National Park Service
The Origin and Evolution of the National Military Park Idea
NPS Logo


Once started, the idea of preserving historic battlefields and other sites as national military parks or memorials spread rapidly. Between 1901 and 1904 thirty-four bills were introduced in Congress to authorize twenty-three additional historical reservations in nine different States and the District of Columbia. The House Committee on Military Affairs, to which all these bills were referred, soon found itself facing difficult questions of national historic preservation policy. Representative Richard Wayne Parker of New Jersey, a Princeton graduate and lawyer who had entered Congress in 1895 and with the exception of one term served continuously until 1911, was chairman of the committee. [75] At a hearing on April 14, 1902, he summarized the legislative situation as follows:

We have before us bills for establishment of parks at Bull Run battlefields and at Plattsburg; for the purchase and preservation of Jamestown Island, Virginia, and making appropriations therefor; providing for the purchase of Temple Farm at Yorktown, Va., and for other purposes; to establish a national military park at the battlefield of Fort Stevens, D.C.; to establish a national military park and erect a peace monument at Appomattox, Virginia; for the purchase and preservation of the battlefields and fortifications of Forts Frederick, Crownpoint, and Ticonderoga, in Essex County, New York; to establish a national military park at Fort Frederick, Maryland; establishing the Franklin Military National Park; establishing the Wilson Creek National Military Park; establishing a national military park at Brandywine, Pennsylvania; to establish a national military park at Stone River; to establish a national military park at Perryville, Kentucky; and to establish a national military park at Valleyforge, Pennsylvania; and for the erection of a memorial building or monument at Fort Recovery, Ohio; for the acquisition of Valleyforge, Pennsylvania; and there may be others. [76]

This large number of projects gave the committee much concern, first of all because of their potential cost. On February 20, 1902, Chairman Parker asked Secretary of War Elihu Root for a statement concerning the costs of the four national military parks thus far established. On March 3, 1902, Secretary Root provided a detailed answer revealing that the aggregate amounts expended to that date for land acquisition, development, and maintenance were as follows:

Chickamauga and Chattanooga$1,177,975


This was considered a very large sum and the committee estimated the cost of the new proposals before it would add another $2,000,000. [77] It appeared the national military park program could easily get out of hand unless treated very carefully.

A second problem also concerned the committee. The pending proposals were by no means confined to battlefields of the Civil War. They ranged the course of American history, from the colonial settlement of Jamestown, through the French and Indian War, the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. They included projects to preserve forts as well as battlefields and to erect monuments and memorials. Judging from its subsequent recommendations to the House, the Committee on Military Affairs clearly reached the conclusion in 1902 that the time had come for Congress to consider a general policy and program for this type of historic preservation rather than attempt to handle these diverse proposals piecemeal.

Lastly the committee was concerned about the proliferation of separate park commissions should the numerous pending bills be enacted into law. Most of them were patterned after the national military park legislation of the previous decade and therefore provided for the appointment of an additional park commission for each new project. As Representative Parker later reported to the House:

We have already four military commissions, for Chattanooga, Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg.... Separate commissions were necessary to establish these great parks. The system is too cumbrous to be continued beyond the time necessary therefor. Nor was it intended by the statutes which established these parks in 1890, 1894, 1897, and 1899.... Patriotism demands the preservation of these spots [for which bills are pending]. But it is plain they will not be preserved if a salaried commission has to be created for every spot and the surrounding country brought in and changed into a park for the benefit of some neighboring town, or for the glorification of its creators. [78]

As part of their study of these problems, Chairman Parker and his committee held two very interesting hearings on April 2 and April 14, 1902. The chief witness was Brigadier General George Breckenridge Davis, a distinguished career officer of the U.S. Army. Born in 1847 in Ware, Massachusetts, he had enlisted in the 1st Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry at the age of sixteen. Entering West Point after the Civil War, he graduated in 1871, subsequently seeing military service in Arizona, Wyoming, Indian Territory, and elsewhere in the West. He was twice called back to West Point for duty as a teacher where he gave instruction in history, geography, ethics and law. In 1888 he was called to Washington, D.C., and for the next seven years served as chairman of the Commission for Publication of Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, a monumental historical source collection embracing 130 volumes. Author of several important legal treatises, he ended his career with ten years' service as Judge Advocate General, during which time he also served as United States delegate to the Red Cross Conference in Geneva in 1906 and to the second Peace Conference at the Hague in 1907. [79] General Davis was keenly aware of the problems involved in marking and preserving historic battlefields and his testimony before the committee deeply influenced their subsequent recommendations to the House.

