West Point 1964 Class & Others Seek
A Washington Defenses National Park
(August 2014 Civil War News)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Military Academy Class of 1964 is urging Congress to take action on H.R. 4003, the Civil War Defenses of Washington National Historical Park Act.
A class letter with 105 signatures is circulating among preservation groups and historians asking them to encourage the House Natural Resources Committee to hold a hearing on the bill and move it on so that it can be considered and enacted in this session of Congress.
The bill seeks to affiliate sites in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia that were part of the city’s defenses and related to the 1864 Valley Campaigns.
By the end of the war, these defenses included 68 forts, 93 unarmed batteries, 807 mounted cannon, 13 miles of rifle trenches and 32 miles of military roads.
The act would create a historical park “to protect, preserve, enhance, and interpret for the benefit and use of present and future generations the cultural, historical, natural, and recreational resources of the Civil War defenses of Washington….”
The bill recounts the historic events, including C.S. Gen. Jubal Early’s march from the Valley to Harpers Ferry and Frederick, the battle at Monocacy, and July 11 and 12, 1864, battle at Fort Stevens along the main route from the north.
Most of the defensive sites were returned to private land owners after the war. Some were retained by the military or bought by the federal government.
According to the bill, 19 sites, including Battleground Cemetery, are owned by the federal government and managed by the National Park Service (NPS), four are owned by local units of government in Northern Virginia, and one is owned by Montgomery County, Maryland.
The bill makes provision for Washington defensive sites that other entities own to be affiliated with the new national park through cooperative agreements. Sites owned by willing private sellers could be acquired.
Noting that three separate NPS units contain defenses of Washington, the Class of 1964 wrote, “This has complicated and detracted from these units being adequately protected, preserved and interpreted along with other key battleground areas ….”
A second part of the bill would study and consider cost-effective ways to display and share the Defenses of Washington and 1864 Shenandoah Campaign history with the public in a National Civil War History Education Center.
The Class of 1964 said the legislation would help convey “the legacy of the Civil War in terms of the war’s historic and transcendent impacts on our nation’s social fabric, on the issues of states’ rights and slavery, on foreign policy, agriculture and manufacturing, on the role of women in war and peace, on art, medicine, music and our country’s economic and military capabilities.”
Among the bill’s supporters is historian William C. Davis, who noted that Americans and people around the world “are hungrier than ever to learn more about what happened, and to try to understand why it occurred.”
He said a Civil War Defenses of Washington National Historical Park “can only enhance visitors’ understanding of the war itself, and Washington’s pivotal role in that story, but also provide context for the broader story itself.”
The legislation is supported by the Civil War Trust, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and others, including the Alliance to Preserve the Civil War Defenses of Washington.
The Summer 2014 issue of the Civil War Trust’s Hallowed Ground magazine featured the Alliance which was formed in 2002 to increase protection and appreciation of the remaining defenses.
The bipartisan House bill to create the Civil War Defenses of Washington National Historical Park is one result of the Alliance’s work.
Another is increased NPS focus on the defenses sites and creation of a position to coordinate between the sites. The recent 150th commemoration of the Fort Stevens battle reflected that effort.
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