National Park Service
The Origin and Evolution of the National Military Park Idea
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Between 1890 and 1899 the Congress of the United States went well beyond the concept of monuments and authorized the establishment of four major battlefields of the Civil War as national military parks. In so doing, it laid one of several foundation stones for the national historic preservation policy and program we have today. These four battlefields were Chickamauga and Chattanooga authorized in 1890, Shiloh in 1894, Gettysburg in 1895, and Vicksburg in 1899. Antietam, which was marked beginning in 1890, was not yet a full-fledged national military park. Although in later years all these reservations came to be called national military parks, Chickamauga and Chattanooga and Gettysburg started out as national parks and remained so officially for many years. [15]

In a period when conservation was becoming popular, it was perhaps more than coincidence that during this same decade Congress also authorized establishment of the first four scenic national parks to follow creation of Yellowstone in 1872. These were Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant authorized in 1890, and Mount Rainier in 1899. The fact that one of these four western national parks was named after the leading general of the Union Army is an interesting reflection of the spirit of the times. In 1890, also, Congress authorized establishment of Rock Creek Park in the District of Columbia, one of the three earliest large metropolitan parks in the United States, comparable to Central Park in New York City and Fairmount Park in Philadelphia.

It was not possible to foresee in 1899 that in due course these natural and historic Federal reservations, together with others subsequently created, would be joined together in one National Park System. Nevertheless, the seeds of the future were present from the beginning.

Battlefields as National Possessions

The idea of the Nation acquiring an entire battlefield and preserving it for historical purposes was new in 1890. It is therefore not surprising that it soon engendered a serious controversy, which arose, fittingly enough, at Gettysburg. The controversy involved two questions of fundamental importance to the future of historic preservation by the Federal Government. Is preserving and marking the site of an historic battlefield a public purpose and use? If so, is it a purpose for which Congress may authorize acquisition of the necessary land by power of eminent domain? The circumstances of this dispute, which had to be settled by the Supreme Court of the United States, are of unusual interest and provide an appropriate introduction to our story.

The first electric street railway in the United States began operating in Richmond, Virginia in 1888. [16] It was a prompt success, and a desire to enter this new era of advanced technology in transportation spread rapidly to cities and towns all over the United States. One of these towns was Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. By 1893, the Gettysburg Electric Railway Company had been formed and was busily engaged in constructing a trolley to penetrate deep into Gettysburg Battlefield to one of its important features, the rocky outcrop heavily defended by Union soldiers called Devil's Den. The intrusion of this railway on a key portion of the battlefield and the real estate developments that were expected to accompany its completion aroused deep concern among members of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association and the newly appointed Gettysburg National Park Commission. "Upon organization" on May 31, 1893, as Chairman John B. Nicholson reported later, "the commission found important lines of battle occupied by an electric railway, the construction of which had begun early in April 1893." [17] President Grover Cleveland's Secretary of War, Daniel S. Lamont, demonstrated a keen interest in battlefield preservation during his four years in office and visited Gettysburg in person on November 3, 1893, accompanied by Mrs. Lamont, to inspect the situation He gave his full support to the Commission's efforts "to remove the electric road from the occupation of the prominent parts of the battlefield." [18] To erase any possible doubt about the national intent in the matter, Congress adopted a Joint Resolution on June 6, 1894, which stated there was "imminent danger that portions of said battlefield may be irreparably defaced by the construction of a railway over same" and asserted the authority of the Secretary of War to acquire such land either by purchase or by condemnation. [19]

The Gettysburg Electric Railway Company remained undaunted. Although finally agreeing to halt construction of the tracks, the company refused to negotiate the sale of the land involved. On June 8, 1894, upon recommendation of the Commission and with the approval of the Secretary of War, the Attorney General of the United States instituted condemnation proceedings. [20] When the court eventually handed down an award of $30,000, attorneys for the company rejected the finding and filed exceptions, claiming that establishment of Gettysburg National Park was not a public purpose within the meaning of earlier legislation and that "preserving lines of battle" and "properly marking with tablets the positions occupied" were not public uses which permitted the condemnation of private property by the United States. [21]The case finally went before the highest court in the Nation.

On January 27, 1896, Justice Rufus Wheeler Peckham of the United States Supreme Court handed down the court's unanimous decision. His language was eloquent and reflects the spirit of the time:

The end to be attained, by this proposed use, as provided for by the act of Congress, is legitimate, and lies within the scope of the constitution. The battle of Gettysburg was one of the great battles of the world. The numbers contained in the opposing armies were great; the sacrifices of life was dreadful; while the bravery, and, indeed, heroism displayed by both contending forces, rank with the highest exhibition of these qualities ever made by man. The importance of the issue involved in the contest of which this great battle was a part cannot be overestimated. The existence of the government itself, and the perpetuity of our institutions depended upon the result... Can it be that the government is without power to preserve the land, and properly mark out the various sites upon which this struggle took place? Can it not erect the monuments provided for by these acts of Congress, or even take possession of the field of battle, in the name and for the benefit of all the citizens of the country, for the present and for the future? Such a use seems necessarily not only a public use, but one so closely connected with the welfare of the republic itself as to be within the powers granted Congress by the constitution for the purpose of protecting and preserving the whole country. [22]

By this resounding decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of acquiring private property by right of eminent domain for Gettysburg National Park and established the principle that the preservation of nationally important historic sites and buildings is a legitimate purpose of the Government of the United States.

A Battlefields Park System

Reading the elevated language of Justice Peckham's decision in the case of the United States v. Gettysburg Electric Railway Company may enable us to perceive better than we otherwise might the very great importance which his generation attached to the preservation and marking of the major battlefields of the Civil War. As we have noted, it was significant that by this time both Union and Confederate soldiers had begun to meet in joint encampments on their old battlefields. Dr. Paul Buck notes that a contemporary observer enumerating the reunions that occurred between 1881 and 1887 was able to list twenty-four more prominent, formal ones. The twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg in 1888 was marked by a particularly moving reunion. The dedication of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park in 1896 was an even more impressive national observance presided over by Vice President Adlai Stevenson. It lasted several days, during which eminent Northerners and Southerners alike joined in eloquent pleas for understanding and brotherhood. [23] Such national gatherings reflected the very great need deeply felt in the 1890s, to further reestablishment of national unity, in part by a national program of historic preservation of the tragic battlefields of the war.

