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FAQs: Battlefield Preservation

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Find answers to frequently asked questions about the American Battlefield Trust's work

What is the mission of the American Battlefield Trust?

The American Battlefield Trust both preserves America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educates the public about what happened there and why it matters.

Haven’t all of the important battlefields been saved already?

Far from it! Only about 20 percent of the land upon which the Civil War was fought is permanently preserved either by nonprofits groups or in national, state or local parks. The figure is even lower for the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, where almost 70 percent of the major battles were fought in areas today considered urban. The rest of that hallowed ground is either unprotected or has already been destroyed. We are racing the developers to save what is left.

Who owns that unprotected historic land?

Typically, private citizens. Some families have owned battlefield properties for many generations — in one case since we worked with a family whose ancestors had been granted the deed by the British crown. Despite any previous stewardship, until the land is legally protected, it can be sold to a developer or rezoned for by government action at any moment.

How much hallowed ground has already been lost?

According to a Congressionally authorized studies performed by the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, almost 60 percent of the 243 significant battles of the Revolution and War of 1812 retain no “significant and lands from the period of battle.” More than 20 percent of important Civil War battles are similarly destroyed forever, covered by roads, housing developments and other modern development. Our nation loses approximately one acre of hallowed ground every hour.

In the face of such loss, what opportunities remain for us to make a difference?

A surprising amount of hugely significant land remains unprotected and under siege — even properties you would never have suspected to be vulnerable. Our successes include: Parker’s Revenge at Lexington and Concord, where Minute Men ambushed British forces, turning a retreat into a rout; Washington’s Charge at Princeton, where the commanding officer personally rallied his sagging forces, leading to the Continental Army’s first field defeat of British Regulars; The “Epicenter” at Antietam, perhaps the most blood-soaked ground of the bloodiest day in American history; The Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg, where five Medals of Honor were earned in the only area where the Union attack gained traction before being repulsed; and Robert E. Lee’s headquarters at Gettysburg, which had been surrounded by a motel complex and had no protected status. Read more about our greatest accomplishments here.

How do you prioritize your work?

The defining wars of America’s first century were fought on 13,000 fields, and we realize that we simply cannot hope to save all of them. Instead, we focus on the 627 sites identified as most significant by the National Park Service and, generally, contain our activities to the areas identified by their experts as falling within the historic boundary of the battlefield. 

Is the American Battlefield Trust “anti-development”?

Not at all. We recognize that communities need economic development to remain strong, and that people need places to live, work and shop. The American Battlefield Trust strives to ensure that such development is well-planned in such a way as to protect the irreplaceable historic resource that a preserved battlefield represents for that community, as well as for the entire nation.

Developers have flexibility when it comes to choosing sites for commercial ventures, but we cannot change where history happened. Battlefields cannot be moved or reconstructed elsewhere; their historic significance is fixed permanently by events that happened upon previously unexceptional ground. The land itself tells much of the story. 

Does the American Battlefield Trust ever get involved with “taking” land, or with eminent domain issues?

Never. We deal only with willing sellers and pay fair market value for properties.

How does the American Battlefield Trust buy hallowed ground?

The Trust has been one of the most successful non-profit organizations in America in securing federal, state, local and private matching funds to save battlefields. We then multiply those funds with money raised from our members around the world. What this means to you is that every dollar you, as a member, give to preserve America’s history is multiplied many times over.

Over the past six years, the Trust has multiplied our members’ donations by a factor of four – every $1.00 given by our members has been matched by outside grants and turned into $4.00. In total, using this formula, we have saved nearly 50,000 acres of hallowed ground nationwide.  Learn more about how we work »

Where is the land that the Trust has saved?

American Battlefield Trust members have helped save nearly 50,000 acres in 24 states. This land stretches chronologically from the Lexington Green to Appomattox Court House, and geographically from Minnesota to New Mexico. Our legacy stretches from the 1813 Battle of Sacket’s Harbor on Lake Ontario, near the Canadian border, to the 1865 engagement at Palmetto Ranch, near the Mexican border and the Gulf of Mexico. View our Index of Saved Land »

What happens to the land once the Trust saves it?

Whenever possible, we seek to turn the land over to a responsible long-term steward who can properly protect and maintain the land, such as the National Park Service or a state park system. If this is not possible, the American Battlefield Trust will hold and manage the land, often investing significant resources into creating walking trails and safe parking areas, installing interpretive signs and restoring the landscape to its wartime appearance so that visitors get the full benefit of these irreplaceable outdoor classrooms.

Why is it so important to save these places?

Can you imagine a fast-food restaurant in the middle of Arlington Cemetery? Can you imagine paving over the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial? Can you imagine destroying the remaining original copies of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution? Of course not. When battlefield land is lost, whole chapters of American history are ripped from the book of our national memory. Our country was born and shaped on the battlefield; these landscapes represent an irreplaceable part of our heritage and incredible educational resources.

Not just that, but preserved battlefields become vibrant and perpetual economic engines for their communities, drawing visitors from near and far. They benefit local quality of life by ensuring open space and parkland. They are also important habitats for native plants and wildlife and can improve water quality, among other environmental benefits.

Why support the American Battlefield Trust? What makes the you unique?

Simply put, we are the only national organization of our kind — if we do not pursue this calling, our battlefields will be lost. We provide tangible, measurable and permanent results. You can see a property we are seeking to protect in context on one of our signature battle maps. Once its saved, you can visit it in person and walk the ground to better understand our history. And, many decades from now, your grandchildren can do the same. We are deeply committed to being the best possible steward of your gift and have won numerous accolades for our commitment to fiscal responsibility, including an overall 4-Star rating from Charity Navigator for 9 consecutive years.

How can I help preserve battlefields?

The simplest way to help is to become a member of the Trust.

Your contribution enables us to protect historic land and also educate the public about the importance of preserving America's heritage. You can also give to individual fundraising campaigns, which help us protect key properties at specific battlefields and are promoted on our website and in fundraising appeals.

In addition, you can help us create more opportunities for preservation by lending your voice to our advocacy efforts, whether that involves contacting an elected official, attending local zoning meetings or signing a petition related to a specific threat. Sign up for our email list or follow the Trust on our various social media channels to stay informed of these opportunities and calls for action.  Help Support the American Battlefield Trust »