"The Antietam Plan"

The hearing on April 2, 1902, dealt primarily with the question of how to accomplish the needed work of historic preservation and marking, represented by pending bills, without incurring exorbitant costs. General Davis testified that the acquisition of additional large tracts of land was not necessary; that small tracts and markers should be sufficient in almost every pending case. During his service as chairman of the Official Records Commission, and especially between 1890 and 1895, General Davis had gone into the field several times, he testified, to study a number of battlefield proposals and in some cases to place markers. He was in charge of marking the lines of battle at Antietam early in the 1890s and very shortly reached this conclusion: "If it is the purpose of Congress to perpetuate this field in the condition in which it was when the battle was fought, it should undertake to perpetuate an agricultural community.... That was its condition in 1862, and that is the condition in which it should be preserved." [80] General Davis had therefore arranged that no large tracts of land be bought at Antietam but rather that narrow lanes be obtained along the lines of battle and fences erected on either side so as to preserve the farming lands intact. The land cost was very little, the expense of constructing roads was small, and the historical markers were well located and accessible in a setting still basically agricultural. [81] This method of battlefield park treatment came to be known as the "Antietam plan," in contrast to the plan of acquiring large tracts of park lands as was done at Gettysburg and Chickamauga. The "Antietam plan" remained an important feature of War Department and congressional thinking on battlefield preservation until the transfer of the national military parks to the Interior Department in 1933. For example, the 1927 legislation which authorized preservation of the battlefields of Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Chancellorsville and the Wilderness specifically named the Antietam system as the guide to be used in preserving these four areas.

General Davis also testified to some of his other early activities in historic battlefield preservation. In 1892, as the volume of War Records relating to the Appomattox campaign was in preparation, he sent an aide to check over the maps on the ground before they were published. The aide reported back that the old Appomattox Courthouse had burned, the McLean House had been taken down, brick by brick, with a view to its removal to Chicago, Illinois, for exhibition purposes, and the house occupied by General Grant as his headquarters had disappeared. General Davis immediately reported the matter to Secretary of War Daniel S. Lamont and recommended that these and other important sites at Appomattox be permanently marked by tablets. Secretary Lamont approved and General Davis then had these and several other spots carefully marked including the "place where the apple tree stood under which General Lee awaited... a message from General Grant; the place where General Lee issued his farewell order to the Army of Northern Virginia, and the place where Grant met Lee on April 10." At the request of the House Military Affairs Committee, General Davis visited Appomattox again in 1902 and checked the condition of these markers placed ten years before. They were still in excellent condition except for the need of painting. If the Congress concluded that land should be acquired around these markers, then 150 acres would be amply sufficient to embrace all the main points of interest, General Davis testified, rather than the 2500 acres proposed in pending legislation. [82]

General Davis also reported to the committee on several conferences he had with Secretary Lamont about the Manassas battlefields, which resulted in the Secretary directing him to visit the area and make recommendations. After carefully studying the terrain of both the first and second battles of Manassas, General Davis concluded that the only land acquisition required was the Henry House and field, the central point of the first battle, and a small tract on the Dogan Place. Still later, General Davis went over the ground of the Atlanta Campaign in Georgia for the War Department. Again he concluded that substantial land acquisition was unnecessary and that "tablets could be erected largely in the public roads, marking points... where the lines of battle crossed... and giving directions to travelers as to the points of interest as they passed along the road." [83]

These ideas of careful but inexpensive historic marking and preservation met with the warm approval of the House Military Affairs Committee. As Chairman Parker reported to the House on May 14, 1902, "It is not desirable that all those battlefields should be turned into great military parks, adorned with monuments, and so changed as to be utterly unlike the country at the time of the battle.... The farm land, the woods, the pastures, and, in some cases, the buildings should be left as they were...." And again, "the work ought to be done as it was done at Antietam, by acquiring narrow roadways, maintaining the general condition of the country, setting up proper monuments and markers, and thus enabling the student and patriot to see how the battle was fought." [84]

