A fascinating article in the Spring 2018 issue of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust newsletter On The Skirmish Line. If you have not checked out their website, or thought about joining their effort, considering heading on over after reading about their work on scene restoration.
The CVBT is a lands trust. Aside from special tours for CVBT members, we do not typically open the land we have acquired to the public. That is a task for those who know how to do those things well, such as national and state resource agencies. We hold on to land only as long as necessary to pass it on to those who will care for it and make it accessible to visitors. What sometimes comes as a surprise is that while acquiring land can take years of negotiating and fund raising, getting land into the hands of a public agency and making it understandable to visitors is also a lengthy process with its own challenges.
Getting Land into Public Ownership
One problem to be overcome has been a condition imposed by a certain type of funding. In
Virginia, state grants require that an easement be placed on property acquired with those
funds, to be held by the funding agency. That condition is a logical one when public funds are used to preserve ground, but the National Park Service cannot purchase or receive in donation any land that is thus encumbered. The Commonwealth of Virginia has been quite generous in funding Civil War preservation, and the Civil War Trust and CVBT have been aggressive in pursuing those opportunities. The public benefit that justifies the use of public funds is the recognition that people are drawn to visit historic places, which helps to support local economies. Making the transition from saving land to effectively managing it, though, has been held up by the requirement that easements be removed before relinquish to the National Park Service. During its 2018 session, the Virginia Assembly has enacted legislation that finally addresses this stumbling block to transferring preserved ground to National Battlefield Parks. The Commonwealth of Virginia is now able to work with the federal government to transfer certain battlefield easements. There is still much work to do in this regard, such as getting Congress to expand certain National Park boundaries, but this step in Virginia is a huge step forward.
Another issue in managing battlefield land is to return the terrain to its wartime appearance. Once CVBT acquires a property, we demolish any structures that do not relate to its historic importance. We also cap any wells as a matter of safety. After that, the next step is to address the natural cover of the site. Was it wooded? Cultivated? Both? Does it need to be screened from nearby development? All of these things need to be considered for the land to have any value as a historic resource. The National Park Service has become quite adept at scene restoration, having carefully worked out a variety of techniques to reestablish the Civil War landscape. We explored how this type of work was
pioneered at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP in our latest volume of Fredericksburg History and Biography. In an article by our own Bob Krick, called “Restoring Battlefield Scenes in 1972 and Beyond: A Memoir,” we presented the challenges, both practical and political, that eventually provide the visitor with a compelling experience when visiting a park. Again, such efforts take years to complete and shows how keeping land from being developed is only a first step. SL