The decision to protect battlefield land and the decision of how much of a battlefield to set aside, are choices that hinge upon the community's goals as well as the Nation's. Where the concern was simply to recall an event to memory, then small parcels were typically set aside for the erection of a monument or interpretive markers.
This approach was pursued often in the past, even for national parks, based on the ``implicit preservation'' of open land. In other words, an interpretive stop or trail was acquired and markers erected to describe the historical importance of what was expected to be rural landscape for the foreseeable future. Visitors to such sites often assumed that the landscape was somehow protected, when in actuality, the view was a bonus. Returning years later, they are liable to be surprised and disturbed to see a housing subdivision or commercial strip where they expected to see a battlefield.
In fact, some residential developers have reversed the ``free bonus'' and can now charge top dollar for homes with a park in the back yard to serve the recreational needs of a limited number of residents. The assumptions underlying small parcel- commemoration have been undermined on all sides, and this condition will continue to generate crisis after crisis, as constituents recognize and respond with outrage to the loss of historic resources.
The most dramatic example of public outrage in recent years was the crusade to prevent a shopping mall from being built adjacent to Manassas National Battlefield Park, resulting in a costly Federal acquisition. But this is only one incident of many. The famous Cornfield at Antietam was only recently protected from development by a private foundation. A half mile-long, ``commemorative'' strip of the Wilderness was recently degraded to serve as the median strip of a four-lane access road leading to a resort community. A thousand homes and a shopping center are planned for parcels adjacent to Gettysburg National Military Park. With the increased pace of land use change, the small parcel approach simply does not protect the resources and land where historically important events took place, nor does it allow adequate public access to enable appreciation of nationally significant events.
Whether the goals of battlefield preservation are to enable interpretation of the battlefield, in terms of understanding the terrain and military maneuvers, or, to attract visitors who are interested in experiencing a past event, or, to provide the opportunity for the general public to view locations important to our national experience and history, or, to set aside ground, as President Lincoln stated, that was consecrated by the men who struggled there to give life to the nation, it is clear that small parcel-commemoration is inadequate and should be abandoned except as a last resort, when it is necessary to prevent the memory of an event and its participants from fading entirely. The commitment to protect large tracts of battlefield land, on the other hand, implies a larger desire in the community to preserve open land for a variety of reasons--not just for historical significance--but also to maintain the rural character of an area, to encourage agriculture, to set aside natural areas, to protect watersheds, to provide recreational space, or to provide a historic attraction that is unique to the area.
Until now the preservation of battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley has depended almost exclusively on the small parcel- commemorative approach, in many cases, consisting simply of interpretive highway pull-offs along the right-of-way. Several private groups--primarily the Virginia Military Institute, the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, and the Lee-Jackson Foundation--have acted to protect larger parcels through acquisition funded by public donations.
Mostly, preservation has relied upon the free bonus of open farm and natural lands and the coincidence of interests between landowners and preservationists--as shown by the establishment of the Piedmont agricultural preservation district and the preservation intent of the Holy Cross Abbey at Cool Spring. The pace of growth and development in the Valley and the incremental loss of farmland are undermining these assumptions of ``implicit preservation.'' Individuals, who have shouldered the burden of preservation with little help or recognition from Local, State, or Federal governments, cannot keep pace with the loss of resources.
It remains then to determine approaches to battlefield protection that will preserve these historic resources and landscapes. The regional coordination of preservation and interpretation efforts, and a range of public and public-private partnerships, will be needed to address the unique needs and values of the individual sites. There is no blanket solution. In the sections that follow, we try to provide sufficient facts and analysis to inform the public policy choices that need to be made.
Return to contents page
Creation Date: 3/13/95