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Kaine supports battlefield preservation efforts

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine talks about the importance of preserving the nation's Civil War battlefields during a news conference Friday at Slaughter Pen Farm in Spotsylvania County. (ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/THE FREE LANCE–STAR)

U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Thad Cochran think America has a good thing going with its Civil War battlefield preservation efforts—and want them to continue.

Visiting the blood-soaked fields in Spotsylvania County named the Slaughter Pen, Kaine announced Friday that he and the Mississippi Republican have introduced legislation to reauthorize the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program, a matching-grant effort that buys ground hallowed by soldiers’ sacrifice.

Otherwise, the program—begun by President George W. Bush and continued by President Barack Obama—will expire in September.

“It’s great to be back at Slaughter Pen Farm,” Kaine, D–Va., said during a midday visit to the heart of the Fredericksburg battlefield, a Civil War Trust property off State Routes 2 and 17 just east of Shannon Airport. “It would have been a tragedy if this place had been lost. But now, its story can be told.”

Kaine and Cochran are cosponsoring a bill—which they introduced Thursday—that mirrors legislation shepherded through the House by Rep. Rob Wittman, R–Montross, who led debate on it last month on the House floor.

The Fredericksburg area’s other congressman, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R–Henrico, also supported the measure. Kaine complimented both Republicans for their work, as well as Rep. Jim Moran, D–Alexandria. Rep. Rush Holt, D–N.J., was the bill’s chief sponsor.

“This is such a good thing,” Kaine said. “We recognize that preserving open space is a good thing for our environment. Preserving battlefields is an important thing for our history.

“If we do the preservation through programs like this, we’re not using eminent domain to take anything from anybody, but we’re providing the kind of incentives that make people want to participate. It’s a multi-governmental strategy ... but you also engage private landowners and wonderful private organizations like the trust. So it’s one of those things that’s a win–win.”

The head of one of those private groups, Zann Nelson of Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, said Orange, Culpeper and Spotsylvania counties have benefited from federal grants awarded by the American Battlefield Protection Program, an office of the National Park Service.

“Without the support of the ABPP, the travesty of losing a significant portion of our nation's history would be a fact, rather than a threat,” Nelson said in an interview.

“With this year marking the 150th anniversary of so many pivotal Civil War battles, it is an appropriate time to extend our efforts to preserve key battlefield sites,” Cochran said in a statement. “These sites remind us of the enormous sacrifices made by our forebears in the name of freedom, and should be protected in order to help teach future generations of Americans.”

Josiah P. Rowe III, a board member of the Fredericksburg-based Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, gave a brief history of the Dec. 13, 1862, battle that raged across what became known as Slaughter Pen Farm.

“This land is a perfect example of the partnership between the Civil War Trust, the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust and the governmental entities that help support us,” said Rowe, publisher emeritus of The Free Lance–Star. “Without that partnership, the local effort would fall short.”

He noted how interpretation of the battle has evolved since he was a boy in Fredericksburg decades ago, with Slaughter Pen and adjoining land now understood as the most pivotal part of the miles-long battlefield.

“I grew up at foot of Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, just a couple of blocks from the Sunken Road,” Rowe said. “At that time, we thought that was the Battle of Fredericksburg. But this is the place where the battle could have gone either way. Indisputably, this is hallowed ground.”

In addition to reauthorizing the Civil War program, the Kaine–Cochran proposal and the Wittman–Holt bill would add preserving the best of remaining Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites to the scope of the American Battlefield Protection Program, an office of the National Park Service.

Together, fair-market-value purchases of land from all three conflicts would be authorized for $10 million per year, the same sum designated in fiscal 2012 for Civil War sites alone.

Slaughter Pen Farm, which Kaine last visited in 2009 to praise bipartisan public–private preservation work, remains a touchstone for him and that movement. Three years earlier, the Civil War Trust committed to buy the site—then the largest unprotected scene of the Battle of Fredericksburg—for $12 million. CVBT, the local group, pledged the first $1 million toward that purchase, still the biggest private-sector battlefield-preservation deal in U.S. history.

The farm, now open to the public for self-guided walking tours, is the only spot on the battlefield where visitors can follow the Union assault of Dec. 13, 1862, from start to finish.

As if on cue, active-duty military personnel—officers from the Marine Corps Systems Command, headquartered at Quantico, and two busloads of Army paratroopers from the 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg, N.C.—pulled into the farm and began hiking across the battlefield during the press conference.

Independently and by sheer coincidence, the two groups were using Slaughter Pen for their professional military education, studying the “lessons learned”—the hard way—by the Confederate and Union forces who fought there in 1862.

In Spotsylvania alone, the Civil War Trust has leveraged ABBP grants to mix $30.6 million in private contributions, federal money and state funds to save battlefield acres since 1989, trust President Jim Lighthizer told the audience that gathered at Slaughter Pen. In no other locality in the nation has it invested so much, Lighthizer said.

As a region, central Virginia has garnered more from the program than any other part of the country, the trust said. The Park Service has awarded nearly $10 million since fiscal 1999 to help buy battlefield land in Culpeper, Orange and Spotsylvania.

The battlefields legislation is the second bill sponsored by Kaine, a former Virginia governor who is a Senate freshman. His first, the Troop Talent Act, would help ease service members’ transition from active duty by aligning their skills with credentials or licenses required for civilian employment.

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

cschemmer@freelancestar.com

 

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