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Mapping the Revolutionary War and War of 1812

National Center for Cultural Resources
John Knoerl
In 1996 Congress authorized the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) to conduct the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Historic Preservation Study. The purpose of the study is to identify the battles and historic properties associated with these wars, determine their relative significance in the conduct of the wars, assess the short and long term threats to the integrity of these sites and provide alternatives for the preservation and interpretation of these sites. The use of GIS, GPS, Remote Sensing, digital databases, and the Internet in an integrated fashion was key to successfully collecting and analyzing the information used in the study.

Working with the ABPP, the NPS'; Cultural Resources GIS Facility (CRGIS) began the project by establishing an on-line database of potential battles and other historic sites where scholars, researchers, and the public could query the database, review the information about the sites, make suggestions or corrections. Over 2,500 sites were entered into the database and over 400 substantive comments were received. After the commenting period was closed an Advisory Group of experts in each war convened in Washington D.C. to assign a significance ranking to each battle and associated historic property. The Advisory Group received instant feedback for summary statistics. At the end of their sessions 884 sites in thirty-two states were ranked based on their significance and selected for field survey and assessment.

The CRGIS Facility coordinated the survey effort. National Parks, State Historic Preservation Offices, private consultants, museums, and universities, a total of 70 surveyors, participated in conducting the survey. Since consistency in data collection was essential to generating spatial statistics and other data needed to produce the study, CRGIS developed a set of tools for the surveyors. Surveyors could make requests on the survey web page for DRG data, paper USGS Topographic Quad maps, survey forms, survey manuals, GPS equipment, and laptop computers. More importantly, CRGIS developed a GPS data dictionary and a digital survey forms that all surveyors were required to use. Finally, four field schools were conducted on how to map a battlefield and associated historic sites using GPS, the digital survey form, and a Map Objects application for drawing the battlefield boundaries. Field surveys took two years to complete.

Once the data was turned in, evaluated, and processed, the analysis began in earnest. Although the study is now being prepared and the generation of spatial statistics in on-going, very important results are being obtained. In a pilot project, battlefield boundaries mapped by the surveyors is being overlaid on to Land Sat images classified by compatible or incompatible land use with respect to battlefield preservation. In effect this analyses provides an independent verification of observations made by the surveyors. The analysis points out that on the ground observation assessment of percent land use is not as accurate as hoped. In the area of spatial statistics acreage calculations on battlefields have been generated for amount of acres retaining integrity, in urban areas, and in parklands. GIS is also being used to show the distribution of battlefields and historic sites in terms of attributes of condition, threat level, and significance rankings. These spatial patterns are helping to define if they are local, regional, or broad in scale. These statistics and maps are shaping the preservation recommendations for the final report to Congress.

The amount of funds allocated for conducting the study was sparse. Fortunately, the use of GIS, GPS, and Remote Sensing technology made the field survey and assessments of so many resources possible. Fully integrating these technologies into more traditional resource survey techniques has significantly enhanced the depth of analyzes possible and added a new dimension to the standard battlefield assessment process.
April 08, 2004