U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
IV. THE STATUS OF BATTLEFIELD PRESERVATION
Estimating the number of American battlefields is a subjective exercise whose result is determined by how battlefields are defined. As noted earlier, the Army War College identified the location of more than 3,400 encounters, skirmishes, and battles associated with the military history of our country. Other calculations have produced widely different counts. One exhaustive chronicler of Civil War military action, Frederick H. Dyer, in his 1909 book A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, counted 10,455 military actions in the four-year war. Using another definition, the U.S. Army counted 8,700 such actions in the Index to Battles of its late 19th century 128-volume War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Regardless of the definition, there are hundreds if not thousands of American battlefields, both small and large.
Since the creation of the first national military park in 1890 some twenty-nine battlefields, numerous forts and national cemeteries have been preserved by the Federal government. In addition, State park systems include more than forty battlefields and a number of forts. While these numbers may seem impressive, many battlefields remain unrecognized and unprotected, and particular periods of our country's military history are under-represented in State or Federal holdings and in listings in the National Register of Historic Places.
A recent review of National Register listings for battlefields reveals that of a total 236 battlefields listed in the National Register there are 62 battlefields from the entire colonial period. This number, encompassing military action between 1564 and 1783, comprises 27 percent of the total number of battlefields listed in the National Register. Civil War battlefields, representing four years of fighting, comprise some 35 percent of all National Register battlefields. Seriously under-represented in National Register listings are battlefields associated with the period 1866 to 1900, which covers the major period of the Indian Wars in the trans-Mississippi West. There are 21 battlefields from this period listed in the National Register (9 percent of all battlefields listed). One study of the Indian Wars noted that the sites of almost 50 major engagements between soldiers and American Indians, mostly in the Plains States, can be identified.9 In the National Park System, there are currently only five battlefields associated with the colonial wars, three from the War of 1812, and seven battlefields associated with the Indian Wars. A survey of 58 battlefields associated with the Civil War noted that more than half of them lack adequate protection by public or private agencies.10 Development pressures immediately outside of the parks pose a threat to even those battlefields preserved in Federal ownership.
An important step in the preservation of battlefields is that they be recognized by listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Listing properties in the National Register often changes the way communities perceive their historic resources and gives credibility to State and local efforts to preserve these resources as living parts of our communities. The information contained in the surveys of these historic places and in the National Register nomination forms can be used for a variety of purposes, including public heritage education, planning by local, State, or Federal agencies, and in publications.
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