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.