The first four battlefields to be preserved by the Nation were not selected at random but constituted, almost from the beginning, a national battlefield park system. As the Army War College pointed out later, these national parks were designed by Congress, both to preserve the major battlefields for historical and professional study and also to serve as lasting memorials to the great armies of the war on both sides. The field of Gettysburg memorialized the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia; the field of Chickamauga honored the Union Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee; and the field of Shiloh served as a memorial to the Union Armies of the Tennessee and Ohio and to the Confederate Army of the Mississippi. Further consideration revealed, however, that a fitting memorial to the Union Army of the Tennessee needed the preservation of Vicksburg as well as Shiloh, for the campaign of Vicksburg was that army's most brilliant operation. Accordingly, Congress added Vicksburg in 1889 to complete the initial system of four major Civil War battlefields. [24]


The establishment of Gettysburg National Cemetery preceded the creation of Gettysburg National Park and offers a unique chapter in the annals of State and Federal efforts to preserve sites important in American history. The battle of Gettysburg was scarcely over when Governor Andrew G. Curtin hastened to the field to assist local residents in caring for the dead and dying. Some 6,000 soldiers had been killed in action and among the 21,000 casualties of both armies left behind, hundreds more died each day from mortal wounds. Many of the dead had been hastily interred in improvised graves on the battlefield. Prompt establishment of a permanent cemetery was an urgent necessity. Governor Curtin at once approved plans for a soldiers' cemetery, enlisted the cooperation of other Northern governors whose troops were represented on the field, and directed that a plot for a cemetery be purchased in the name of his State. Attorney David Wills of Gettysburg, acting as agent for the Governor, promptly selected and purchased seventeen acres of ground on the northwest slope of Cemetery Hill for the cemetery and wisely engaged William Saunders, eminent horticulturist and landscape gardener, to lay out the grounds. Meanwhile, fourteen Northern States made appropriations in amounts proportionate to their congressional representation to meet the costs of preparing the cemetery and making the many re-interments that were necessary. [25]

William Saunders' contribution to the character and plan of the Soldiers' National Cemetery was significant. Born in St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1822 and trained in horticulture there and at the University of Edinburgh, he had moved to America in 1848, settling first at New Haven, Connecticut. Here he began a series of contributions to the leading horticultural journals of his time that continued for forty years. After designing private estates and cemeteries for some years he was appointed in 1862 as superintendent of the experimental gardens of the newly created Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. It was from this position that he came to Gettysburg to design the national cemetery. Two years later at the suggestion of General Grant, he was chosen to select the site and design the grounds for the Lincoln Monument at Springfield, Illinois. He achieved many other distinctions in his special field during a long public career that carried on until the end of the century. [26]

Saunders' design for the Gettysburg cemetery, laid out on a gently sloping hillside, called for a sculptured central feature, a Soldiers' National Monument, around which the grave sites were laid out State by State, in great semi-circles. Massive stone walls and an iron fence enclosed the burial ground. "The prevailing expression of the cemetery," said Saunders, "should be that of simple grandeur. Simplicity is that element of beauty in a scene that leads gradually from one object to another, in easy harmony, avoiding abrupt contrasts and unexpected features. closely allied to solemnity." Saunders provided ample spaces for lawns, and cautioned against any further planting of trees and shrubs than his design called for. "As the trees spread and extend, the quiet beauty produced by these open spaces of lawn will yearly become more striking; designs of this character require time for their development, and their ultimate harmony should not be impaired or sacrificed to immediate or temporary interest." [27] These principles have in general been faithfully followed, and now, over a century later, Gettysburg National Cemetery conveys an impression of timeless dignity and beauty.

The Soldiers' National Cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863. Edward Everett, whose distinguished career included many addresses throughout the country to raise funds to help save Mount Vernon, was asked to deliver the principal address. There is no need here to repeat the story of President Lincoln's acceptance of an invitation to come and speak also, his journey to Gettysburg, his stay at Attorney David Wills' home, and his delivery of the Gettysburg Address at the ceremonies on the afternoon of November 19. The speaker's platform occupied the site within the cemetery enclosure which William Saunders had specified as the location for the sculptured Soldiers' National Monument, then awaiting future design. The presence of President Lincoln and his immortal words of dedication endowed this spot with profound historical and patriotic associations for the American people and made it one of the most intimate links in our national heritage.

The site of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, inseparably linked to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, was one of the first historic sites of national significance now part of the National Park System to come into the possession of the Nation from other hands. In 1868, their work accomplished, the Board of Commissioners recommended transfer of the cemetery to the Federal Government. Two years later President Grant signed congressional legislation authorizing its acceptance (with the Antietam cemetery), and the Secretary of War formally received title on behalf of the United States on May 1, 1872. [28] In 1872 Congress also authorized establishment of Yellowstone National Park. It is a remarkable coincidence that these first actions to preserve areas of superlative natural scenery and sites of national history -- places that in due course were brought together into one National Park System -- took place in the same year.

Other National Cemeteries

We must digress briefly from the story of Gettysburg to take note of the early establishment of other national cemeteries and to suggest their relationship to historic preservation. This subject, however, deserves more investigation than the present study has permitted.

The difficult conditions regarding the burial of the dead that prevailed on Gettysburg Battlefield during and after the battle were repeated in every theater of operations and on every major battlefield throughout the Civil War.

