Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report
National Park Service
This nation's Civil War heritage is in grave danger. It is
disappearing under buildings, parking lots, and highways.
Recognizing this as a serious national problem, Congress
established the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission in 1991. The
Commission was to identify the significant Civil War sites,
determine their condition, assess threats to their integrity, and
offer alternatives for their preservation and interpretation.
Because of limited time and resources, the Commission
on battlefields as the central focus of the Civil War, and of
contemporary historic preservation decisions.
Protecting these battlefields preserves an important educational
asset for the nation because:
- Seeing the battlefield is basic to an understanding of
campaigns and battles while the latter are crucial to
all other aspects of the Civil War.
- To be upon a battlefield is to experience an emotional
with the men and, in fact, the women who fought there.
- Clashing convictions and the determination to defend them
the nation 620,000 lives.
- The values tested and clarified in that great conflict are
continue to bind the nation together today.
Today, more than one-third of all principal Civil War
battlefields are either lost or are hanging onto existence by the
slenderest of threads. It is not too late to protect the
battlefields if the nation acts swiftly. If it does not act now,
however, within 10 years we may lose fully two-thirds of the
The Primary Battlefield Findings
The Battlefield Sites: Some 10,500 armed conflicts
occurred during the Civil War ranging from battles to minor
skirmishes; 384 conflicts (3.7 percent) were identified as the
principal battles and classified according to their historic
Class A and B battlefields represent the principal strategic
operations of the war. Class C and D battlefields usually
represent operations with limited tactical objectives of enforce-
ment and occupation.
- 45 sites (12%) were ranked "A" (having a decisive influence
on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war);
- 104 sites (27%) were ranked "B" (having a direct and decisive
influence on their campaign);
- 128 sites (33%) were ranked "C" (having observable influence
on the outcome of a campaign);
- 107 sites (28%) were ranked "D" (having a limited influence
on the outcome of their campaign or operation but achieving or
affecting important local objectives).
The 384 principal battles occurred in 26 states. States with
fifteen or more include: Virginia (123), Tennessee (38),
Missouri (29), Georgia (28), Louisiana (23), North Carolina (20),
Arkansas (17), and Mississippi (16).
Some counties, such as Henrico and Dinwiddie counties in Virginia
and Charleston County in South Carolina have a great
concentration of battlefields. Yet, even in Virginia, where two
great armies fought for most of four years, only one-third of the
counties have any of the principal Civil War battlefields.
Forty-three percent of the battlefields are completely in private
ownership. An additional 49 percent are under multiple kinds of
ownership (e.g., private, state, and Federal). Only 4 percent of
the principal battlefields are owned primarily by the Federal,
state, or local governments.
Their Condition: Nineteen percent (71) of the Civil War
battlefields are already lost as intact historic landscapes.
Half of the 232 principal battlefields that currently are in good
or fair condition are now experiencing high or moderate threats.
Most of these sites will be lost or seriously fragmented within
the coming 10 years, many very soon. Only one-third of the
principal battlefields currently face low threats.
Their Preservation: Some 22 percent of the principal
battlefields (84) have been listed in, or determined eligible
for, the National Register of Historic Places.
Sixteen battlefields are designated National Historic Landmarks;
58 are partly or entirely included within the boundaries of
National park units; 37 principal battlefields have some state
park ownership. Many of these parks protect only very small
areas of the battlefield.
The Commission has concluded that by implementing the
recommendations outlined below for a period of at least seven
years, the most important sites (Table: Priority I Battlefields) that still remain
can be protected. Through this effort, a ground swell of
community support can be stimulated, a new appreciation of
history can be generated in the schools and communities, and
thousands of individual citizens will contribute to the
preservation of their past. These efforts then should carry over
into the protection of the remaining battlefields in Priorities
II, III, and IV.
- The Federal and state governments need to define directions
for battlefield protection. In particular, the national goal
should be to provide a national assemblage of key battlefield
locations consisting of as many of the 384 sites in the
Commission's inventory as can be protected. Such an assemblage
of sites is a vital national resource for conveying basic
American themes and values that keep us from fragmenting into
- Because of their strategic character and national
significance, the Class A and B sites should be an interest or
responsibility of the Federal government as well as state and
local governments, non-profits, and other private entities.
- The Class C and D battlefields, representing tactical
operations, usually were of state or local significance and
should be a primary interest or responsibility of state or local
governments, or of private entities.
- The Federal government should continue to provide technical
support to non-Federal battlefield protection groups. Also, it
should work with Federal agencies that own battlefields to ensure
they are properly managed.
Private Sector Preservation:
- The Commission recommends adopting the four priority groups
covering the 384 battlefields in its inventory. Priority I
consists of 50 Class A and B sites in good or fair condition
facing high or moderate threats. These should be the principal
focus of Civil War battlefield preservation efforts until the
- With the Commission's overview, national and state park
systems should define the extent of battlefields that should be
brought into their management. The remainder would be the focus
of private and non-profit organizational efforts. This will
clarify intentions among preservation organizations and end
piecemeal approaches to battlefield protection.
