APRIL 4, 2000

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 2249, to establish the Corinth Unit of Shiloh National Military Park in the vicinity of Corinth, Mississippi, and in the State of Tennessee.

The Department supports this legislation.

H.R. 2249 would build on legislation enacted four years ago to establish a National Park Service interpretive center at Corinth Battlefield. This bill would enable the National Park Service to take the next step toward ensuring permanent protection and recognition of Corinth’s rich Civil War heritage by acquiring, protecting, and interpreting nationally significant resources associated with the city’s 1862 siege and battle. H.R. 2249 is virtually identical to a bill (S. 1117) the Senate passed in November 1999.

The city of Corinth, located in Mississippi near the border of Tennessee, was the junction of the Confederacy’s main north-south and east-west railroads and, as such, its control was key to control of the Confederacy’s movement of troops and supplies. Because of this strategic crossing, numerous fortifications were constructed and battles were waged. Scattered through the surrounding hills of Corinth are intact military fortifications that attest to the crossing’s importance.

For six months in 1862, Corinth was second only to Richmond in strategic importance. It is said that the Battle of Shiloh, 23 miles to the north, where General Johnston’s Confederate army surprised General Grant’s Union army in April 1862, was fought for control of the 22 square feet where the rail lines met.

Following the Union victory at Shiloh, the Confederate army retreated to its base in Corinth. Not wishing to be surprised again, Union forces next planned a much more cautious advance on Corinth. These maneuvers began in early May and constitute the "Siege of Corinth." Several weeks later, after numerous skirmishes, rather than risk capture, the outnumbered Confederate army abandoned Corinth. An abortive Confederate attempt to retake the city in October resulted in the "Battle of Corinth." Union armies then resumed an occupation that featured construction of some of the most advanced fortifications of the time to prevent the recapture of Corinth.

After the Union secured Corinth, newly emancipated slaves from Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama sought refuge there. By March 1863, over 3,500 former slaves were housed at a camp in Corinth. Two of the first African-American Union infantry regiments were raised there.

The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission identified the 1862 Corinth battle site as a "priority 1" battlefield, one with critical need for coordinated nationwide action by the year 2000. Although the commission reported that the sites represent an area that had a decisive impact on a military campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war, the Corinth siege sites were rated a "priority 4" battlefield more because of their linear, fragmented nature than because of the integrity of their individual components.

An important step toward recognition and protection of Corinth occurred in 1991, when areas associated with the Siege and Battle of Corinth were designated as a National Historic Landmark. Another important move occurred in 1996, when Congress authorized the interpretive center as part of the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act (Public Law 104-333). We agree with the sponsors of this legislation that it is time to take a further step to provide protection and interpretation for the significant historical events and resources at Corinth.

H.R. 2249 would establish a unit of Shiloh National Military Park comprised of the 20 acres containing the Battery Robinett, which will also be the site of the National Park Service interpretive center for Corinth, currently in the early stages of planning. The Corinth Unit could also contain other areas that the Secretary of the Interior determines are suitable for inclusion, but only if they are already owned by a public entity or nonprofit organization and have been identified by the Siege and Battle of Corinth National Historic Landmark Study (January 8, 1991).

Normally, the Department would be reluctant to support authorizing the addition of a new area to the National Park System without first conducting a special resource study. In this case, however, Congress in a sense has already established this unit by authorizing the National Park Service to construct and manage an interpretive site there and to acquire the property necessary for the site. In addition, by linking Corinth and Shiloh Battlefield for interpretive as well as management purposes, the National Park Service would be able to tell a broader story of the Civil War’s causes and impacts on civilian life, expanding beyond the battle tactics that are interpreted so well at Shiloh Battlefield.

We anticipate that there would be no land acquisition costs to the Federal government associated with the establishment of the Corinth Unit. The 20-acre Battery Robinett has already been donated to the National Park Service by the city of Corinth under authority of the 1996 law establishing the center. H.R. 2249 specifies that land can be added to the unit only if it is already owned by a public or nonprofit entity and can be acquired only by donation if it is owned by state and local governments or by the organization called the Friends of the Siege and Battle of Corinth. The Siege and Battle of Corinth National Historic Landmark Study identified about 448 acres of land in 15 noncontiguous sites, in addition to the 20-acre Battery Robinett site already owned by the National Park Service, for National Historic Landmark status. The "Friends" organization currently owns about 210 acres that would be eligible for donation to the unit. If the local government and the "Friends" organization were to acquire and donate all of the eligible land—not likely, but possible—the Corinth Unit would be about 468 acres.

H.R. 2249 would also authorize a study of land in and around the city of Corinth and nearby areas in Tennessee that have a relationship to the Siege and Battle of Corinth in 1862 to determine whether additional lands, beyond those included in the unit by this bill, are appropriate for inclusion in the unit. This would enable the National Park Service to evaluate lands that are significant to the site but that do not meet the criteria for inclusion in the Corinth Unit under this legislation.

In addition, in an acknowledgement of the important role that organizations and individuals outside of the National Park Service have had and will continue to have in assisting in the protection and interpretation of Corinth, H.R. 2249 allows the Secretary to enter into cooperative agreements for such work with colleges and universities, historical societies and other nonprofit organizations, and State and local agencies. It also allows the Secretary to provide technical assistance for protection, interpretation, or commemoration.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my remarks. I will be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.