This fact aroused the conscience of the Nation. Throughout the North, the soldier dead were considered to have sacrificed their lives to preserve and redeem the Union. This often-expressed sentiment was put into eloquent words by Horace Bushnell in an address to the Yale Alumni in 1865 on "Our Obligations to the Dead":

From the shedding of our blood have come great remissions and redemptions. In this blood of our slain our unity is cemented and sanctified. The sacrifices in the field of the Revolution united us but imperfectly. We had not bled enough to merge our colonial distinctions, and let out the state rights doctrine, and make us a proper nation.... We have now a new and stupendous chapter of national history. [29]

It is understandable that Congress, equally concerned, soon authorized a system of national cemeteries. A general measure entitled "An Act to establish and to protect national cemeteries" passed Congress and was signed by President Andrew Johnson on February 22, 1867. Under this authority, in the years following the Civil War, the War Department developed the system of national cemeteries in the continental United States, which now includes some eighty-five units. Of these, eleven were on or near the major battlefields of the Civil War that eventually became national military parks. In several instances these national cemeteries became the nuclei for the later establishment of national military parks or battlefield sites, as was the case at Gettysburg.

For example, by the Act of July 14, 1870, the Secretary of War was directed to accept and take charge of the Antietam National Cemetery at Sharpsburg, Maryland. Seven years later, Congress appropriated $15,000 to pay the balance of the indebtedness of the board of trustees of the cemetery. [30] In 1888 and 1890 Congress appropriated $20,000 for construction of a road from the Antietam Station to the national cemetery. In the second of these acts, Congress also appropriated $15,000 for surveying, locating, preserving, and marking the lines of battle of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia, and the position of each of the 43 different commands of the Regular Army engaged in the battle of Antietam. This marked the beginning of Antietam National Battlefield Site, regarding which further comments will be made later in this study. [31]

Fort Donelson provided another example. Following passage of the general legislation for national cemeteries in February 1867, the War Department set about immediately to acquire land for the Fort Donelson National Cemetery. By April, over fifteen acres had been acquired near the Cumberland River between the fort and the town of Dover, including the site in the town occupied by the Federal garrison from February 1862 until the end of the war. Officers of the Quartermaster Corps sent to oversee the work of improving the cemetery site and reinterring the remains of dead soldiers found that it went slowly and that funds were insufficient. In July 1872 Colonel James Ekin, the officer in charge, suggested to the Quartermaster General that the remains of Federal soldiers buried there be removed to Nashville as the cost of upkeep was too great and there were no visitors. "In reply," observes the author of the Administrative History: Fort Donelson National Military Park,

the Quartermaster General set forth what was to be the guiding policy for the Fort Donelson area throughout its administration by the War Department. "Let the men rest in peace. The cemetery is a public historical monument of an important battle, a leading event in the history of the United States. It has been established by proper authority, and it should be completed and maintained." [32]

Many years later the movement for the Fort Donelson National Military Park drew strength from this nucleus. [33]

National cemeteries were not limited to Civil War battlefields, however. We conclude our examples with an account drawn from the History of Custer Battlefield by Don Rickey, Jr. Newspapers throughout the country were filled with accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn as soon as it occurred, and the whole Nation was aroused. Within three weeks a movement was started to organize a Custer Monumental Association but apparently no firm plans developed. High Army officers spoke out in favor of commemorating the battle and those who fell there; and the Montana Territorial Legislature adopted a joint resolution changing the name of the Little Bighorn to Custer's River. Meanwhile, sensational newspaper stories appeared depicting the battlefield as "strewn with the half buried and exposed remains of the fallen soldiers." [34]

These stories were in part true, and relatives of the men who died in battle, as well as other private citizens, expressed great concern. Citizens pressured Congress to have the Army establish a national cemetery there so that the graves of the soldiers could be cared for. The War Department was itself equally concerned. General Philip H. Sheridan visited the site in July 1877 and later said that "it has been my intention to have this spot set off as a national cemetery...." On October 16, 1878, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs recommended to the Secretary of War that a monument be erected at the site and that all the remains of the soldiers be interred in a common grave underneath the shaft. Acting on these recommendations the Secretary of War ordered the establishment of a national cemetery of the 4th class on January 29, 1879. [35]

Formal establishment of the Custer Battlefield National Cemetery took place on August 1, 1879, with issuance of General Orders No. 78, Headquarters of the Army, which also stated that its boundaries would be announced upon completion of a survey. Evidently the survey took several years. One plan contemplated a reservation embracing eighteen square miles but this was subsequently reduced to one square mile. On December 7, 1886, President Grover Cleveland signed an executive order designating the boundaries of the "National Cemetery of Custer's Battlefield Reservation." Unlike other national cemeteries, this one embraced most of the key points of the battlefield, partly because it was clear that not all the remains of fallen soldiers had yet been found. But this designation also added a new note to historic preservation by preserving a battlefield under the general authority granted by Congress to establish national cemeteries. [36]

We now return from this necessary digression to resume the story of Gettysburg Battlefield and the four national military parks authorized between 1890 and 1899.

Gettysburg National Park

With completion of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, there commenced the work of preserving and marking key locations on the battlefield. For this purpose, the State of Pennsylvania had chartered the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association on April 30, 1864, headed by the Governor and composed of public spirited citizens of Pennsylvania, to commemorate "the great deeds of valor...and the signal events which render these battlegrounds illustrious." Founded while the Civil War was still in progress, this Association was one of the earliest historic preservation organizations in the country. [37]

For several years after 1864, the energies of the Association's members were absorbed by duties connected with the national cemetery. By 1887, however, Pennsylvania had begun to appropriate State funds to make possible the first purchases of lands on Gettysburg Battlefield. Important locations on Little Round Top, Culps Hill, and East Cemetery Hill were chosen as the first land holdings. By 1883, the Association found it desirable to enlist support beyond Pennsylvania and directors were elected representing almost every Northern State. The Grand Army of the Republic also took an active interest and helped focus wide attention on the preservation and marking of Gettysburg Battlefield.

By 1890, with the help of many Northern States, the Association had acquired several hundred acres of land on the battlefield including areas in the vicinity of Spangler's Spring, the Wheatfield, Little Round Top, Wolf Hill, and the Peach Orchard, as well as the small white frame house General Meade had used as his headquarters. [38] The Association had also opened nearly twenty miles of roads along the Union lines of battle, and supervised the erection, by States and regiments, of more than three hundred monuments. Nearly one million dollars was expended in this varied work -- New York alone having appropriated $300,000 and Pennsylvania $200,000. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota had each, as Congressman Cutcheon reported to Congress in 1890, "contributed liberally to illustrate and adorn this great battlefield of the Republic." [39]

To be done properly, however, the work of land acquisition, preservation, marking, and commemoration had to be based on serious historical research. In retrospect it seems truly remarkable that an able and extraordinarily dedicated student of the battle of Gettysburg was available from the very beginning to help insure the historical accuracy of all these varied efforts.

