating the services of the American soldier in Europe, and for other purposes." It was to be the duty of the seven-member commission to erect suitable memorials to the American forces in Europe at such places as the Commission determined, including works of architecture and art in the American cemeteries there. But the Commission was also required to make a photographic record of the terrain of the various battlefields of Europe upon which units of the armed forces of the United States were engaged with the enemy, so as to complete the historic photographic record for the permanent files of the War Department Upon the completion of each memorial the Commission was to notify the Secretary of War who would then assume responsibility for its maintenance.

This study is not the proper place to trace the history of the American Battle Monuments Commission during the years that followed. Suffice it to note here that the aspect of national historic preservation work represented by the monumenting, preserving and marking of American battlefields at home was by this means extended overseas in 1923, although in modified form. Today, almost half a century later, this work has been carried around the globe and still continues, with the end nowhere in sight.

We now turn our attention back to the domestic situation. By 1926, numerous bills proposing establishment of further historical reservations were again introduced into Congress, again they were referred to the House Committee on Military Affairs, and again the committee found itself faced with broad problems of historic preservation policy. As Representative Noble J. Johnson of Indiana reported to the House on behalf of the committee on May 4, 1926, "in the present session 28 bills have been introduced of which 14 provide for establishment of national military parks with appropriations authorized approximating nearly $6,000,000. The other bills provide for markers on battle fields, the inspection of sites with a view to eventual establishment of parks, etc." [96] Regarding the latter point, Congress had recently begun to enact special bills to make special studies of individual projects and had passed such bills for Chalmette in 1921, Yorktown in 1923, Fredericksburg in 1924, and Petersburg in 1925. None of these parks had been authorized and more of this sort of study legislation was in prospect. Chairman Johnson reported that the Military Affairs Committee believed strongly that provision should be made for a general study and investigation of all battlefields in the United States in order to assist Congress in determining what action to take on the many specific proposals for commemoration and preservation that were before it. To accomplish the general study, Representative Johnson at first favored the old idea of creating a central national military park commission. On February 25, 1926, he introduced a bill, H.R. 9765, for this purpose. Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis strongly opposed this measure in a letter to the committee, however, and advocated instead that a general survey of battlefields be entrusted to the War Department. A new bill was drafted, H.R. 11613, embodying Secretary Davis's concept, and Representative Johnson reported it favorably to the House from the Military Affairs Committee on May 4. This bill passed Congress quickly and was signed by President Calvin Coolidge on June 11, 1926. It was the first legislation enacted by the Congress of the United States to provide for a broad historic sites survey. [97]

In recommending legislation to provide for a general study of battlefields in the United States, the House Military Affairs Committee had before it a long memorandum on the subject, prepared by Lieutenant Colonel C.A. Bach, Chief Historical Section, Army War College and approved on June 16, 1925, by Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis. This memorandum reviewed past actions of Congress that has shaped battlefield preservation policy, set forth a comprehensive system for classifying battles according to their importance, and proposed preservation action corresponding to the relative importance of each category. After reviewing nearly all congressional legislation enacted on this subject during the previous half century, Colonel Bach concluded that past actions of Congress provided an appropriate battlefield classification scheme for the future, which he set forth as follows:

Class I. Battles worthy of commemoration by the establishment of national military parks. These should be battles of exceptional political and military importance and interest whose effects were far-reaching, whose fields are worthy of preservation for detailed military and historical study, and which are suitable to serve as memorials to the armies engaged.

Class II. Battles of sufficient importance to warrant the designation of their sites as national monuments. The action of Congress and the great difference in the importance of these battles give reason for the subdivision under this class into:

Class IIa. Battles of such great military and historic interest as to warrant locating and indicating the battle lines of the forces engaged by a series of markers or tablets, but not necessarily by memorial monuments.

