Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report
National Park Service

Recommendations to Congress and the Secretary of the Interior

The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission has found that of the approximately 10,500 armed conflict sites known from the Civil War, 384 of them, about 3.7 percent, were the principal battle actions. These are the events that influenced the outcome of the war, its major campaigns, or important local operations.

Today, many of these 384 principal battlefields are lost; others are in imminent danger of fragmentation and loss as coherent historic sites. Over the next ten years, the nation could lose fully two-thirds of the major Civil War battlefields unless preventive actions are taken.

Each of the major sites that still exists contributes or represents a unique measure of historical significance and human experience that helps to explain the ebb and flow of the war. Telling the entire, monumental story of that terrible and complex national crisis cannot be done only from the distinguished but limited vistas of the National and State battlefield parks.

In this report, the Commission has marshaled extensive evidence about the current status and needs for protection of the principal Civil War battlefields. Some argue it is unimportant to preserve these historic sites, or that it is sufficient to erect a commemorative monument to mark the location; it is only important to remember the significance of these historic events. While remembrance is certainly important, the Commission does not agree that it is the only need and has discussed its views at length.

The Commission strongly urges the Federal government to lead the nation to implement a battlefield preservation program in partnership with states, local governments, and private organizations.

The overriding goal of such a program should be to substantially preserve the principal Civil War battlefields that remain in good or fair condition. Then we should do whatever can be done for the others. While these sites remain in a combination of public and private ownerships, their preservation, maintenance, and interpretation should be assisted through a voluntary nationwide network of preserved battlefields (including parks) through which the full expanse of the Civil War is interpreted.

Preservation, initially of 50 Priority I battlefields and ultimately of the Priority II and III battlefields, and parts of the Priority IV fragmented battlefields, cannot be accomplished as an exclusively Federal or even public sector effort. The Commission has concluded that strong Federal leadership and prompt, coordinated public-private action are the primary ingredients needed for an effective national initiative to preserve the remaining principal Civil War battlefields. Moreover, we believe this can be accomplished for the Priority I sites by the Year 2000, or seven years from now.

There is a tendency to view public acquisition as the only effective option available for historic site protection. The Commission has concluded the amount of unprotected historic battlefield acreage and associated costs do not permit such an exclusive approach. A unified national effort can only be successful if public agencies commit to limiting their land acquisition to willing sellers; this national campaign should not create new divisions in our society.

The goals of battlefield preservation can be reached through serious public/private partnerships. It is essential for all citizens -- public officials, preservationists, developers and property owners -- to each recognize responsibility to be stewards of these important sites.

The Commission is convinced that by combining a number of modest recommendations and implementing them continuously for a period of at least seven years, this nation will go far toward achieving the Priority I site protection needs. 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 Civil War battlefields.

In the previous section, the Commission outlined in detail the actions that can be taken by the Federal, state, and local governments, non- profit organizations, and private owners. These actions include use of existing programs, initiating new actions that require no specific new authorities or funding, as well as actions that do require new authority and funds. Through the aggregate of these activities, there can be a national as opposed to a Federal battlefield preservation program. Below, however, are listed the Commission's specific recommendations for immediate action by Congress and the Secretary of the Interior.

Immediate Action Needs

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

A. 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

It shall be the policy of the Federal government in cooperation and partnership with the states, local governments, private organizations and individuals to:

  1. Provide leadership, including provision of financial support and technical assistance, for the protection, preservation, and interpretation of our nation's Civil War heritage.

  2. 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 generations.

  3. 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.

  4. Encourage and recognize the efforts of individual members of the public to protect, preserve, and interpret our nation's Civil War heritage.

B. 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) unless no feasible project were available, in which case Priority II sites would be assisted. 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. The program should authorize direct matching grants to states and to qualified non-profit Civil War battlefield preservation organizations working in coordination with the Federal and state battlefield protection programs.

C. 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.

D. 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.

E. 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.

F. 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.

G. 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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Created 3/14/95 by DWL
Last Update 7/9/96 by TGossett