This man was John B. Bachelder of Massachusetts. His unusual historical talents were described in detail by Senator Wade Hampton of South Carolina on March 17, 1880, in a report to the Senate from its Military Affairs Committee. The fact that only fifteen years after Appomattox a Southern senator and former Confederate general submitted this highly favorable official report is an exceptional tribute to Bachelder's impartiality. Senator Hampton grew up at "Millwood," his father's plantation near Columbia and took his place naturally among the planter aristocracy. A tall and powerful man who loved to ride and hunt, and a State senator, he entered the Confederate forces promptly at the outbreak of the war, soon becoming a brigadier general in the cavalry. Wounded at 1st Manassas and at Seven Pines, he suffered a third wound at Gettysburg. Following the withdrawal of Federal forces from South Carolina in 1876, he was elected Governor, and he entered the United States Senate in 1878. [40] His report to the Senate on Bachelder's studies of the battlefield of Gettysburg makes interesting reading.

It appears that Mr. Bachelder, having the advantage of a military education, and love of history, went to the front early in 1862, more than a year before the battle of Gettysburg, to be in a position to collect data when the most important battle of the War was fought. After working up the details of several engagements, he reached the battlefield of Gettysburg before the dead were buried, remaining for eighty-four days, making plans of the field, visiting the wounded in hospital, and by permission taking the convalescent officers over the field, by whom their positions and movements were pointed out and established. During this period books full of notes from these actors were secured within a few weeks of the battle. With this information and sketches thus secured, he visited the Army of the Potomac, spending the winter of 1863-64 in consultation with the officers of every regiment and battery, whose conversations and explanations were carefully noted and preserved. At the close of the war, Mr. Bachelder issued an invitation to the many officers whose acquaintance he had made to visit Gettysburg with him for historical purposes, which was accepted by over one thousand; forty-nine of them generals commanding. From the acquaintance thus secured has resulted, during the past sixteen years, a most valuable correspondence regarding the battle of Gettysburg. [41]

Senator Hampton went on to point out that when the War Department found the official reports of the battle so incomplete and conflicting that the positions of troops could not be located from them with the accuracy required for official maps, Mr. Bachelder was employed to do the work. In due course maps were completed representing six phases of the battle and were approved by the Secretary of War. Immediately upon their distribution requests came to the Chief of Engineers from all sections of the country and from leading generals on both sides, urging the importance of compiling in text from the knowledge embodied in the troop position maps. Senator Hampton stated that there were over one hundred and fifty letters from "military men, college professors, directors of historical societies, public libraries, and other literary institutions urging the importance to the history of the country that the maps be accompanied by a text description, and the knowledge which they embody be placed within reach of the public." [42]

With his report, Senator Hampton introduced S. 1490, authorizing the appropriation of $50,000 to complete the survey of Gettysburg Battlefield and related historical studies, "the whole to be done by or under the direction of Mr. John B. Bachelder." [43] The Senate and House soon passed the measure, and it was approved by President Garfield on June 6, 1880. John B. Bachelder's virtues as an historian, though perhaps exaggerated in these generous encomiums, were considerable. He may be thought of as the first park historian. He set a high standard, of a specialized type, for the collection of combat history and for the accurate marking and mapping of troop positions on a heavily contested battlefield. The historical standards and style he helped to set at Gettysburg influenced the marking of other military parks and affected the kind of interpretation presented to visitors, which for many years strongly emphasized professional military study until that kind of history went out of fashion. Work of somewhat comparable character was performed for Chickamauga-Chattanooga by General H.V.N. Boynton, and for Shiloh by Colonel Cornelius Cable and Major D.W. Reed, [44] and for Vicksburg by Capt. W.T. Rigby.

Despite the close attention accorded Gettysburg from 1863 onward, two conspicuous omissions in the work of preservation and marking still remained as veterans from both sides prepared for reunion on the battlefield on the twenty-fifth anniversary in 1888. The work of the Memorial Association had been largely directed toward acquiring key tracts of land occupied by the various State units along the Union lines and arranging for access to them and for monuments and markers. This work was largely financed by appropriations from the various States. Funds were simply not available to acquire and mark locations occupied by the commands of the regular Army engaged at Gettysburg. Further, none of the Southern States had participated in the work of the Memorial Association, and therefore all that part of the battlefield on which the Army of Northern Virginia had formed its lines was still in private hands and unmarked. For eight years, from 1887 to 1895, Congress undertook to correct these deficiencies.

The first step was to arrange for proper marking of the position of each of the commands of the regular Army that fought at Gettysburg. A beginning was made by including in the Sundry Civil Act of March 3, 1887, an appropriation of fifteen thousand dollars for this purpose, barely in time for the great reunion of the following year. To acquire and mark the positions occupied by the Army of Northern Virginia was a much larger problem, however. Out of the effort to solve it grew a comprehensive plan for a Gettysburg National Park embracing all the principal areas of the battlefield.

