Category Archives: Preservation

Newtonia battlefields will not be part of a national park

From the Joplin Globe, February 12, 2014:

National Park Service finds local Civil War battlefields unsuitable for inclusion

NEWTONIA, Mo. — A National Park Service study of the two Civil War battlefields near Newtonia has determined that they’re not appropriate for inclusion in the national park system.

The study was completed in January 2013 but was not released publicly until Tuesday, after it was formally presented to Congress.

“The National Park Service finds that the Newtonia Battlefields do not meet the criteria for establishing an independent unit of the national park system and do not meet established criteria for an addition to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield,” the study’s conclusion reads, referring to the site near Springfield.

“No new federal ownership of management is proposed.”

The study determined that the two battles, in 1862 and 1864, weren’t nationally significant in the context of the Civil War.

“In the military context of the Civil War, neither of the battles at Newtonia had an impact at a national level,” the study reads.

It goes on to report that both battles have interesting historical themes, but not any that aren’t already represented by sites under federal or state control. (Read More)

I’m looking for a public version of the report and will refrain from commenting about the justification offered.  I will say, with that in consideration, there’s something at odds here.  As a Civil War Trust official later points out in the article, Newtonia is listed “among the 384 most significant Civil War battles by the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, which listed them as a top priority for preservation.”  In short somebody else (and in this case a lot of somebodies) thinks these battlefields do have some national significance.

Last December, news broke about an effort to expand the Shiloh National Military Park to include other sites in west Tennessee.  The summary of the bill sponsored by Senator Lamarr Alexander reads:

Shiloh National Military Park Boundary Adjustment and Parker’s Crossroads Battlefield Designation Act – Modifies the boundary of Shiloh National Military Park to include the following areas : (1) Fallen Timbers Battlefield, (2) Russell House Battlefield, and (3) Davis Bridge Battlefield. Authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to acquire lands by donation, purchase from willing sellers, or exchange.

The news about Newtonia makes me wonder if this effort (still just a bill at this point) is in jeopardy.  I think there’s a fair comparison between Parker’s Crossroads and Newtonia, in terms of historical significance.  Perhaps even an edge for Newtonia, with two engagements of note.  Battles were fought on those grounds.  The battles need not have been a pivotal point in time.  Not every fight was a “Gettysburg.”  To call out “significance” begs the next question – what defines significance?  But again, I have not read the report.

All over the country there are battle sites, and not just Civil War battle sites, which are unrecognized and unprotected. Congress authorized the American Battlefield Protection Program to address this issue (and I’d be remiss not pointing out that Newtonia is listed as MO016 and MO029 in ABPP’s studies).  I can understand well if the response referenced funding, administrative constraints, or other points not related to the historical facts.  But again… I haven’t read the report and need to reserve judgment.

However, I am reminded again of another battlefield where preservationists were challenged about the significance of the site. Lines like “if this battle was so important, why didn’t they teach me about it at West Point? And where are all the monuments?”

Yes, Brandy Station. And even though preservationists won that particular round of debates, the battlefield remains much in jeopardy.  But unlike Newtonia and Parker’s Crossroads, where strong, healthy organizations aimed at preservation are “fighting the good fight,” there is still much lingering at Brandy Station which needs to be addressed.

Sunbright, site of the Third Corps Ball, Winter of 1864

Historian and friend Clark B. Hall passed along this comment regarding the Third Corps Ball, mentioned in today’s post:


The 3rd Corps Ball referred to took place in the big, beautiful home of Dr. Daniel Kennedy, “Sunbright.” This home sat on a prominent knoll near the Orange & Alexandria Railroad tracks about two miles south of Brandy Station. Serving as the Divisional HQ of General Joseph Carr, the home faced east, away from the tracks, and the image I am sending you by separate cover depicts Sunbright in March 1864, just a month or so after the 3rd Corps Ball.

A developer bought this house in 1988, and a week after I visited and photographed the house with the permission of the tenant, the house mysteriously burned down. You can  draw your own conclusions regarding that “coincidence.”

Sunbright was one of Culpeper County’s magnificent homes.. But, its sad fate placed Sunbright squarely within the gunsights of “progress.”

Here is the March 1864 photograph mentioned:


Indeed a wonderful home in all respects.  And a home that, if it were around today, would have many stories to tell. Perhaps just obscured only by a few layers of paint?

Speaking of graffiti under paint, there’s something else that comes to mind here.  Just a few decades ago, within our collective memory, Culpeper boasted numerous structures – beautiful homes – which stood witness to the war, each with a history and stories to tell.  Many of those are lost.  Likewise, some of the topographical features that played a prominent role in the war are grossly altered without regard to significance.  And what remains is at risk.  Just over a year ago another important site with respect to the Winter Encampment – Glen Ella, where General Gouverneur K. Warren spent the winter – was leveled to make way for a modern home.  And in just recent months, a large house went atop Cole’s Hill, marring the profile of a hillside which up until that time remained very close to what the soldiers called “cold mountain.”

Winter Encampment 097

This discarding, and in some ways destruction, of our history and heritage will continue so long as those in positions of leadership remain aloof to the problem. The Brandy Station Foundation should be at the fore of these issues.  But it is not.  Ever since the president of that organization, Joseph McKinney, pushed out a policy not to “oppose common property improvements,” the Foundation has remained quiet.  While the position of the Foundation spoke of “reversible change,” a proper definition of such (if there could be) was lacking.  The statement appears now, just as it did to preservationists in 2011, as just bunting.  Leadership in the foundation has not uttered a single word in regard to these irreversible damages seen to the county’s historical resources.  With that comes a shortfall towards the organization’s stated reason for being.  An organization chartered for preservation should, in fact, be an agent favoring preservation - not enabling destruction  - of those resources. The policy, crafted to allow the Brandy Station Foundation to save face, all the while turning a blind eye to what happened on the battlefield, has in effect been a “camel’s nose under the tent” which allowed this irreversible change.

It is impossible to reverse what was done over the last few years.  But to save what is left, it is time the Brandy Station Foundation recognizes the damage done by its policy of non-intervention in preservation matters.  It’s time for the Foundation to renounce its policy.  There is much still at risk and much preservation work to be done.

The USS Monitor needs your help

Earlier this week, the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News suspended preservation activities related to the USS MonitorFrom their website:

The Mariners’ Museum is temporarily closing a 5,000-square foot lab that houses the American Civil War ironclad USS Monitor’s gun turret and other large artifacts following the Dec. 31, 2013 expiration of an agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Marine Sanctuary Program. The lab will re-open once funding is secured. The decision to close the “wet lab” does not impact the rest of the Museum operation.

You may read more from the museum’s press release.  Working together, NOAA and the museum have done excellent work in the past to preserve the important artifacts related to the Monitor.   Today you can visit the museum and view many items which have undergone the preservation process:

CCWP 2013 097

View the propeller from the Monitor.

CCWP 2013 103

And actually touch parts of the Monitor:

CCWP 2013 102

But you won’t be able to view the items undergoing the slow process of stabilization and restoration:

CW Confrence 10 Mar 12 118

And while those artifacts remain secure and safe, the long process of preservation is delayed.

CW Confrence 10 Mar 12 126

What can you do?

Consider adding your name to this petition.  Then please spread the word.  1,000 signatures so far, and counting.