The American Civil War in its social, political, economic, diplomatic, and military dimensions remains visible to the nation today in thousands of historic sites, structures, and objects. Though primarily located east of the Mississippi River, a substantial number are westward across the prairies of the central and southern plains states, and scattered intermittently elsewhere.
Concerned by growing instances of Civil War sites being damaged or destroyed by urban and suburban development, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission was established to:
With the findings and recommendations from this study it will be possible to adopt a national strategy for Civil War battlefield preservation based on a comprehensive evaluation of the sites and of the tools available to accomplish protection.
Public Law 101-628 established the Commission on November 28, 1990, and authorized 13 members (later increased to 15 in Public Law 102-166). Members were appointed in the summer of 1991.
The report of findings is required to be made to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (United States Senate), the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs (now the Committee on Natural Resources, United States House of Representatives), and to the Secretary of the Interior. The Commission's authority expires 90 days after submitting its report.
Since the first meeting, held on July 17, 1991, a total of 16 public meetings have been conducted in 11 states. Testimony has been received from more than 120 public and private witnesses. In addition, four workshops were held to gather advice from experts in numerous specialized areas of open space and related preservation. The assistance of all the participants and witnesses is gratefully acknowledged.
The Commission as a body visited 53 sites. Commission staff and representatives visited all but 16 of the 384 battlefield sites in our inventory. State and local government officials and many private individuals were consulted about many of these battlefields. At the same time, the Commission's visits served, as in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, as a direct catalyst for significant local preservation action.
The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was excluded from the Commission's authority because it was studied recently by the National Park Service. Nevertheless, the principal Shenandoah Valley sites are included in the Commission's inventory.
The Civil War did not occur exclusively on battlefields; there are many other important locales. These include hospitals and prisons, mining and industrial sites, towns and villages, farms and plantations, and more. Unable to study all these thousands of sites in such a short time, the Commission devoted its principal effort toward battlefields because of their great historical importance and contemporary preservation challenges.
Battlefields, as large historic landscapes, increasingly are the focus of intense modern-day social, economic, and political conflict. For example, the recent threat of shopping center construction on lands associated with the Battle of Second Manassas, necessitated costly Federal acquisition and led, in part, to the Commission's creation.
There are few well-tested and widely-applied preservation solutions for large open land settings such as battlefields. Most historic preservation efforts today focus on sites, struc- tures, buildings, objects, and districts of relatively modest size for which many effective tools exist. However, local officials, owners, developers, and preservationists often believe there is no way to work together to preserve a battlefield while accommodating some changes in land use.
The Commissioners, therefore, decided to examine comprehensively the state of battlefield preservation, to identify the urgent and immediate needs, and to recommend concepts and techniques for coping better with this challenge. One product of the Commission's study and public hearings is compelling evidence that preservation of battlefield sites produces often overlooked economic benefits including jobs and tourist dollars.
The Commission urges the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program and the historic preservation community at large to continue evaluating the preservation needs of other Civil War sites throughout the nation. Toward this end, the Commission also has prepared a preliminary inventory of such other Civil War sites with potential historic significance as a starting point.
Creation Date: 3/14/95