Battlefield preservation is a hot issue across Tennessee as the state continues to grow and develop at a rapid pace. Across the state, battles and skirmishes took place in large cities, open fields, and small crossroads communities. Many of the larger battle names are familiar – Shiloh, Chattanooga, Stones River, Franklin. Others are familiar only to their communities and the most avid Civil War researchers and enthusiasts. Despite differences in size and recognition, Tennessee’s remaining Civil War battlefields have the potential to increase heritage tourism and economic development, help our communities retain a sense of place and identity, and protect green space. However, communities must move quickly to document these historic sites and develop partnerships that will allow them to preserve their battlefields before they are lost.
Saving historic battlefields goes beyond the importance of saving “hallowed ground.” Well-preserved and interpreted Civil War battlefields, particularly when the experience is authentic and memorable, draw heritage tourists which frequently spend significant amounts of money in the battlefield communities. According to research by the Civil War Preservation Trust, every 702 tourists to a Civil War battlefield support one full-time job; the average family of four spends nearly $1,000 during their Civil War battlefield visits, which generates a steady stream of local and state tax revenue.
Unfortunately, many historic battlefields and sites are increasing threatened. In 1993, a Congressional study determined that 384 of the more than 10,000 battles fought during the Civil War were “highly significant influences on the course of our nation’s history.” However, since that study more than 70% of these battlefields have already been lost, with less than 15% preserved. Tennessee had more battles and skirmishes on its soil than any other state except Virginia; however, the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association reports that almost 90% of our state’s battlefields remain in private hands. Private property owners have the right to do what they wish with their property, but this also provides an opportunity for battlefield preservation when land becomes available. Often, this private stewardship plays an integral role in battlefield preservation. Local citizens in Tennessee have raised funds, established conservation easements, and donated property to advance battlefield preservation across the state, demonstrating that individuals can have a profound impact on this issue.
However, striking a balance between private property rights and preservation can be challenging. As a result, building public/private partnerships is crucial for pro-active battlefield preservation. The communities that have been most successful coordinate local, state, and federal partners with private citizens, businesses, and preservation organizations. Coordinating a variety of groups with multiple resources provides the best foundation for battlefield preservation. It is critical to engage elected officials, tourism professionals, and the business community to educate each group about the benefits and importance of battlefield preservation. Understanding their historical significance coupled with a recognition that battlefield preservation helps stimulate economic development is necessary to generate interest, funding, and support.
Authenticity is necessary for historic battlefields to become successful tourist and educational destinations. Today’s heritage tourists require experiences that are memorable, authentic, and interactive. It’s not enough to simply preserve a few acres of land; the surrounding landscape is also important to successfully attract residents and visitors. However, our Civil War landscapes are increasingly threatened.
For example, the 700 acres of Stones River National Battlefield was once surrounded by pastoral Rutherford County farmland. Today, office, medical, and commercial development threatens to replace extensive tracts of green space and farmland with office buildings, shopping malls, and excessive traffic. Although park staff and local preservationists are working to preserve the character of the landscape, this national battlefield is in danger of becoming an isolated oasis within a noisy, cluttered suburban landscape.
In East Tennessee, Knoxville’s Fort Higley remains threatened by development. The fort, built in 1863 to defend Knoxville from Confederate forces, is one of only two undeveloped remaining Civil War forts in the city. With development rapidly encroaching on the site, Fort Higley and the surrounding 105 acres of land are currently for sale. This fort was recently listed on Knox Heritage’s 2007 Fragile Fifteen list to emphasize its value and threatened state, and supporters have called upon local government officials to adopt historic overlay zoning on a small portion of the land that would still allow development on the rest of the site. Preservationists continue to work together to find options to protect this site. However, after being largely ignored for decades prior to development, Fort Higley’s remains stand as an example of reactive rather than proactive preservation efforts.