- National and state battlefield park agencies should refine
their park boundary recommendations in light of recent historical
research by the Commission and others. They also should work
with local governments to prepare comprehensive plans for the
protection of battlefield parks from external threats to their
- The Resolution Trust Corporation and similar Federal agencies
should have authority to transfer significant battlefield lands
to the National Park Service, state or local governments, or to
qualified non-profit organizations.
Preservation and Local Jurisdictions:
- Battlefield land owners need better incentives and
opportunities to be effective stewards. Present Federal tax
policies largely discourage preservation of Civil War
battlefields, and several specific changes are recommended.
- States need to help owners who want to be more economically
competitive with their historic land; among the possibilities are
transfer of development rights and exemptions from property taxes
for land under permanent conservation easements.
- The Federal and state governments also could create
opportunities for owners to take more direct responsibility for
maintenance of historic features through a program of long-term
contracts. These would remunerate owners for some active service
associated with protecting the battlefield. This approach
extends the area of resource protection without removing land
from either private ownership or local tax rolls.
- The Federal and state governments should cooperate to design
and adopt a uniform recreational use statute to provide effective
tort liability limitations for private owners wishing to permit
access to their land by the public seeking to view and enjoy
- Private Civil War battlefield land holding and management
organizations would address several current problems: the fact
that there are a large number of significant battlefields that
are not protected, that governments all have severe budget
problems and are not likely to create many new park units, and
that there are regions with significant local resistance to
additional Federal or state land acquisition.
- All of the significant battlefields, whether protected or
not, need a "friends" group to develop community support for
preservation and to articulate the needs of "their" battlefield
to government or private organizations that can help bring about
Public and Private Funding:
- In order for local governments to effectively integrate
battlefield protection into local plans for educational,
economic, and environmental development, it is essential that
they have access to authoritative information on the location and
significance of battlefield historic features. The Commission is
arranging for its records to be available through the National
Park Service, but these materials still need refinement.
- With adequate information in hand, local governments should
work closely with battlefield park authorities and private owners
to protect sites through coordination with state or local plans
for open space or recreation areas, zoning, historic districts,
and other land uses. Communities should weigh carefully the
relative costs of allowing development to impinge on historic
battlefields versus channeling such development away and
protecting the authentic historic site. If communities do this,
they retain the basis for an additional local industry in the
form of heritage tourism.
- Heritage tourism is a frequently successful means of
preserving important parts of the nation's historic heritage
while also bringing jobs and revenue to a community. Above all,
it depends on retaining an authentic historic resource. States
and communities have many tools available to help private and
non-profit owners maintain an authentic historic environment:
property tax abatement, revolving funds, guaranteed loans,
conservation easements, earmarking the use of certain tax
revenues for preservation, and more.
- For Federal and state battlefield acquisition to move forward
successfully and not create new divisions, agencies should
acquire land only from willing sellers except in the rarest of
- Federal and state park authorities need to continue to
acquire battlefield park lands they have already authorized.
- Federal and state governments also need to contribute
financially to non-governmental protection programs; often the
need is only to legitimize the recipient's program. In virtually
all cases, such assistance should be on a matching basis and
should go toward protection of the Priority I sites.
- Local and private groups should also seriously look at the
Federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA)
as a source of acquisition and development funds.
- Private sector fund-raising should occur nationally, as well
as locally. The Civil War Battlefield Commemorative Coin Act of
1992 will begin to produce revenue in 1995 for battlefield land
acquisition. Battlefield protection fund-raising has for some
time been based on specific philanthropic benefactors. We hope
this will continue, but it also is time for battlefield
protection to benefit from nationwide marketing.
Immediate Action Recommendations to Congress and the Secretary
of the Interior:
- The National Park Service has been providing technical
support to Federal and non-federal agencies and groups on all
aspects of battlefield resource documentation, planning,
management, resource protection, and interpretation. This should
continue; it is a vital component of the locally-based programs
developing in many places.
- Where appropriate, State Historic Preservation Officers and
the National Park Service should consider nominations of
battlefields in the Commission's inventory for the National
Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark
- Civil War battlefields and related sites hold an abiding
interest for adults. They also are important resources for
educating children. Heritage education lesson plans for local
schools and other educational activities are important for
building the local consensus for battlefield preservation over
- The National Park Service and National Trust for Historic
Preservation heritage education program "Teaching with Historic
Places" is an excellent model for use in local schools to teach
the significance of Civil War sites, including battlefields.
Enact a "Civil War Heritage Preservation" law that supplements
existing historic preservation and park land acquisition programs
and includes the following new provisions.
- Adopt a national policy to protect these principal
battlefields and related sites through cooperative efforts of
Federal, state, and local governments and private groups and
individuals using, whenever possible, the established National
historic preservation partnership. The Commission suggests the
following language be considered as embodying its findings.
The Congress finds and declares that:
It shall be the policy of the Federal government in cooperation
and partnership with the states, local governments, private
organizations and individuals to:
- Historically significant sites and structures in the
United States associated with the Civil War should be preserved
as a living part of our community life.