Representative Byron M. Cutcheon of Michigan, a lawyer who had served in the Army of the Potomac with distinction throughout the Civil War, made the first major effort in 1890 to get a bill through Congress to create Gettysburg National Park. [45] Reporting to the House on August 27 for the Military Affairs Committee, he described all that had been accomplished by the Memorial Association and by others to mark the battlefield. "It has been," he said, "a work of love and grateful pride to the loyal States. But there is something due to history as well as to patriotism. There were two armies at Gettysburgh." [46] He then described the general plan for a park that would include the positions of both armies and that would be guided by a commission of three members, "each of whom shall have been participants in the battle of Gettysburgh, and one of whom shall have been an Officer of the Army of Northern Virginia." He recommended the enactment of H.R. 1868 and concluded with this significant statement:

If this work is to be done, it must be done by the Government. It is equally impracticable for either the Northern or the Southern States to undertake it, and it is too great a work for the memorial association to undertake, and foreign to the object of its organization. It must be done by the National Government or remain undone. [47]

Although legislation to authorize the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park had passed Congress and been signed by the President only a few days before, Congressman Cutcheon's pleas did not meet with a ready and favorable response. It is likely that a major unresolved problem was the relationship of the park project to the several hundred acres of land already in the possession of the Memorial Association. A crisis soon developed which hastened the resolution of these difficulties -- the proposed construction of an electric street railway across a major portion of the unprotected land, already planned in 1892 and actually begun the following spring. At this point Representative Oscar Lapham of Rhode Island, who had served in the Civil War as Captain of the Twelfth Rhode Island Volunteers, made another urgent attempt on behalf of the Military Affairs Committee to get a bill through the House. He advised his colleagues that "much of the ground occupied by the Army of Northern Virginia is in the hands of an association to be devoted to building lots, electric railroad is to encircle the whole."[48] Nevertheless, this attempt, too, failed on the floor of the House.

It remained for one of the most picturesque and controversial figures of his day, Representative Daniel E. Sickles of New York, to sponsor the bill that was finally enacted to create the Gettysburg National Park. Born in 1825, Sickles had studied law and entered New York City and State politics. In 1825 he was an important figure in the successful effort to obtain Central Park for New York City. He served in Congress from 1857 to 1861 and during this period became notorious for having shot and killed Philip Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key, on Lafayette Square in Washington, D. C., because of Key's attention to Mrs. Sickles, the handsome daughter of an Italian music teacher Sickles had married in 1853 when she was 17. When the Civil War broke out, Sickles immediately volunteered and quickly became a colonel, a brigadier-general, and in 1863 a major-general commanding the Third Corps. He fought in the Peninsular and Chancellorsville campaigns and arrived at Gettysburg during the second day's fighting. Struck by a shell, he lost his right leg in a hasty amputation on the battlefield. Recovering by the end of the war, he served briefly as military governor of the Carolinas, and then as Minister to Spain from 1869 to 1873. For over a quarter of a century, from 1886 to 1912, he served as chairman of the New York State Monuments Commission which placed monuments on Civil War battlefields. It was during this period that he was elected to a final term in Congress, 1893-1895, at just the proper moment to sponsor legislation to create the Gettysburg National Park. Representative Sickles introduced his bill, H.R. 8096, on December 6, 1894. [49] The groundwork for the legislation had already been laid in previous years. With some amendments, the bill soon passed the House and Senate and was signed by President Cleveland on February 11, 1895.

The act establishing Gettysburg National Park began by authorizing the Secretary of War to accept from the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association a deed of conveyance to approximately eight hundred acres of land, with all improvements and rights of access. This conveyance had been recommended by a committee of the Association some months before. Since Secretary of War Lamont had already appointed a Gettysburg Park Commission of three members in 1893, the act recognized that the park should be placed in their charge. The Secretary was also authorized to acquire additional lands on the battlefield, not exceeding in area the parcels shown on a map prepared by General Sickles, which were occupied by the infantry, cavalry and artillery on the first, second, and third days of July 1863. Other sections covered such matters as opening additional roads, marking lines of battle, condemnation proceedings, regulations, and penalties for defacing or mutilating the property in the park. [50]

The Gettysburg National Park Commission, led by its able chairman, Colonel John P. Nicholson, immediately undertook to carry out the provisions of the new law and during the ensuing years made steady progress toward the completion of the park. It is worth noting that the Commission was guided by a policy of preserving and restoring features of the battlefield as they existed at the time of the battle. [51] To accomplish this, stone walls and fences were repaired and restored, forests were renewed where they had been cut away since the battle, leases were made to farmers to live in the old farm houses and cultivate the old fields, and great care was taken to avoid changing the natural grades of the ground when constructing avenues. Land acquisition was carried forward in accordance with the law, and markers and monuments placed on lines of battle. By 1904 Chairman Nicholson was able to report to the Secretary of War that "we think one more liberal appropriation by Congress, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1906, will enable the Commission to complete the Gettysburg National Park in a manner worthy of the Government and satisfactory to every section of the country...." [52]

The high and enduring place that Gettysburg occupies in the minds and hearts of the American people has been frequently reaffirmed ever since and never more eloquently than in recent years. The roster of distinguished visitors extends now to every country of the world. For the centennial in 1963, the eminent modern architect Richard Neutra designed for Gettysburg, under the MISSION 66 program, one of the handsomest and most functional visitor centers to be found in the entire National Park System. Carl Sandburg revisited the field during the centennial and in a memorable television program reinterpreted the persisting meaning of Gettysburg for millions of Americans. In 1950 General Dwight D. Eisenhower, soon to be elected President of the United States, chose for his home a farm on the edge of Gettysburg battlefield in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, filled with a century of the deepest kind of historical and patriotic associations which his presence and that of his family has further enriched. It is now the Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga

On the fields of West Chickamauga Creek and the hills around the rail center of Chattanooga, Union and Confederate armies clashed during the late summer and fall of 1863 in some of the hardest fighting of the Civil War. Following the battle at Chickamauga on September 18-20, 1863, the climax came in mid-afternoon on November 25, when the Union forces stormed Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga. In his Oxford History of the American People Samuel Eliot Morison calls this "the most gallant action of the war" and quotes General H.V. Boynton's eye-witness account:

Eighty-nine regiments rush for the earthworks at the base of the ridge -- every soldier like an arrow shot from a string which had been drawn to its full tension.... Riflemen in the Confederate earthworks and belching batteries above pelted them with the varied hail of battle. The sun swung low over the ridge. It never looked in all its shining over battlefields upon a more imposing rush. Two miles and a half of gleaming rifle-barrels, line after line of them, and more than a hundred and fifty banners, state and national, blossoming along the advance. Not a straggler, only the killed and wounded, dropped from the ranks. They swept over the lower earthworks, capturing many prisoners, and...swarmed up the slopes. The colors rushed in advance, and the men crowded towards the banners. Each regiment became a wedge-shaped mass, the flags at the cutting edge cleaving the way to the summit. Without faltering, without a stay, the flags went on, -- not long, it is sadly true, in the same hands, but always in willing hands, and in an hour from the sounding of the signal guns for starting, the crest for three miles was crowned with the stars and stripes, Bragg's whole centre was in flight, and forty of his guns and two thousand prisoners were in the hands of Thomas's victorious army. [53]

