The preservation of Civil War battlefields and sites of historic importance is an ongoing process that is certain to get a boost as we move through the Civil War sesquicentennial years. Here are some preservation items of interest that are happening in the Fall of 2011.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order November 1st, designating Fort Monroe, Virginia as a national monument. Located at Hampton, Virginia, Fort Monroe was built between 1819 and 1834, and had served as a military base until September of 2011. During the Civil War, Fortress Monroe, as it was often called at that time, remained in Union hands for the entire course of the war. It became a safe haven for escaped slaves in 1861 when the fort’s commanding officer, Major General Benjamin Butler, declared that slaves who reached Fort Monroe would be considered “contraband” and not returned. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was also imprisoned there for two years after he was captured in May 1865.
The Federal Government has also expressed interest in making the site of the largest Civil War action in Oklahoma into a national battlefield park. The Department of the Interior issued a statement indicating it was looking at the possibility of designating the Honey Springs Battlefield as a national site, but did not give specifics or a timetable for doing so. The 1200 acre site is currently administered by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
The Battle of Honey Springs was fought on July 17th, 1863 in what was then Indian Territory. Participants included Native American and African American troops as well as whites. Federal forces under Major General James G. Blunt were victorious, and the Union gained control of the Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River.
Back in Virginia, the Civil War Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Civil War battlefields announced November 2nd that it had teamed up with the Commonwealth of Virginia and saved a 1.4 acre site in Orange County that was the location of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters during the May 1864 Battle of the Wilderness. The Civil War Trust raised money through private donations to purchase the site, and Virginia added some matching funds.
The Civil War Trust also purchased five acres of land in Franklin, Tennessee where Confederate General William Loring’s division attacked an entrenched Union position during the November 30th, 1864 Battle of Franklin. The land was owned by a group of neighbors who had gotten together and bought the land in 2001 to preserve it as green space. It wasn’t until later that the group learned the historic significance of the site and the battle, a battle that had nearly 8600 casualties, over 6200 of them Confederate. Much of the land in and around Franklin that was the site of the battle has been developed, but in recent years, a movement to acquire and restore sites of significance to their 1864 appearance has been gaining momentum and lists several successes.