U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
III. WHY BATTLEFIELDS HAVE BEEN PRESERVED
The original motivation in commemorating battlefields was to memorialize the bravery and self-sacrifice of the men fallen in battle. President Lincoln noted that these places had been consecrated by the brave men who struggled there, and that the ground was hallowed by the presence of those who gave their lives that the nation might live. The movement to construct monuments dedicated to individual units in the 1880s gave many battlefields their current park-like appearance. These post-battle memorialization efforts have acquired their own historical significance.
A second use of battlefields in the late 19th century was as the scene of national reconciliation as these places of carnage became meeting places for former foes during the Civil War. As the passions of war cooled, large numbers of Union and Confederate veterans met at annual commemorations on battlefields. As Oliver Wendell Holmes stated in 1884, there was kept alive the memory that "in our youths our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing."
In the 19th century, railroads were interested in promoting visits to battlefields. They lobbied Congress to establish the first five Civil War parks and erected monuments adjacent to their rights of way.
Battlefields were also saved for their unique role as schools for military study. The preservation of large areas as national military parks offers an unparalleled opportunity to study large and small-scale maneuvers of actual combat on grounds that remain essentially unchanged from the time of battle. The U.S. Army Center for Military History still facilitates "staff rides" on Civil War battlefields for officers attending professional military education centers.
A final reason for the early preservation of battlefields was to protect places that held profound historical significance for the nation as a whole. In the 1896 Gettysburg case the U.S. Supreme Court held that not only was the preservation of these places a public use, but that it was closely connected with the welfare of the republic itself. It has been observed that battlefields merit preservation because, like all historic properties, they "help maintain a consciousness of the past that is essential for the development of a coherent cultural identity." 8 Rather than glorifying war or the worst elements of passion that war can ignite, American battlefields serve as places of quiet contemplation on the courage and dedication of the participants and of the dreadful toll of warfare.
There are further reasons to preserve battlefields. In many instances battles occurred on open agricultural lands and these areas are still in agricultural use. In promoting economic diversity, many States encourage the continued use of agricultural lands, which frequently contributes to the preservation of the battlefield site. In areas experiencing rapid development the preservation of these open spaces can add to the quality of life for these communities by preserving the beauty of the rural landscape and natural habitats for wildlife. The preservation of battlefields can also provide economic benefits to public and private owners stemming from tourism.
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