The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Protection sought for Revolutionary War sites
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
WASHINGTON—America’s Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites deserve the same accord from Congress that it has long granted the nation’s Civil War battlefields, some lawmakers say.
Unless the U.S. government partners with private, local and state groups to study and preserve those places, many of them will swiftly be lost forever, advocates testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
They propose using the same methods with which Uncle Sam has preserved 17,000 acres of Civil War battlefields in 14 states over the past 15 years, leveraging federal dollars against private and state contributions.
Rep. Russ Holt, D–N.J., has introduced House Resolution 2489 to reauthorize and amend that National Park Service effort, the American Battlefield Protection Program, and add battlefields from the nation’s founding years to its responsibilities.
Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held the chamber’s first hearing on the resolution.
“History is best understood by being right where it happened. Preserving these historic treasures is really essential to appreciating the sacrifices of our forefathers and how a nation conceived in liberty can long endure,” Holt told other subcommittee members, paraphrasing a line from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
“Unfortunately, urban sprawl and unplanned development encroach on significant Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites, and present severe and growing risks to preservation of these significant sites,” he said. “There is a desperate need to act.”
Virginia includes many important sites from the period, including several in the Fredericksburg area: the Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory, Hunter’s Iron Works in Stafford County, areas of the Marquis de Lafayette’s campaign against the British, and parts of the Washington–Rochambeau Route that the American and French armies took to Yorktown.
Brandeis University historian David Hackett Fischer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Washington’s Crossing” and other works, spoke in favor of the legislation.
“In short, we need help for our Revolutionary War battlefields,” Fischer told the panel, summarizing his written testimony. “Some of the most important battlefields from the American Revolution are very much in trouble, damaged or fragmented or otherwise threatened.”
Amending the Park Service’s battlefield protection program would help more fully identify those sites and convey their lessons to future generations, he said.
Fischer noted the legislation would allow land to be acquired only from willing sellers, as is true of the Civil War program. That provision is important to property-rights advocates.
In 2007, a National Park Service report to Congress identified 243 high-priority Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields, and 474 more significant sites from those two conflicts.
The bill would authorize a total of $10 million for the Civil War program over 10 years and the same for the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 effort.
Peter May, an associate regional director of the National Capital Region of the National Park Service, outlined the legislation to the panel.
Fischer described the benefits that such founding-era parks could provide to local communities, citing a Civil War site—Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C.—as an example of how creating greater public access to such places can boost a state’s tourism economy.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, D–Mass., a subcommittee member, said she supports the bill, which has eight Democratic co-sponsors. None of the panel’s GOP members commented on the proposal. A companion bill is pending in the U.S. Senate.
Fredericksburg-area Rep. Rob Wittman, R–Montross, is considering the House legislation.
“Virginia is a cornerstone of our nation’s formative years, including the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812,” Wittman said Tuesday in answer to a press query.
“I’m proud to represent what we call America’s First District, which contains so many historical sites and treasures. I believe strongly that commemorating and remembering our history is important, and Virginia today benefits greatly from historical tourism and the related jobs and growth it brings.
“As a member of the [House] Natural Resources Committee, I look forward to this legislation moving through the process, and the attention it brings to the important issue of preserving our history.”
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029