As the Civil War Sesquicentennial Draws Near, Endangered Battlefields Get More Federal Attention and Money

Less than two years from now, hundreds of events and activities commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War will get underway. Indeed, in the broad antebellum sense, the sesquicentennial of that horrific conflict has already arrived. The 150th anniversary of John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry was commemorated at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park on October 15.

Media attention, increased tourism, and other products or byproducts of sesquicentennial planning, promotion, and event production will benefit numerous communities, organizations, agencies, and causes. The Civil War battlefield parks, to name one obvious category of beneficiaries, should see a big spike in visitation. There will be a surge of interest in Civil War reenactments. The membership rolls of Civil War-themed organizations will swell. Genealogists will be kept busy searching out family links to the Lost Cause and the Grand Army of the Republic.

One of the most important effects of the sesquicentennial hoopla will be heightened interest in – and enhanced support for -- Civil War battlefield preservation. And that’s a very good thing. While the core areas of Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, and many other battlefields have been preserved (and to some extent restored), hundreds of lesser-known battlefields and associated sites (such as staging areas and encampment sites), remain unprotected or have already been lost to development. According to the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), Civil War battlefields and associated sites are being lost to urban sprawl, highway construction, and other causes at the appalling rate of 30 acres a day.

More public awareness and support for battlefield preservation is always welcome, of course, but money for protecting battlefield land – primarily through the purchase of land or conservation easements -- is an especially critical need. Against this background, a recent big boost in federal support for Civil War battlefield preservation has the CWPT and other preservation interests waxing ecstatic.

When the Interior Appropriations bill for FY 2010 is passed later this week it will include $9 million for the federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program (CWBPP). This money, the largest single-year allocation the program has ever received, will come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program (established 1999) utilizes government matching grants and private funds to permanently protect Civil War battlefields that are not within national park boundaries. The program, which targets urgent preservation needs, has thus far protected over 15,000 acres at 60 battlefields in 14 different states.

Postscript: The National Park Service competitively awards battlefield protection grants through the agency’s American Battlefield Protection Program to NGOs, academic institutions, and local, regional, state, and tribal governments. The program is not confined to Civil War battlefields. It also helps to preserve battlefields from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.