Proposal for a Central National Military Park Commission

The hearing on April 14 dealt with the growing number of national military park commissions. This problem had been brought to a sharp focus on March 4, 1902, when Representative Frederick Clement Stevens of Minnesota, a member of the Committee, introduced H.R. 12092 to repeal existing laws and provide for a new central "national park commission" of five members to be placed in charge of the "restoration, preservation, and suitable marking, for historical and professional military study, of such battlefields of the war of the rebellion as are now or may hereafter be acquired by the United States." [85] This significant general bill, along with the numerous special bills for special projects, was also before the committee for consideration at both the hearings. In the testimony that followed, major questions regarding the proper Federal organization to carry out historic preservation work were explored.

The first question that interested Chairman Parker was whether responsibility for future work of preservation and marking, which all agreed ought to be done on an economical pattern, should be assigned directly to the Secretary of War, or whether it should be assigned to a single central commission acting under his supervision. On this delicate matter of organization, several interesting points developed during the interchanges between the committee and General Davis. There were already four park commissions actively at work. Because their members had been respected participants in the battles, as well as students of military history, their contributions would continue to be important for some years. However, the time was not far off when the physical effort of their work would become more and more difficult for them. Therefore a transition plan was needed. This plan should be (1) to establish a new central commission of five members, including one member from each of the four local commissions; (2) let the local commissions complete their work, but fill no vacancies; (3) allow the central commission gradually to absorb the duties of the local commission and meanwhile take full responsibility for all new projects authorized by Congress; and (4) last of all, look forward to the time, about ten years hence, when the central commission would in its turn be gradually replaced by the Secretary of War and his staff. [86]

The responsibilities of the proposed commission were also discussed at length. It was soon clear that the proposal in H.R. 12092 was not broad enough, for it was confined solely to Civil War battlefields and left out all the other projects that members of Congress had pending before the committee. At one point occurred this exchange:

The Chairman. "General, ought not this commission to have charge likewise of dealing with matters not connected with the civil war, -- of the Revolutionary war, or Indian Wars?"

General Davis. "The whole class of subjects with which the government has to deal might well be vested in them." [87]

Chairman Parker then listed the numerous special bills pending before the committee and asked for the views of General Davis. He replied, "All those could only be intelligently handled by a commission that treated the whole subject." [88]

And again:

The Chairman. "Do I understand that meanwhile you would advise that full discretion in all these matters be given to this central commission and that no further special acts be passed as to special battlefields?"

General Davis. "Yes sir: I do, decidedly." [89]

This was the crux of the problem before the Committee on Military Affairs. It felt obliged to choose between recommending to the House a general solution to the continuing problem of battlefield preservation and marking, or presenting reports on an assortment of uncoordinated and largely unstudied special projects. The Committee chose the former course, and on May 14, 1902, Chairman Parker submitted its report to the House. Accompanying the report was a new bill, H.R. 14351, which had been drafted by the committee with the assistance of General Davis on behalf of the War Department.

The broad purpose of the committee's bill was succinctly described to the House by Chairman Parker:

This is a bill to provide for a national military park commission with general power to restore, preserve, mark and maintain, in commemoration, of the valor of American arms and for historical, professional, and military study, such battlefields, forts, cemeteries, or parts thereof, of the colonial, Revolutionary, Indian or civil wars, or of any other wars of the United States, as may hereafter be acquired by the United States, and to establish military parks thereon. [90]

This statement of purpose went far beyond any legislation of this kind previously introduced into Congress, in respect to both its comprehensive coverage of all periods of American military history and its inclusion of forts and cemeteries as well as battlefields among the objects of preservation.

The bill provided that the National Military Park Commission should consist of five members, appointed by the President for five year terms and confirmed by the Senate, with the first membership to include one member from each of the existing commissions. An appropriation of $200,000 was authorized for the work of the commission. This work would include discretionary power to acquire tracts of land containing points of historic interest or importance and to ascertain and mark lines of battle, provided no more than $5000 was expended in the purchase of any single tract. Other sections provided for protection of historic property; cooperation with States, municipalities and military societies; and lease-back of lands to former owners on historic preservation conditions. Lastly, and perhaps most interesting, the commission was empowered, in effect, to make surveys and investigations and "report to Congress as to places and sites or additions...suitable and proper to be acquired and restored, preserved or marked," with an estimate of the cost. If the cost exceeded the commission's available funds no further action was to be taken until authorized by Congress. [91] As Chairman Parker stated in his report to the House, "The provisions of this bill will finally take care of all the battlefields of the Union." [92]