The idea of a national park to commemorate the battlefields of Chickamauga and Chattanooga originated with this same eye-witness, General Boynton, when he revisited the area with his old commander, General Ferdinand Van Derveer, in the summer of 1888. Riding over the fields near West Chickamauga Creek, the idea came to them that this battlefield should be "a Western Gettysburg -- a Chickamauga memorial." [54] But, they added, it should be more than a Gettysburg, which in 1888 still had State monuments along the Union lines only; here the lines of both armies should be equally marked by the Nation. General Boynton's proposal was quickly taken up by the Army of the Cumberland in cooperation with a local preservation committee headed by Adolph S. Ochs, later an important benefactor of the park. In September 1889, prominent Confederate veterans joined with Union veterans and the local committee to form the Chickamauga Memorial Association. Early in 1890, Representative Charles H. Grosvenor of Ohio, himself a former Union general and for two decades a prominent member and leading debater in Congress, introduced H.R. 6454 to establish the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park. [55] On March 5, 1890, Representative Frederick Lansing of New York, on behalf of the Military Affairs Committee of the House to which the bill had been referred, submitted a favorable report.

The report of the House Military Affairs Committee, the first to recommend establishing a complete national military park, is well worth some attention. To begin with, the committee took this policy position: "The preservation for national study of the lines of decisive battles, especially when the tactical movements were unusual both in numbers and military ability, and when the fields embraced great natural difficulties, may properly be regarded as a matter of national importance." [56] This criterion appears to have been utilized by later committees in considering proposed national military parks, with some exceptions, and in amended form ends up as one of the criteria for classifying battlefields developed by the Army War College in 1925 and used as the basis for the national battlefield survey conducted by the War Department between 1926 and 1933. [57]

In applying this criterion, the committee showed a keen awareness of modern European history and concluded that for the numbers engaged and the duration of fighting, Chickamauga ranked among the most noted battles of the modern world from the days of Napoleon Bonaparte to the close of the war for the Union.

Wellington lost 12 per cent at Waterloo; Napoleon 14-1/2 per cent at Austerlitz and 14 per cent at Marengo. The average losses of both armies at Magenta and Solferino, in 1859, was less than 9 per cent. At Koniggratz, in 1866, it was 6 per cent. At Worth, Mars-la-Tour, Gravelotte, and Sedan in 1870, the average loss was 12 per cent. The marvel of German fighting in the Franco-Prussian War was the Third Westphalian Infantry at Mars-la-Tour. It took 3,000 men into action and lost 40.4 per cent.... There were several brigades on each side at Chickamauga and very many regiments whose losses exceeded these figures.... The average losses on each side for the troops which fought through the two days were fully 33 per cent, while for many portions of each line the losses reached 50 per cent, and for some even 75 per cent. [58]

The committee then made this significant statement of its underlying attitude toward the national military park concept.

A field as renowned as this for the stubbornness and brilliancy of its fighting, not only in our own war, but when compared with all modern wars, has an importance to the nation as an object lesson of what is possible in American fighting, and the national value of the preservation of such lines for historical and professional study must be apparent to all reflecting minds.... [59]

The committee report pointed out that there was probably no other field in the world which presented more formidable natural obstacles to large-scale military operations than the slopes of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Since the purpose would be to maintain the park in its historic condition, it also noted that there had been scarcely any changes in the roads, fields, forests and houses at Chickamauga since the battle, except in the growth of underbrush and timber, which could easily be removed. Taken together these fields offered unparalleled opportunities for historical and professional military study of the operations of two great armies over all types of terrain met with in actual campaigns, such as mountains, gentle and steep ridges, open fields, forests, and streams that presented military obstacles. From carefully placed observation towers on Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mountain, and Chickamauga, it would be possible for observers and students to comprehend the grand strategy of the campaign over a front that extended 150 miles and to follow many tactical details of the actual battles. A battlefield park of this quality and magnitude could be found in no other nation in the world. [60]

The committee reported that all the armies and nearly every State of the North and South had troops on one or both fields, thus confirming the national character of the project. Union troops from 18 States were engaged there; troops were present from every State of the Confederacy; and three States, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, contributed large numbers to both armies. The regular Army had nine regiments and seven batteries on these fields. Among the noted officers present on one or both fields were Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Rosecrans, Hooker, Sheridan, and Granger of the Union Army, and Bragg, Longstreet, Hood, Hardee, Buckner, Polk, D.H. Hill, Wheeler and Forrest of the Confederate forces. The proposed park was readily accessible by railway and road and would preserve for the Nation, for historical and military study, "the best efforts which these noted officers, commanding American veterans, were able to put forth." [61]

The report of the House Military Affairs Committee was well received in Congress, not only in the House, where the bill quickly passed, but also in the Senate where the report was adopted almost word for word by the Senate Military Affairs Committee. The bill soon passed the Senate and was signed by President Benjamin Harrison on August 18, 1890.

