Author: Timothy B. Smith

a history teacher at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He is the author of The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890s and the Establishment of America's First Five Military Parks (2008)

Civil War Battlefield Preservation

Though Virginia has always been considered a focal point of the American Civil War (1861–1865), battlefield preservation in the state initially lagged far behind other areas. Virginia witnessed the greatest number of battles, engagements, and skirmishes, not only because of its geographic location but also because it was home to the Confederate capital in Richmond. Moreover, most of the postwar historiographical disputes, at least in the decades just after the war, focused on Virginia battles and Virginia generals, especially Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. That Virginia battlefields fell decades behind others in Civil War battlefield preservation is ironic, then, even startling. Major battleground states, such as Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and even other Eastern Theater states, such as Maryland and Pennsylvania, saw their battlefields preserved comparatively soon after the war. Despite success in other areas to memorialize the war, such as establishing the Museum of the Confederacy and erecting memorial statues along Monument Avenue, both in Richmond, it took sixty years to establish the first park in Virginia. The history of Civil War battlefield preservation can be subdivided into four major generations. The first was characterized by limited, disjointed, and individual efforts on the part of the veterans themselves, with some specialized help from state and federal governments. The second generation, labeled the “Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation,” began in 1890 and saw five major parks established by the federal government. The third generation, which began in the mid- to late 1920s after a lull of some thirty years, was marked by an initial flurry of activity that steadily dwindled over the decades. A resurgent fourth generation has recently emerged, with the Civil War Preservation Trust leading the way.