Formulation and introduction of this general bill marked a significant step forward in congressional awareness of the need for a national historic preservation policy. But the determined opposition of the battlefield commissions, which had tremendous influence, caused the House to reject the recommendations of its Committee on Military Affairs in 1902. Representative Parker reintroduced the measure, slightly amended in detail but not in purpose, in 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, and 1910. The Committee on Military Affairs continued to support the bill with strongly favorable reports in 1904 and again in 1906. It is interesting to note that during the latter year the House Public Lands Committee finally succeeded, after several years of rather parallel effort, in securing passage of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to preserve historic landmarks and historic structures on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States. Growing numbers of members of Congress on both committees were becoming aware that historic preservation by the Nation required consideration of broad legislative action. The proposal for a single, central National Military Park Commission was, however, never to reach this successful result. After 1906, the Committee on Military Affairs stopped making reports on the proposal, and Congressman Parker left Congress on March 3, 1911.

Nevertheless, the proposal for a central commission to guide preservation of battlefields, forts and cemeteries of all periods of American military history had several significant consequences. First, it resulted, together with the interruptions caused by World War I, in suspending action on special acts to establish special battlefields for many years, with only minor exceptions. For a quarter of a century, from 1900 to 1925, only five bills among many introduced appear to have been enacted into law, and those were on a very limited basis. Thus in 1906 Congress authorized a monument at King's Mountain battlefield in South Carolina; and in 1907, funds were appropriated to complete a monument on the battlefield of New Orleans; but both were to be locally maintained. In 1917, Congress authorized the War Department to accept a small tract of land on the Kennesaw Mountain battlefield, with a monument on it, from an association. And lastly, in two steps, one in 1911 and the other in 1917, Congress authorized a small national military park of 125 acres at Guilford Court House, North Carolina. [93] This was small fruit, and as a further consequence of this quarter century of congressional inaction, an accumulation of preservation projects was stored up which descended on Congress in a small flood during the 1920s.

Secondly, the idea of gradually terminating the four separate park commissions for Chickamauga, Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg was finally adopted by Congress in 1912. However, instead of establishing a central commission to take over their duties, provision was made for the gradual transfer of their functions directly to the Secretary of War. The Sundry Civil bill of 1912 provided that as vacancies occurred by death or resignation in the membership of the several commissions in charge of national military parks, they should not be filled. Instead, the Secretary of War designated an ex-officio member with full authority to act with the remaining commissioners. And when all offices of commissioner became vacated, the duties of the commission were thereafter to be performed under the direction of the Secretary of War. It was these comparatively modest duties of the four existing national military park commissions, inherited by the Secretary of War in 1912, which were among those subsequently transferred from him to the Secretary of Interior in 1933 and thereafter delegated to the Director of the National Park Service, where they reside today.

Last of all, it was during this very period, when so little was being approved by Congress to provide overall direction in the War Department for a growing national historic preservation program, that legislation was first introduced to create a Bureau of National Parks in the Department of the Interior and referred to the Public Lands Committees of the House and Senate for consideration. This legislation, of course, was primarily concerned with providing overall direction for the national parks and for most of the national monuments. Nevertheless, it is intriguing to note that one of the earliest bills placed before Congress to authorize a Bureau of National Parks, S. 3463 introduced by Senator Reed Smoot of Utah on December 7, 1911, specifically referred to federally owned historical property. Here is the language:

Sec. 2. That the director shall, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, have the supervision, management, and control of the several national parks, the national monuments, the Hot Springs Reservation in the State of Arkansas, lands reserved or acquired by the United States because of their historical associations; and such other national parks, national monuments, or reservations of like character as may hereafter be created or authorized by Congress [emphasis supplied]. [94]

It is not clear whether this language intentionally or inadvertently covered the national military parks. Since this language reappears in several other similar bills introduced into both the Senate and the House during the next five years, through 1915, it appears to have been intentional. In the end, however, as we will note in a later part of this study, this language was modified, and the enabling act of 1916 as signed by the President provides that the Director of the National Park Service shall have responsibility for "the several national parks and monuments now under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, and of such other national parks and reservations of like character as may be here after created by the Congress...." [95] The national military parks were not mentioned. Although it was apparent to few persons at the time, the seeds of the future were nevertheless present in this legislation. And in due course, in 1933, they were to bear substantial fruit when the national military parks were finally added to the National Park System. But before this happened there was much other study and consideration of the battlefields, forts and cemeteries in the Congress of the United States and in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government between 1923 and 1933. To this story we now turn.

