Book Cover "The Origin & Evolution of the National Military Park Idea" by Ronald F. Lee 1973




General Observations

Monuments for
American Revolution Battlefields

The First Battlefield Parks - pgs
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Later Evolution of the National Military Park Idea





Other National Cemeteries

We must digress briefly from the story of Gettysburg to take note of the early establishment of other national cemeteries and to suggest their relationship to historic preservation. This subject, however, deserves more investigation than the present study has permitted.

The difficult conditions regarding the burial of the dead that prevailed on Gettysburg Battlefield during and after the battle were repeated in every theater of operations and on every major battlefield throughout the Civil War.

This fact aroused the conscience of the Nation. Throughout the North, the soldier dead were considered to have sacrificed their lives to preserve and redeem the Union. This often-expressed sentiment was put into eloquent words by Horace Bushnell in an address to the Yale Alumni in 1865 on "Our Obligations to the Dead":

From the shedding of our blood have come great remissions and redemptions. In this blood of our slain our unity is cemented and sanctified. The sacrifices in the field of the Revolution united us but imperfectly. We had not bled enough to merge our colonial distinctions, and let out the state rights doctrine, and make us a proper nation.... We have now a new and stupendous chapter of national history. [29]

It is understandable that Congress, equally concerned, soon authorized a system of national cemeteries. A general measure entitled "An Act to establish and to protect national cemeteries" passed Congress and was signed by President Andrew Johnson on February 22, 1867. Under this authority, in the years following the Civil War, the War Department developed the system of national cemeteries in the continental United States, which now includes some eighty-five units. Of these, eleven were on or near the major battlefields of the Civil War that eventually became national military parks. In several instances these national cemeteries became the nuclei for the later establishment of national military parks or battlefield sites, as was the case at Gettysburg.

For example, by the Act of July 14, 1870, the Secretary of War was directed to accept and take charge of the Antietam National Cemetery at Sharpsburg, Maryland. Seven years later, Congress appropriated $15,000 to pay the balance of the indebtedness of the board of trustees of the cemetery. [30] In 1888 and 1890 Congress appropriated $20,000 for construction of a road from the Antietam Station to the national cemetery. In the second of these acts, Congress also appropriated $15,000 for surveying, locating, preserving, and marking the lines of battle of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia, and the position of each of the 43 different commands of the Regular Army engaged in the battle of Antietam. This marked the beginning of Antietam National Battlefield Site, regarding which further comments will be made later in this study. [31]

Fort Donelson provided another example. Following passage of the general legislation for national cemeteries in February 1867, the War Department set about immediately to acquire land for the Fort Donelson National Cemetery. By April, over fifteen acres had been acquired near the Cumberland River between the fort and the town of Dover, including the site in the town occupied by the Federal garrison from February 1862 until the end of the war. Officers of the Quartermaster Corps sent to oversee the work of improving the cemetery site and reinterring the remains of dead soldiers found that it went slowly and that funds were insufficient. In July 1872 Colonel James Ekin, the officer in charge, suggested to the Quartermaster General that the remains of Federal soldiers buried there be removed to Nashville as the cost of upkeep was too great and there were no visitors. "In reply," observes the author of the Administrative History: Fort Donelson National Military Park,

the Quartermaster General set forth what was to be the guiding policy for the Fort Donelson area throughout its administration by the War Department. "Let the men rest in peace. The cemetery is a public historical monument of an important battle, a leading event in the history of the United States. It has been established by proper authority, and it should be completed and maintained." [32]

Many years later the movement for the Fort Donelson National Military Park drew strength from this nucleus. [33]

National cemeteries were not limited to Civil War battlefields, however. We conclude our examples with an account drawn from the History of Custer Battlefield by Don Rickey, Jr. Newspapers throughout the country were filled with accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn as soon as it occurred, and the whole Nation was aroused. Within three weeks a movement was started to organize a Custer Monumental Association but apparently no firm plans developed. High Army officers spoke out in favor of commemorating the battle and those who fell there; and the Montana Territorial Legislature adopted a joint resolution changing the name of the Little Bighorn to Custer's River. Meanwhile, sensational newspaper stories appeared depicting the battlefield as "strewn with the half buried and exposed remains of the fallen soldiers." [34]

These stories were in part true, and relatives of the men who died in battle, as well as other private citizens, expressed great concern. Citizens pressured Congress to have the Army establish a national cemetery there so that the graves of the soldiers could be cared for. The War Department was itself equally concerned. General Philip H. Sheridan visited the site in July 1877 and later said that "it has been my intention to have this spot set off as a national cemetery...." On October 16, 1878, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs recommended to the Secretary of War that a monument be erected at the site and that all the remains of the soldiers be interred in a common grave underneath the shaft. Acting on these recommendations the Secretary of War ordered the establishment of a national cemetery of the 4th class on January 29, 1879. [35]

Formal establishment of the Custer Battlefield National Cemetery took place on August 1, 1879, with issuance of General Orders No. 78, Headquarters of the Army, which also stated that its boundaries would be announced upon completion of a survey. Evidently the survey took several years. One plan contemplated a reservation embracing eighteen square miles but this was subsequently reduced to one square mile. On December 7, 1886, President Grover Cleveland signed an executive order designating the boundaries of the "National Cemetery of Custer's Battlefield Reservation." Unlike other national cemeteries, this one embraced most of the key points of the battlefield, partly because it was clear that not all the remains of fallen soldiers had yet been found. But this designation also added a new note to historic preservation by preserving a battlefield under the general authority granted by Congress to establish national cemeteries. [36]

We now return from this necessary digression to resume the story of Gettysburg Battlefield and the four national military parks authorized between 1890 and 1899.

Next Gettysburg National Park

The First Battlefield Parks - pgs
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