U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
II. A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON BATTLEFIELD PRESERVATION
In 1925 the Army War College reported to Congress that it could identify the location of more than 3,400 encounters, skirmishes, and battles in the United States.3 While these numbers might indicate that battlefields were ubiquitous, in the 19th century there was a concern that while the memory of the valor displayed on these battlefields would remain, knowledge of their actual location was rapidly fading. Many of these sites were located in rural areas, unmarked, and undifferentiated from surrounding fields, orchards, and woodlands. Less than forty years after the Civil War an observer noted that:
one could easily drive through the whole [Shenandoah] Valley with hardly a reminder anywhere that on these famous fields on either side of the turnpike were glorious deeds of daring, superb achievements of generalship, and battles far reaching in their consequences. The battle-fields all over Virginia are still unmarked.4
Commemoration of battlefields through the construction of monuments is an ancient practice and began in the United States late in the 18th century. But the idea of preserving an entire battlefield was a new concept and virtually a singular American practice, which began when Congress established the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park in 1890.5 The events of the Civil War led to the creation of both a system of national military cemeteries and national military parks. In several instances the cemeteries became the nuclei for the later establishment of the military park, such as at Gettysburg.6
The Federal government's involvement in battlefield preservation had important impacts on the development of national historic preservation policies.7 In the 1890s, acting to protect the battlefields at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Congress, for the first time, approved the acquisition of nationally significant historic property from private owners, through purchase or by condemnation through the power of eminent domain. As importantly, in January 1896 the power of Congress to enact these significant historic preservation laws was unanimously upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court (United States v. Gettysburg Electric Ry., Co., 160 U.S. 668 (1896)). Important also was the establishment of the policy of preserving the battlefields as nearly as possible in their condition at the time of the battle.
In addition, there have been numerous efforts by State and local governments and private individuals to preserve or commemorate battlefields. In a number of instances the efforts of private citizens or veterans of the battle to preserve the battlefield preceded that of government agencies.
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