Class IIb. Battles of sufficient historic interest to be worthy of some form of monument, tablet, or marker to indicate the location of the battle field. [98]

Colonel Bach them made a tentative classification of American battlefields into these catagories. Among all the battles fought during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the War with Mexico, the Indian Wars, and the Civil War, he found only five deserving a place in Class I -- the battlefields of Saratoga and Yorktown from the American Revolution, and Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chickamauga-Chattanooga from the Civil War. Congress, he pointed out, had also placed Shiloh in this category. In Class IIa, he placed the battlefield of New Orleans together with fifteen important but not first-ranking battlefields of the Civil War, among them, for example, Manassas, Fort Donelson, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the Wilderness. Last of all, he suggested an initial list of sixty-four lesser battlefields of all wars deserving of some kind of monument or marker under Class IIb.

In his review of Class IIb battles, Colonel Bach made some interesting observations. Regarding the Revolutionary War, he pointed out that Heitman's Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army listed about 400 battles and engagements. From this list he selected 29 that in his judgment possessed "more than ordinary military and historic interest." Of these about half already had monuments, and the remainder he suggested deserved commemoration, among them Brandywine, Germantown, Camden, and Savannah. In the period of the War of 1812, he selected six battles for commemoration without comment. For the Mexican War he pointed out that only two battles were fought within the limits of the United States -- Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, Texas -- and both deserved some form of monument. Of the Indian Wars, he observed that lists prepared by the Adjutant General showed that more than 1,000 engagements occurred between 1866 and 1891 alone. While there were comparatively few engagements involving large forces, "all these encounters are more or less intimately related to the development of the Western States and the advance westward of civilization, [and] the most important of them are worthy of commemoration." He then recommended a list of 27 such battles to commemorate including Fallen Timbers, Tippecanoe Horseshoe Bend, Okeechobee, Fort Phil Kearny, Little Bighorn, Snake Creek and Wounded Knee. Last of all, he pointed out that during the Civil War, fought over extensive territory for four years, there occurred over 2,000 battles, engagements, and sieges. He could not attempt to make a selection but expressed the view that a monument should be sufficient to commemorate any Civil War battle in this category and not already listed in a higher class. [99]

This historical proposal of the Army War College, endorsed by Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis, became the basis for legislation in 1926. The act then passed authorized the Secretary of War to make "studies and investigations and, where necessary, surveys of all battlefields within the continental limits of the United States whereon troops of the United States or of the original thirteen colonies have been engaged against a common enemy, with a view to preparing a general plan and such detailed projects as may be required" for proper commemoration. The act also required the Secretary of War to submit a preliminary plan for, carrying out the purpose of the legislation on or before December 1, 1926, and thereafter to submit a detailed report of progress annually. No further real estate was to be purchased by the Government for military park purposes unless a report thereon was made by the Secretary of War through the President to Congress under the provisions of this act.

Beginning in 1926 and continuing through 1932, a national survey of battlefields was diligently conducted by a small staff attached to the War Department following the criteria set forth by the Army War College and each year a report on progress was made to Congress. The historical studies were conducted by the historical section of the Army War College. Lieutenant Colonel Howard L. Landers was detailed to head up these studies, with the assistance of another officer and four clerks. Preliminary field investigations and detailed surveys of battlefields, as required, were made by the Chief of Engineers through his district engineers. When a park project was actually authorized by Congress, the work of commemorating the battlefield was to be performed under the direction of the Quartermaster General. There was no single bureau in the War Department charged solely with these varied responsibilities for historic preservation.

The two most important annual reports of the Secretary of War on these battlefield surveys were those submitted to Congress in December 1928 and 1929. They dealt with the large backlog of old projects and took up many new ones. They developed the scope and nature of what the Nation might expect to come from this comprehensive survey of American battlefields. These two annual reports included preliminary field investigations of the only two Class I battlefields, Saratoga and Yorktown, and of the nine Class IIa battlefields, including Manassas, Chalmette, and Richmond, not yet authorized or pending authorization as national military parks. They also included recommendations for the monumentation of fifty other battlefields of all wars under Class IIb, including such places as Alamance, Appomattox, Balls Bluff, Camden, Cowpens, Monocacy, Pea Ridge and Wilson Creek. The proposed cost of the monuments ranged from a low of $2,500 for Balls Bluff to a high of $100,000 for Appomattox. [100]

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