House Approves Funding Battlefields From 3 Wars
By Scott C. Boyd
(October 2012 Civil War News)

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Sept. 10, following 40 minutes of debate and a voice vote, the House of Representatives passed a bill reauthorizing and expanding the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP).

The ABPP “promotes the preservation of significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil,” according to the National Park Service (NPS) program’s website.

The ABPP Amendments Act of 2012 reauthorizes the program for 2014-2017 and expands it to include, for the first time, battlefields from the American Revolution and War of 1812.

Ten million dollars would be authorized each year for the program. There is no specific percentage to be allocated for each of the three wars covered.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduced the bill on July 11, 2011, as House Resolution 2489.

A similar bill, Senate 779, is being sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). It has not been voted on yet.

Holt held a Sept. 12 press conference about the bill with Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer, Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area Executive Director Noreen Bodman and historian David Hackett Fischer.

“Thanks to the folks at the Civil War Trust and others, we’ve broken through some legislative resistance and passed [the bill in the House],” Holt said.

“This is no small accomplishment,” according to Lighthizer. “It is Round One of a four-round fight. In my estimation this is far and away the most difficult of the four steps that we’re going to face.”

The other steps are passage in the Senate, reconciliation in a conference committee if the House and Senate versions differ and getting President Obama’s signature.

“Because of the fiscal situation, because of the makeup of the Congress, getting land preservation legislation through the House is significant,” Lighthizer said.

ABPP battlefield grants have helped preserve more than 16,500 acres in 14 states since 1999, according to the Trust.

According to the National Park Service, the need to preserve Revolutionary War and War of 1812 land is dire. Out of the 825 nationally significant battlefields and associated sites, 107 have been lost, 245 are in fragmented or poor condition, and 222 are in danger of being destroyed within the next 10 years.

Historian Fischer said, “The best way to learn history is to study it on the ground.”

Studies “show that people who read history are more apt to vote. They participate in their civic responsibilities. That’s one thing they can learn at these sites,” according to Fischer, who received the Pulitzer Prize for his 2004 book, Washington’s Crossing, about the Continental Army in 1776-1777 during the American Revolution.

“The events of the American Revolution, the War of 1812 in particular, the Civil War as well, are part of a history that brings us together in a period of strong differences. We can use more of that,” Fischer said.

Lighthizer noted some of the conditions for the grants: money cannot be spent within NPS boundaries, it requires a one-for-one match with non-federal funds, and a competitive appraisal process is used.

“It’s not only for purchase of land in fee simple [buy outright],” Lighthizer said, “but also for buying easements and development rights, which are generally at half the price of fee simple.”

Battlefields are ranked by their historical significance and by their current integrity.

There is no specified division of the money by historical period and the selection of recipients is on a first-come, first-served basis by the administrators of the ABPP, Lighthizer explained.

“You’ve heard all the good arguments,” Holt said. “Let’s just hope that at least 51 senators come to appreciate those arguments – maybe 100 senators.”

ABPP grant information is at