Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report
National Park Service

Executive Summary

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 concentrated on battlefields as the central focus of the Civil War, and of many contemporary historic preservation decisions.

Protecting these battlefields preserves an important educational asset for the nation because:

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 remaining battlefields if the nation acts swiftly. If it does not act now, however, within 10 years we may lose fully two-thirds of the principal battlefields.

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 significance.

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.

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.

Principal Recommendations

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.

Government Leadership:

Preservation Priorities:

Private Sector Preservation:

Preservation and Local Jurisdictions:

Public and Private Funding:

Technical Support:

Immediate Action Recommendations to Congress and the Secretary of the Interior:

Enact a "Civil War Heritage Preservation" law that supplements existing historic preservation and park land acquisition programs and includes the following new provisions.

  1. 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:

  2. 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 battlefield protection.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 governments.

  7. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Convert the current Federal income tax deduction for charitable donation of historic land into an income tax credit.

  4. Allow the full deduction for donation of appreciated historic property including land and conservation easements for individuals paying the alternative minimum tax.

  5. 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