The 1926 Act for the Study and Investigation of Battlefields

Interest in the establishment of new national military parks revived in the 1920s after the victorious conclusion of World War I. The Nation was prosperous, the coming of the automobile in large numbers and better roads was making travel more and more popular, and there was a backlog of preservation projects to be considered, some of which had been first introduced in Congress over a generation before.

As in the case of all wars, before the Nation could take up the pursuit of peaceful domestic projects, it first had to pay its respects to its fallen soldiers. This time the battlefields and cemeteries were far away in Europe and there were many of them. On March 4, 1923, President Warren G. Harding approved general legislation previously passed in the Congress "for the creation of an American Battle Monuments Commission to erect suitable memorials commemorating the services of the American soldier in Europe, and for other purposes." It was to be the duty of the seven-member commission to erect suitable memorials to the American forces in Europe at such places as the Commission determined, including works of architecture and art in the American cemeteries there. But the Commission was also required to make a photographic record of the terrain of the various battlefields of Europe upon which units of the armed forces of the United States were engaged with the enemy, so as to complete the historic photographic record for the permanent files of the War Department Upon the completion of each memorial the Commission was to notify the Secretary of War who would then assume responsibility for its maintenance.

This study is not the proper place to trace the history of the American Battle Monuments Commission during the years that followed. Suffice it to note here that the aspect of national historic preservation work represented by the monumenting, preserving and marking of American battlefields at home was by this means extended overseas in 1923, although in modified form. Today, almost half a century later, this work has been carried around the globe and still continues, with the end nowhere in sight.

We now turn our attention back to the domestic situation. By 1926, numerous bills proposing establishment of further historical reservations were again introduced into Congress, again they were referred to the House Committee on Military Affairs, and again the committee found itself faced with broad problems of historic preservation policy. As Representative Noble J. Johnson of Indiana reported to the House on behalf of the committee on May 4, 1926, "in the present session 28 bills have been introduced of which 14 provide for establishment of national military parks with appropriations authorized approximating nearly $6,000,000. The other bills provide for markers on battle fields, the inspection of sites with a view to eventual establishment of parks, etc." [96] Regarding the latter point, Congress had recently begun to enact special bills to make special studies of individual projects and had passed such bills for Chalmette in 1921, Yorktown in 1923, Fredericksburg in 1924, and Petersburg in 1925. None of these parks had been authorized and more of this sort of study legislation was in prospect. Chairman Johnson reported that the Military Affairs Committee believed strongly that provision should be made for a general study and investigation of all battlefields in the United States in order to assist Congress in determining what action to take on the many specific proposals for commemoration and preservation that were before it. To accomplish the general study, Representative Johnson at first favored the old idea of creating a central national military park commission. On February 25, 1926, he introduced a bill, H.R. 9765, for this purpose. Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis strongly opposed this measure in a letter to the committee, however, and advocated instead that a general survey of battlefields be entrusted to the War Department. A new bill was drafted, H.R. 11613, embodying Secretary Davis's concept, and Representative Johnson reported it favorably to the House from the Military Affairs Committee on May 4. This bill passed Congress quickly and was signed by President Calvin Coolidge on June 11, 1926. It was the first legislation enacted by the Congress of the United States to provide for a broad historic sites survey. [97]

In recommending legislation to provide for a general study of battlefields in the United States, the House Military Affairs Committee had before it a long memorandum on the subject, prepared by Lieutenant Colonel C.A. Bach, Chief Historical Section, Army War College and approved on June 16, 1925, by Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis. This memorandum reviewed past actions of Congress that has shaped battlefield preservation policy, set forth a comprehensive system for classifying battles according to their importance, and proposed preservation action corresponding to the relative importance of each category. After reviewing nearly all congressional legislation enacted on this subject during the previous half century, Colonel Bach concluded that past actions of Congress provided an appropriate battlefield classification scheme for the future, which he set forth as follows:

Class I. Battles worthy of commemoration by the establishment of national military parks. These should be battles of exceptional political and military importance and interest whose effects were far-reaching, whose fields are worthy of preservation for detailed military and historical study, and which are suitable to serve as memorials to the armies engaged.