The act establishing the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park preceded even the enabling act for Gettysburg and as the first legislation enacted by Congress to authorize a large battlefield park deserves some special comment. It begins by stating that the purpose of the park is "preserving and suitably marking for historical and professional military study the fields of some of the most remarkable maneuvers and most brilliant fighting in the war of the rebellion...." To accomplish this purpose, the act authorized the Secretary of War to acquire approximately 7,600 acres of land within prescribed boundaries embracing the battlefield of Chickamauga, and eight highways, scenes of battlefield maneuvers, as approaches to and parts of the park. Subject to the supervision of the Secretary of War, the affairs of the park were placed in charge of three commissioners, each of whom should have actively participated in the battle of Chickamauga or one of the battles about Chattanooga. The Secretary of War was authorized to enter into agreements with such owners of the land as desired to remain on it, to occupy and cultivate their holdings upon condition they "will preserve the present buildings and roads, and the present outlines of field and forest...." It was the duty of the commissioners to open such roads as might be necessary for park purposes and mark the lines of battle of all the troops engaged in the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga insofar as they fell within the park. To carry out this work, the commission was authorized to employ an "assistant in historical work." States were authorized to enter on park lands to place markers, on sites where their troops were actually engaged, subject to approval of the Secretary of War who was also authorized to make all needed park regulations. [62]

As soon as these concepts for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park were written into law, the Secretary of War proceeded to appoint the three members of the Park Commission. The Commission went to work promptly and effectively; and on September 18-20, 1895, the park was dedicated in an impressive national observance. Vice President Adlai Stevenson led a delegation from Washington, D.C., which included official representation from both the House and the Senate. Twenty-four States were represented, in fourteen cases by the governor and his staff. A large tent was erected with a seating capacity of ten thousand and was filled on several separate occasions by reunions of different veterans' organizations. On the main day of dedication, it was conservatively estimated that forty thousand veterans were in attendance. As Dr. Paul Buck observes, "The sentiment everywhere expressed was pride in the fact that after thirty-two years the survivors of the two armies could meet again on the field of conflict 'under one flag, all lovers of one country.' ... In the long night of sordid contention through which the North and South passed before true peace was realized the people clung to the ennobling memory of four years' heroic effort, until in time, at Gettysburg and at Chickamauga, they welcomed the mellowed recollection of their quarrel as a bond of union, where one they feared it might divide.... Something remarkable in history had occurred." [63]

Shiloh and Vicksburg

The story of the preservation of the battlefields of Shiloh and Vicksburg may now be told rather quickly. Unlike Gettysburg and Chickamauga which for many years were officially named National Parks, Shiloh and Vicksburg were called National Military Parks from the beginning.

Representative David Bremner Henderson of Iowa was the father of the legislation for Shiloh. Born in Old Deer, Scotland, in 1840, he emigrated with his parents to America in 1846. In 1861 he enlisted in the Union Army and soon became a first lieutenant with the 12th Iowa Infantry. He was wounded in the neck at Fort Donelson and in the left leg at Corinth near Shiloh -- so severely that part of his leg had to be amputated. Nevertheless he was able to re-enter the Army in 1864 in command of the 46th Iowa Volunteers. After the war, he entered the practice of law in Dubuque, Iowa, was elected to Congress in 1882, and served for ten consecutive terms. In 1889 and again in 1901 he was the unanimous choice of his party for Speaker of the House. In addition to this high office, his most distinguished services in Congress were in behalf of the veterans of the Civil War and their widows and orphans, for whom he sought and secured pensions. [64]

On March 30, 1894, Representative Henderson introduced H.R. 6499 to establish a national military park at the battlefield of Shiloh. The import of this bill can be best gained from the statement of purpose in the opening section: "that in order that the armies of the southwest which served in the Civil War, like their comrades of the eastern armies at Gettysburg and those of the central west at Chickamauga, may have the history of one of their memorable battles preserved on the ground where they fought, the battlefield of hereby declared to be a national military park...." [65] The favorable report of the House Committee on Military Affairs, submitted June 22, 1894, clearly documented the character of those western armies. Troops from eleven Union States, principally midwestern, fought at Shiloh. Representative Henderson's State of Iowa alone furnished eleven regiments of infantry, while Kentucky furnished twelve, Indiana seventeen, Ohio twenty-four and Illinois twenty-seven. Ten Confederate States were also represented at Shiloh, including nine infantry regiments from Mississippi, eleven each from Arkansas and Louisiana, twelve from Alabama, and twenty-eight from Tennessee. The total number of troops engaged was between 90,000 and 100,000, and the losses were severe. In brief, the committee reported, "the bill appropriates $150,000 to make a national park out of what is now almost an unsightly tract of land upon which was fought one of the most important and deadly battles during the war of the rebellion." [66] The bill contained provisions nearly identical with Chickamauga for land acquisition, preservation and marking of battle lines, leases to property owners, and State participation. For the first time, however, the Shiloh law clearly spelled out that two of the Commissioners should have served in the Union Army and one in the Confederate forces. Amended to reduce the authorization of funds to $75,000, the bill passed the House and Senate promptly and was signed by President Grover Cleveland on December 27, 1894.

Because Congress had already authorized Shiloh battlefield to commemorate the armies of the Southwest, a special case had to be made for Vicksburg. Representative Thomas Clendenen Catchings of Mississippi took the lead, first introducing a park bill in January 1896. When it failed to pass, although favorably reported by committee, he re-introduced the bill in the next Congress in December 1897. Representative Catchings was a native of Mississippi, had served in the Confederate Army throughout the war, and entered the practice of law in Vicksburg in 1866. After holding State offices, he was elected to Congress in 1885 and served eight consecutive terms to 1901. [67]

In reporting favorably on Representative Catchings' bill in March 1898, the House Committee on Military Affairs set forth the case for Vicksburg as seen in Congress. The purpose of the bill was "to convert into a national military park the historic ground in and near.. .Vicksburg upon which occurred the most prominent operations of the Union and Confederate armies during the investment, siege, and defense of that city." [68] On this historic ground were extensive military works including forts, redoubts and entrenchments. By acquiring a strip of land, approximately 3-1/2 miles long but only 1/2 mile wide and embracing about 1,200 acres, the most important features of the engagement could be preserved. It was estimated that only $40,000 would be needed for land acquisition and $25,000 for development. The proposed boundaries and the estimated cost had the approval of the Secretary of War and also of the association of Union and Confederate veterans who participated in the siege and defense. The bill was similar to that for Chickamauga National Park but the cost was very much less.