- The preservation of such an irreplaceable part of our
heritage is in the public interest so that the Civil War's vital
legacy of cultural, military, historic, educational,
environmental, inspirational, and economic benefits will be
maintained for future generations of Americans.
- Historically significant Civil War sites and structures
are being lost, altered or damaged, often inadvertently, with
increasing frequency; and governmental and non-governmental
programs and activities are inadequate to insure future
generations a genuine opportunity to appreciate and enjoy this
rich aspect of our Nation's heritage.
- The increased knowledge of our Civil War resources, the
establishment of better means of identifying them, and the
encouragement of their preservation will improve the planning and
execution of Federal and federally assisted projects and will
assist economic growth and development.
- It is necessary and appropriate for the Federal
government to accelerate its Civil War preservation programs and
activities, to support and work in partnership with non-profit
agencies undertaking such preservation by private means, and with
state and local governments to expand and accelerate their Civil
War preservation programs and activities.
- Provide leadership, including provision of financial
support and technical assistance, for the protection,
preservation, and interpretation of our nation's Civil War
- Administer federally owned or controlled Civil War parks,
monuments, sites and other resources in a spirit of stewardship
for the inspiration and benefit of present and future
- Support and work in partnership with private non-profit
agencies, states and local governments to expand and accelerate
their efforts to protect, preserve, and interpret our nation's
Civil War heritage.
- Encourage and recognize the efforts of individual members
of the public to protect, preserve, and interpret our nation's
Civil War heritage.
- Establish an Emergency Civil War Battlefield Land
Acquisition Program from the Historic Preservation Fund
(HPF). This program would authorize appropriations at a
Federal:non-Federal matching ratio of 50:50 for grants for non-
Federal acquisition assistance. The grants would be directed at
the Priority I sites (Table 7).
This program should be funded at least at $10 million per year
for a period of seven years. With the 50:50 matching ratio, the
program should generate a total of $140 million with only a net
Federal investment of $70 million out of the HPF. In addition to
states, the authorization should qualify as grantees those major
Civil War battlefield preservation non-profit organizations that
are working closely with the Federal government to implement
- Establish a Civil War Battlefield Stewardship Pilot
Program. The Federal government would enter into long-term
(seven year) contractual agreements with private property owners
at Priority I or II battlefields (Table 7) to restore or maintain
historic settings, provide interpretive access, or other
preservation and interpretation amenities. This pilot program
should be authorized and funded at $2.5 million per annum for a
trial period of at least seven years. The National Park Service
should prepare a report to Congress on the effectiveness of this
program after five years of operation and make recommendations
about its continuation. This program should be modeled on and
implemented, if possible, in cooperation with the Department of
Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program.
- Ensure public retention of significant battlefield
lands by authorizing the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC),
the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and other
Federal institutions to transfer to the Department of the Interior, state, or local governments or to qualified non-profit
battlefield preservation organizations, lands or contracts under
their control for parcels encompassed within the Commission's
inventory of 384 principal battlefields. The Commission
estimates Federal revenue losses from this provision to not
exceed $3-5 million.
- Ensure the study of several highly significant campaigns
and interpretive themes that currently are not protected in
the National Park System (Table
4) by appropriating to the National Park Service funds needed
to conduct studies of appropriate campaigns, themes, and sites to
determine their suitability and feasibility for addition to the
park system. Alternatively, the Service should determine whether
some or all of these battlefields can be better protected through
assistance to state park systems where such parks exist. Such a
study of all campaigns and themes on Table 4 performed as a group
should not require more than $500,000.
- Ensure that acceptance of important battlefield lands that
are outside currently authorized boundaries but are proposed for
donation to the National Park System is not thwarted by
procedural delays. Congress should devise a "fast-track" process
for use in those rare instances when time is of the essence and
other criteria are satisfied such as proximity to existing
authorized boundaries, and support from the appropriate local
- Ensure continuing independent oversight of the
implementation of these recommendations by authorizing the
biennial reconstitution of the Commission for a brief period to
review progress with Federal, state, local, and private agencies
and individuals over the next seven years, and to report these
findings to the Congress and the Secretary of the Interior.
Enact revisions to the United States tax code to provide
incentives and remove disincentives for private owners to
preserve significant battlefields.
- Permit an executor or heirs to make a "post mortem"
easement donation up to two years following a decedent's death to
avoid forced sale of historic battlefield land.
- Modify Section 2032(a) of the Estate Tax Code for Civil
War battlefield owners to eliminate the dollar limitation and
require that the decedents and beneficiaries materially
participate in farming or business activities.
- Convert the current Federal income tax deduction for
charitable donation of historic land into an income tax
- Allow the full deduction for donation of appreciated
historic property including land and conservation easements for
individuals paying the alternative minimum tax.
- Repeal the percentage of income limitation and the annual
carry-forward limitations to allow full deduction of charitable
gifts of appreciated property.
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Creation Date: 3/14/95
Last Update 7/15/95 by VLC