Class II. Battles of sufficient importance to warrant the designation of their sites as national monuments. The action of Congress and the great difference in the importance of these battles give reason for the subdivision under this class into:

Class IIa. Battles of such great military and historic interest as to warrant locating and indicating the battle lines of the forces engaged by a series of markers or tablets, but not necessarily by memorial monuments.

Class IIb. Battles of sufficient historic interest to be worthy of some form of monument, tablet, or marker to indicate the location of the battle field. [98]

Colonel Bach them made a tentative classification of American battlefields into these catagories. Among all the battles fought during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the War with Mexico, the Indian Wars, and the Civil War, he found only five deserving a place in Class I -- the battlefields of Saratoga and Yorktown from the American Revolution, and Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chickamauga-Chattanooga from the Civil War. Congress, he pointed out, had also placed Shiloh in this category. In Class IIa, he placed the battlefield of New Orleans together with fifteen important but not first-ranking battlefields of the Civil War, among them, for example, Manassas, Fort Donelson, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the Wilderness. Last of all, he suggested an initial list of sixty-four lesser battlefields of all wars deserving of some kind of monument or marker under Class IIb.

In his review of Class IIb battles, Colonel Bach made some interesting observations. Regarding the Revolutionary War, he pointed out that Heitman's Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army listed about 400 battles and engagements. From this list he selected 29 that in his judgment possessed "more than ordinary military and historic interest." Of these about half already had monuments, and the remainder he suggested deserved commemoration, among them Brandywine, Germantown, Camden, and Savannah. In the period of the War of 1812, he selected six battles for commemoration without comment. For the Mexican War he pointed out that only two battles were fought within the limits of the United States -- Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, Texas -- and both deserved some form of monument. Of the Indian Wars, he observed that lists prepared by the Adjutant General showed that more than 1,000 engagements occurred between 1866 and 1891 alone. While there were comparatively few engagements involving large forces, "all these encounters are more or less intimately related to the development of the Western States and the advance westward of civilization, [and] the most important of them are worthy of commemoration." He then recommended a list of 27 such battles to commemorate including Fallen Timbers, Tippecanoe Horseshoe Bend, Okeechobee, Fort Phil Kearny, Little Bighorn, Snake Creek and Wounded Knee. Last of all, he pointed out that during the Civil War, fought over extensive territory for four years, there occurred over 2,000 battles, engagements, and sieges. He could not attempt to make a selection but expressed the view that a monument should be sufficient to commemorate any Civil War battle in this category and not already listed in a higher class. [99]

This historical proposal of the Army War College, endorsed by Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis, became the basis for legislation in 1926. The act then passed authorized the Secretary of War to make "studies and investigations and, where necessary, surveys of all battlefields within the continental limits of the United States whereon troops of the United States or of the original thirteen colonies have been engaged against a common enemy, with a view to preparing a general plan and such detailed projects as may be required" for proper commemoration. The act also required the Secretary of War to submit a preliminary plan for, carrying out the purpose of the legislation on or before December 1, 1926, and thereafter to submit a detailed report of progress annually. No further real estate was to be purchased by the Government for military park purposes unless a report thereon was made by the Secretary of War through the President to Congress under the provisions of this act.

Beginning in 1926 and continuing through 1932, a national survey of battlefields was diligently conducted by a small staff attached to the War Department following the criteria set forth by the Army War College and each year a report on progress was made to Congress. The historical studies were conducted by the historical section of the Army War College. Lieutenant Colonel Howard L. Landers was detailed to head up these studies, with the assistance of another officer and four clerks. Preliminary field investigations and detailed surveys of battlefields, as required, were made by the Chief of Engineers through his district engineers. When a park project was actually authorized by Congress, the work of commemorating the battlefield was to be performed under the direction of the Quartermaster General. There was no single bureau in the War Department charged solely with these varied responsibilities for historic preservation.