"The campaign of General Grant, which terminated in the capitulation of the 'Gibraltar of the South,'" reported the Committee, "was not only one of the most remarkable of that war but has been justly assigned a place among those affording the greatest interest to the student of the military history of the past." [69] Vicksburg had been recognized by generals on both sides as the key to the opening of the Mississippi River, with immense consequences for the outcome of the war. Quoting Volume 24 of the Official Records, which had been only recently published, the Committee referred to statements by General Halleck of the Union Army and General Pemberton of the Confederate forces. Halleck had written Grant "in my opinion the opening of the Mississippi River will be to us of more advantage than the capture of forty Richmonds.... It is the most important operation of the war." Pemberton had said: "The evacuation of Vicksburg! It meant the loss of the valuable stores and munitions of war collected for its defense, the fall of Port Hudson, the surrender of the Mississippi River, and the severance of the Confederacy." These views, said the committee, had since been amply confirmed by the judgment of the best generals and historians of the Civil War. [70]

The case for Vicksburg did not rely alone upon its historical importance, however; widespread public support had been mobilized for the measure. The legislatures of twelve States had memorialized Congress for the establishment of the park. The Grand Army of the Republic had endorsed the proposal at three successive national encampments in 1895, 1896, and 1897; department encampments in sixteen States had added their approval. The measure also had the support of General John B. Gordon on behalf of the United Confederate Veterans' Association. The Committee on Military Affairs confidently recommended the bill to the favorable consideration of the House. [71]

This confidence was not misplaced. The House passed the bill on February 6, 1899; four days later the Senate followed suit; and on February 21, 1899, it was signed by President William McKinley and became law.

Military Maneuvers

One final action by the Congress rounded out the national military park idea and made it complete. This was a measure passed in 1896 which declared all the national military parks and their approaches to be "national fields for military maneuvers for the Regular Army of the United States and the National Guard of the States." This use of the battlefields turned out to be important not only at Chickamauga, with Fort Oglethorpe established on immediately adjoining land, and at Petersburg, with Camp Lee adjoining, but also at most of the other parks, where for many years the Regular Army and the National Guard held encampments, maneuvers, and various kinds of training exercises and where, even today, special groups of officers, including engineers, are not infrequently schooled in battlefield history by National Park Service historians.

In reporting this bill to the House on February 14, 1896, Representative John P. Tracy of Missouri made some observations that deserve recording. Regarding Chickamauga-Chattanooga he said:

as a theatre for military instruction, with its 10 square miles of battlefield and 40 miles of approaches, it can not be excelled. No other government owns such a theatre of notable engagements. A month's campaigning for practical study on such a field of maneuvers by the corps of West Point cadets, where the lines of battles and the movements in the engagement of nearly every organization of each side have been ascertained and...marked with historical tablets...would be worth an entire course in textbooks on the strategy of a campaign and battle tactics. [72]

He went on to point out that by maneuvering on different battlefields the Nation's military forces could become familiar with "the varied character of approaches to great and decisive battles." Furthermore the benefits would come not only to the Regular Army but would "embrace the National Guard of the several States in the practical instruction to be given and thus raise the military standing of the guard and make of it an efficient national body which in time of war may act in full accord with the War Department and the forces of the Regular Army." [73]

On behalf of the Committee on Military Affairs, Senator Joseph R. Hawley of Connecticut reported this same measure favorably to the Senate on March 19, 1896. Senator Hawley had a long-standing interest in historical and military matters. Before the war he had been active in the anti-slavery crusade and was a friend of Gideon Welles and of Charles Dudley Warner. In 1857 he became editor of the Hartford Evening Press and after the war served for a time as editor of the Hartford Courant. On April 18, 1861, immediately after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, he entered the Union Army as a captain, saw service in thirteen battles and actions and ended his army career as a brevet major general of volunteers. He was elected governor of Connecticut in 1865 and served three terms as a representative in Congress between 1868 and 1881 He was president of the United States Centennial Commission of 1876. In 1881 he entered the U.S. Senate and served for twenty-four years until his death in 1905. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, he took a keen interest in the national military parks. [74] It was consistent with this interest that his favorable report on the bill to utilize the parks as national fields for military maneuvers by the Regular Army and the National Guard met with prompt approval by the Senate and was signed by President Grover Cleveland on May 14, 1896.


We may now attempt to summarize the significance of the first four national military parks for the development of national historic preservation policies.

For the first time, Congress approved the acquisition of nationally significant historic property from private owners, using Federal funds and if necessary, the power of eminent domain. The doubts about national historic preservation policy sometimes inferred from the refusal of Congress forty years earlier to appropriate $200,000 (an amount it considered exorbitant) to purchase Mount Vernon, were now superseded by four unequivocal measures to acquire battlefields important to the Nation for permanent preservation. Furthermore, the power of Congress to enact such historic preservation laws was unequivocally upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A policy was established of preserving the battlefields as nearly as possible in their condition at the time of the battle. This policy was implemented in part by continuing the historic farmhouses and fields in use for agricultural purposes, thus adding life to the scene, and the same time reducing the costs of maintenance. The far-sighted practice of purchase and lease-back with preservation conditions was adopted as a tool of land management.

Congress recognized that specialized knowledge was required to ascertain, mark, and preserve the main lines of battle and the cultural features of the terrain. The solution adopted was to establish a three-man park commission for each area under the supervision of the Secretary of War, consisting of actual participants in the battle; of course, they were not professional historians. To help insure impartiality and to promote reunion of the sections, two members were appointed from among Union Army participants and one from the Confederate Army. The War Department provided historical assistance from the professional ranks of the military. No attempt was made, however, to establish a central historic preservation agency for the Federal Government, even for national military parks.

Lastly, States were expected to share the costs of preservation, marking and monumentation. The Federal Government undertook to acquire the land, ascertain the lines of battle, provide access roads, place markers on positions occupied by the Regular Army, and preserve the battlefield. The States were to mark and monument the positions of their troops, usually at a cost which represented a major part of the investment in park development. Both the Regular Army and the National Guard from the various States were allowed to use the complete national military park as a training and maneuvering ground.

The groundwork had now been fully laid for a phase of the historic preservation movement that was to go on for over seventy years, and still continues.

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Last Updated: 19-May-2016