Yesterday the Civil War Trust made a major change with their organizational focus. Though the name does not change, the Trust’s efforts extend to preservation of Revolutionary War battlefields. In the web announcement (on the Campaign 1776 web site), the Trust said:
Nearly 240 years after the “shot heard ‘round the world” signaled the beginning of the journey toward American independence, historians and preservationists gathered in Princeton, N.J., to launch the first-ever national initiative to protect and interpret the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. The new effort, titled ‘Campaign 1776,’ is a project of the Civil War Trust, the nation’s most successful battlefield preservation advocate. Campaign 1776 will employ the same proven strategy of harnessing public-private partnerships to permanently protect hallowed ground that has made the Civil War Trust one of the country’s top charitable land conservation organizations.
The efforts will soon extend to War of 1812 battlefields.
The first preservation target for Campaign 1776 is 4.6 acres at Princeton, New Jersey. The Trust is calling for $25,000 in donations. That’s a low jump for an organization which has preserved thousands of acres and routinely calls for millions of dollars for Civil War sites. You will see from the campaign page, the Trust is taking its familiar and very successful format from Civil War projects and applying that to these new targets… with a little adaptation, of course.
Adaptation? Yes, let me offer examples. A one page summary of the American Revolution… but before you give me the rolling eyes treatment, thing about it. We all know about the dearth of knowledge about history among the general American population. I don’t need to play back some “in the street” interviews or a compilation of political gaffes to demonstrate that. And lets face it, if one mentions “the war” in conversation here in the U.S., very likely that is one of two – the Civil War or World War II. Those have gotten the most print and film play. So in most cases, convincing someone that Revolutionary War battlefields are important enough to put money on, the discussion has to start with “what was that war about?” How many out there will understand “Southern Campaign” outside of the context of Richard Nixon? So, I’d not give the eye-roll to what you might think a “introductory-level” opening.
Adaptation? Yes, for new allies. The Trust has long worked with the National Park Service (through the American Battlefield Protection Program) and with other organizations in the ranks, such as National Trust for Historic Preservation and Journey Through Hallowed Ground at the national level. Likewise the Trust has partnered with local organizations, too many to list here, to bring the “small” preservation efforts to the fore. There are some local organizations already focused on Revolutionary War and War of 1812 preservation. Crossroads of the American Revolution (Revolutionary New Jersey) is one highlighted with the Princeton effort. At the national level, while many of the “Civil War” allies apply, there are other organizations to bring into the conversation, such as the Society of the Cincinnati. These new alliances will only add to and strengthen the conversation about preservation.
I see the Trust’s additions as a natural evolution towards a broader discussion of battlefield preservation. But I’m sure there are some out there who will voice concern that these battlefields from other wars will detract from the core mission focused on the Civil War … or maybe just be a token effort suffering in the shadows of those established preservation efforts. If I may offer a counterpoint to that, consider this:
That Civil War Trails marker is located on the Yorktown Battlefield. While everyone (we hope) would identify Yorktown as a Revolutionary War battle of great importance, few would pause for the Civil War events at the same location. Certainly the same things that brought the colonists to the Peninsula, brought soldiers to Yorktown… again and again. And that is just a handy example, as I could well cover several pages here on the blog with sites with some Revolutionary War and Civil War connections. It’s a common theme with history. Our physical world has layers upon layers of history. We just have to know how best to view that. And it helps that, in the case of the site above, different organizations have preserved and interpreted.
At the same time, we in the Civil War-centered discussions need to recognize that “our” great chapter of the history book is but one chapter. It is a part of this great story arc that is the American experience. Unfortunately, in our progress driven existence, a lot of things get recycled. Particularly places where history happened. I think of it this way: If some of my preservation budget goes to help a Revolutionary War site, then it is not just the “matching” donation I’m banking on, but rather in the longer sense the “matching” interest that such encourages. The more people that are sensitive in the interest of historic preservation, the healthier our knowledge of history becomes.