While many battlefields are threatened by development, neglect and natural forces can play an equally damaging role. An example is Fort Wright in Tipton County. The site’s brick powder magazine (one of the few remaining in Tennessee) and the land surrounding it are currently threatened by the structure’s instability and the encroaching river. Fortunately, the site’s property owner has expressed interest in saving the site, and the Heritage Area, the Mississippi River Natural and Recreational Corridor, and the Tennessee Wars Commission are working together to evaluate preservation options.
Although many Civil War sites across the state are either developed or threatened, both private citizens and communities in Tennessee are demonstrating that battlefield preservation in the midst of rapidly growing areas is both possible and beneficial. In Murfreesboro, Rutherford County, property owners Charles and Joy Hord partnered with the Heritage Area to greatly expand the National Register of Historic Places boundaries of their historic farm “Elmwood,” significant for its association with the Battle of Stones River.
Residents in Franklin and Williamson County are showing how Civil War battlefields can be reclaimed, both for their history and for their potential to advance heritage tourism development. Franklin’s Charge, Inc., accepted the challenge of one donor to raise over $2.5 million (matching $2.5 million in funds from the City of Franklin) to purchase a former golf course built on a portion of the Battle of Franklin. Through pledges, fundraisers, and partnerships with individuals and businesses, the organization has been remarkably successful in both preservation and raising awareness of the importance of this historic battle. Adjacent to the National Historic Landmark Carnton Plantation and McGavock Confederate Cemetery, a plan is being developed to transform the acquired land into a Franklin battlefield park. A model public-private venture, the new Eastern Flank battlefield park could eventually become a key part of a larger national battlefield about that momentous struggle of November 1864. The Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area partnered with the city to update and expand the National Historic Landmark study for the Franklin battlefield park plan. The city has made a public commitment to battlefield preservation by also purchasing additional properties closely associated with the battle, and the state’s Heritage Conservation Trust Fund recently awarded $900,000 to the effort. Utilizing private, local, and state funds in conjunction with national support from the Civil War Preservation Trust and the American Battlefield Protection Program, Franklin’s Charge and local partners continue to develop unique strategies raise funds for battlefield reclamation.
In West Tennessee, the Parker’s Crossroads battlefield site has become another example of successful public and private partnerships. This battlefield in Henderson County saw action in December of 1862. Although portions of the core battlefield remains threatened by continued development, the Parker’s Crossroads Battlefield Association and the Tennessee Wars Commission have successfully acquired and preserved over 200 acres. Equally important, the Association continues to interpret the battlefield through a self-guided walking tour, interpretive signage, a trail system, and an application and plans to potentially develop a visitor’s center using TEA-21 funds and support from the Civil War Preservation Trust.
Resources for Your Community
Although battlefield preservation presents significant challenges for many communities, there are state-wide resources that specialize in battlefield preservation and interpretation. The Heritage Area’s legislation does not allow us to acquire property or contribute funds for property purchase. However, Heritage Area staff can provide assistance and resources through feasibility studies, interpretive materials, nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, historic resource surveys, heritage tourism plans, and walking and driving tours.
The Tennessee Wars Commission, a division of the Tennessee Historical Commission, is able to acquire battlefield land. The Wars Commission coordinates planning, preservation and promotion for sites and battlefields in the state, as well as acquiring or providing funds for the acquisition of battlegrounds and sites. The Commission provides grants from state appropriations and other funding sources and may acquire land by donation or exchange.
The Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association is a state-wide non-profit agency also dedicated to battlefield preservation and fundraising for land acquisition. The organization raises matching funds for communities looking to purchase and maintain battlefield property, and takes applications for funds each year. Applicants must demonstrate matching funds and a local entity capable of purchasing and managing the property.
For additional information, please contact:
Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area
Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association
Tennessee Wars Commission
A department of the Tennessee Historical Commission
615-532-1550 ext. 104
Civil War Preservation Trust
American Battlefield Protection Program