American Battlefield Protection Program
  • A portion of the battlefield landscape at Little Bighorn

    American Battlefield Protection Program

    Cultural Resources National Park Service
Evaluating a Battlefield's National Register Significance

In order for a battlefield to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, the significance of the battlefield must be evaluated, areas of significance have to be selected, and periods of significance have to be defined.

National Register Criteria for Evaluation

The significance of a battlefield is evaluated using the National Register's Criteria for Evaluation. The battlefield must meet one or more of the four Criteria listed below to be considered for the National Register. In considering the importance of a battlefield, it should be evaluated against all of the National Register Criteria as more than one may apply. An example of a multiple criteria listing is Gettysburg National Military Park which is listed on the National Register under Criterion A (event/the battle), Criterion B (person/Abraham Lincoln), Criterion C (buildings, earthworks), and Criterion D (archeological properties associated with the battle).

Criterion A

Applies to battlefields that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.

Criterion A is the most common Criterion for a battlefield as a battle is considered a Military event. For example the October 8, 1862, Battle of Perryville in Kentucky broke the Confederate offensive and gave the Union control of Kentucky for the rest of the war. Battles can be associated with events important in social history, such as the Civil War battle at Port Hudson, Louisiana where African-American soldiers fighting for the Union made important contributions to the battle thus helping efforts to recruit more African-Americans for the Union Army. Battles can also be associated with events far removed from the scene of military action. The American victory over British Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, for example, led the King of France to recognize the independence of the American colonies and brought France into the war as an American ally.

Criterion B

Applies to battlefields that are associated with the lives of persons important in our past.

Criterion B applies to a battlefield when the battle was an important aspect of a person's life or career. For instance, the 1880 fight at Tinaja De Las Palmas, Texas, between the U.S. Army and the Mescalaro Apaches, one of the last major events in the Indian Wars in Texas, is associated with the noted Apache leader Victoria; and the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe was a milestone in the life of Gen. (and future President) William Henry Harrison. For military leaders, the battle should be considered in light of the person's entire military career to determine if Criterion B applies to the particular battlefield.

For detailed guidance on applying Criterion B see National Register Bulletin 32: Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Properties Associated with Significant Persons.

Criterion C

Applies to properties that either contain or are significant works of architecture or engineering.

Battlefields may have significant works of engineering such as earthworks or masonry fortifications or they may have buildings that are important examples of architectural styles or methods of construction. For instance the April 1865 battlefield at Petersburg, Virginia has over 1,700 linear feet of Confederate military fortifications (earthworks) and two military earthen dams and Fredericksburg Battlefield in Virginia has a fine example of a late 18th-century Georgian-style house, Chatham Manor, located on the battlefield.

Criterion D

Criterion D applies to properties that have yielded or are likely to yield, information important to prehistory or history.

Battlefields may contain historic archeological properties associated with a battle and the archeological study of human remains and historic artifacts on a battlefield may provide information that is not available elsewhere. For example, the study of distribution patterns of military hardware, especially bullets and shrapnel on the battlefield, can add to the understanding of how the battle was fought. An archeological examination at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana revealed that the Indians possessed a far greater amount of firepower than was previously known. The distribution pattern of bullets found on the battlefield greatly added to the knowledge of the progress of the fight at the Little Big Horn.

For detailed guidance on applying Criterion D see National Register Bulletin 36: Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Archeological Properties.

Naval Remains

Some military engagements had naval operations conducted in association with the land battle and there may be associated archeological remains related to these operations. In these instances, National Register Bulletin: Nominating Historic Vessels and Shipwrecks to the National Register of Historic Places should be consulted.

Selecting Areas of Significance

Once the criteria have been selected, one or more Area(s) of Significance must be applied. A list of the Areas of Significance can be found in National Register Bulletin 16A: Guidelines for Completing National Register of Historic Places Forms, Chapter 3, section 8 (Statement of Significance), under "Data Areas of Significance."

While Military is the most common Area of Significance, others may apply. For instance, battlefields associated with an important aspect of minority history could also have Ethnic Heritage as an Area of Significance. For battlefields important for their association with later memorialization efforts, Art or Social History may be appropriate. If Criterion C applies to a battlefield, then Architecture or Engineering should be selected as an Area of Significance. For battlefields significant under Criterion D for important information that can be derived from an archeological study, Archeology is the appropriate Area of Significance. An example of a battlefield with multiple Area(s) of Significance is Woodlake Battlefield Historic District which lists Archeology (Historic-Aboriginal), Archeology (Historic-Non-Aboriginal), Ethnic Heritage (Native American), and Military.

Defining Periods of Significance

In addition to evaluating the historic significance of the battlefield, the period of significance must be identified (i.e. the dates [1862, 1942-1945).

Most battlefields are significant solely for the battle that occurred on the site. In these instances the Period of Significance should be defined to include the date of the battle and any time period immediately before or after the battle that is considered significant to the area's military history.

The significance of other battlefields may encompass a longer time span, particularly for those battlefields where there were important later events to memorialize the battle and its participants. In those cases the Period of Significance for the site should be extended to include the later developments if the memorialization effort followed soon after the battle (e.g. 1865-1866). If there was a longer interval between the battle and the memorialization effort then distinct Periods of Significance should be defined. For example, the National Register listing for Gettysburg National Military Park has 1863, 1864, and 1893 defined as Periods of Significance. These dates are for the Civil War battle, President Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address", and the beginning of Federal acquisition of lands at the battlefield.

For more information about Periods of Significance see National Register Bulletin 16A: Guidelines for Completing National Register of Historic Places Forms, Chapter 3, section 8 (Statement of Significance), under "Guidelines for Identifying Significant Dates."