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Principal tool used to preserve Civil War battlefields gains new life at hands of Congress
By CLINT SCHEMMER
It went unnoticed amid Thursday's media hullabaloo over designation of more wilderness lands, but Congress has reinvigorated battlefield preservation.
As part of the gigantic public-lands bill the U.S. House of Representatives passed this week, legislators reauthorized the American Battlefield Protection Program. The bipartisan measure awaits President Obama's signature at the White House on Monday.
Congressional renewal of the ABPP is crucial to local, state and federal work to save some of the nation's remaining Civil War sites from compromise or destruction, supporters said yesterday.
Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, cheered the action on Capitol Hill.
"Here in the Fredericksburg area alone, this program has facilitated the preservation of hundreds of acres of battlefield land, including Slaughter Pen Farm and Day One Chancellorsville," Smith said.
Dennis Reidenbach, the National Park Service's Northeast regional director, said the ABPP is the linchpin of battlefield preservation efforts nationwide.
"With the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War, this program is critical to protect these hallowed grounds for future generations," Reidenbach said.
Over the program's 10-year life, it has awarded a total of $34 million in matching grants for battlefields in 14 states, saving more than 15,300 historic acres. Nearly half of the land saved under the program is in Virginia--site of the greatest number of battles during the war.
Renewal of the program, required every five years, won broad support in both houses of Congress.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, said he was glad to vote for the omnibus public-lands bill that included the ABPP, since it benefits so many places in Virginia, including the Fredericksburg region.
"The history of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania is intrinsically linked to the Civil War," Wittman said. "And this program helps to ensure that heritage is preserved."
Sen. Jim Webb, the Virginia Democrat who introduced the Senate's ABPP bill last year, said the legislation's passage by Congress this week guarantees "that grants are available to maintain these historic areas, create jobs and encourage tourism."
"The preservation of our nation's battlefields is crucial to instill in future generations a sense of the history and the sacrifices that came before them," said Webb, a Vietnam War veteran and an avid student of military history.