Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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David Hackett Fischer sounds the call

MORE: Read more news from Fredericksburg

Re-enactors fire a cannon as part of portraying the Christmas 1776 crossing of the Delaware River by Gen. George Washington and his Continental Army. (ALEX BRADON / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

There were many interesting moments in the Tuesday hearing before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands that I covered.

I’ll have a bit more about the hearing–which lasted nearly 2 and a half hours and covered seven different bills–here later today, as well as material from a brief interview with scholar David Hackett Fischer.

One of the hearing’s highlights, no question, came late in the proceedings when Fischer, Brandeis University’s Earl Warren Professor of History, took to the microphone to testify for H.R. 2489. The bill has the somewhat unwieldy title of the American Battlefields Protection Program Amendments Act of 2011.

Dr. Fischer, an internationally respected scholar, received the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for his book “Washington’s Crossing” about the moment when Fredericksburg’s own George Washington–fighting the British at Trenton and Princeton–refused to let the American Revolution die.

His other works include  ”Paul Revere’s Ride,” “Albion’s Seed” and “Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement,” which spawned a wonderful exhibition–that you can still see pieces of–at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond.

On Tuesday in Washington, he was blunt, issuing a clarion call for Congress to do something–fast–to save more of the battlefields where Washington, Nathaniel Greene, the Marquis de Lafayette,  Comte de Rochambeau and “Mad Anthony” Wayne made world history, kicking Great Britain out of her own dominion.

Historic landscapes from the War of 1812 are also at a critical juncture, Fischer testified.

“The National Park Service has surveyed 825 ‘nationally significant’ battlefields and associated sites for the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Of that number it finds that 107 have been lost, another 245 are in poor or fragmentary condition, and 22 are in danger of destruction in the next ten years,” he said in his written statement to the subcommittee.

“The rate of loss is accelerating. Sites now presently endangered include some of the most important events in the history of the American Revolution,” Fischer warned.

“Among them are sites of fighting on the day of the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the fighting around New York at Pell’s Point and other places in 1776, the Delaware crossing on Christmas night in 1776; the first battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776, the second battle of Trenton on January 2, 1777, the battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777, the Forage War in New Jersey from January to March in 1777, and Howe’s East Jersey campaign against Washington in the spring of 1777, the battle of Brandywine in September 1777, and many more.

“These were not minor or marginal events,” he said. “They were the major campaigns. Some of these sites are now at risk, but might be preserved and protected, at least in part, if we can act decisively.”