The two most important annual reports of the Secretary of War on these battlefield surveys were those submitted to Congress in December 1928 and 1929. They dealt with the large backlog of old projects and took up many new ones. They developed the scope and nature of what the Nation might expect to come from this comprehensive survey of American battlefields. These two annual reports included preliminary field investigations of the only two Class I battlefields, Saratoga and Yorktown, and of the nine Class IIa battlefields, including Manassas, Chalmette, and Richmond, not yet authorized or pending authorization as national military parks. They also included recommendations for the monumentation of fifty other battlefields of all wars under Class IIb, including such places as Alamance, Appomattox, Balls Bluff, Camden, Cowpens, Monocacy, Pea Ridge and Wilson Creek. The proposed cost of the monuments ranged from a low of $2,500 for Balls Bluff to a high of $100,000 for Appomattox. [100]

New National Military Parks & Battlefield Sites

The question now was, what should Congress do with all this carefully prepared data? Supported by recommendations from the House Committee on Military Affairs, Congress decided to take two concurrent courses of action in the years from 1926 to 1933. First, it passed a series of six bills to authorize one national park, four national military parks, and one battlefields memorial, as follows: [101]

Date Approved

6/2/26Moores Creek National Military Park
7/3/26Petersburg National Military Park
3/14/27Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial
(including also Chancellorsville and the Wilderness)
12/1/27Stones River National Military Park
3/26/28Fort Donelson National Park
3/3/31King's Mountain National Military Park

It may be noted that through an entirely separate sequence of events Yorktown Battlefield also became a national historical reservation as a part of Colonial National Monument on July 3, 1930, as, indeed, Big Hole Battlefield in Montana and Sitka in Alaska had already become national monuments under the Antiquities Act as long ago as 1910.

Secondly, in 1930, Congress undertook to deal with the fifty Class IIb battlefields that had been recommended by the War Department for commemoration by drafting a huge omnibus bill listing and describing each project individually and authorizing appropriations for land acquisition and monumentation ranging from $2,500 to $100,000 depending on the importance of the site. Added all together the program called for a total appropriation of $624,400. It was a "rivers and harbors" bill for the monumentation of American battlefields, and very likely only the beginning, In preparation for consideration of this measure by the Congress, the House Committee on Military Affairs held a lengthy hearing on March 21, 1930. In addition to the members of the committee, 21 members of the House who were interested in particular battlefield bills were also present and most of them testified. The committee also heard testimony at length from Colonel Landers of the Historical Section of the Army War College, who was in general charge of the comprehensive survey of American battlefields. Colonel Landers made a responsive and thoroughly informed witness. It was necessary for him to testify, however, that the total program under the 1926 act would probably require the ultimate expenditure of $10,000,000 for national military parks and another $10,000 000 for battle sites other than parks, or a total of $20,000,000. [102]

On April 8, 1930, with the added benefit of data from the hearing,. Representative Lister Hill of Alabama, who had presided, introduced the omnibus bill, H.R. 11489. And on May 19 he presented a comprehensive report to the House from the committee on the subject of battlefield commemoration. He favorably recommended passage of the entire omnibus bill, with only one minor amendment. [103]

What then happened is not clear. It must be remembered that eight months previously, the stock market crash of October 1929 signalled the onset of the Great Depression. It is likely that by May 1930 historic preservation and commemoration had fallen to a much lower national priority in the minds of members of Congress than it had seemed to occupy four years earlier. In the end, Congress again resorted to "special acts for special battlefields," even when authorizing only modest monuments.

Such treatment was individually authorized for each of the following battlefield sites between 1929 and 1931:[104]

Date approved

2/21/29Brices Cross Roads
6/2/30Chalmette (take over maintenance)
6/18/30Appomattox (monument only)
3/4/31Fort Necessity

If one adds these seven battlefield sites to the six national military parks or their equivalents and the one national monument embracing a battlefield authorized during the same period, it makes a total of fourteen additions to Federal battlefield holdings between 1926 and 1933.

This was the general situation when, on June 10, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the executive order that brought about the transfer of the national military parks, battlefield sites and national monuments, until then administered by the War Department, to the Department of the Interior. Along with the historic sites and buildings themselves, the records and files of the 1926-1933 national survey of battlefields were also transferred to the Interior Department. From that date forward, the policies and programs related to surveying, preserving, marking and interpreting battlefields were merged into the broader general program of historic preservation and interpretation then being developed under the leadership of the National Park Service.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 19-May-2016