Matt Brant

American Battlefield Trust Marks 22 Years Saving at Least 1,000 Acres, Sets Outreach Records

Despite 2020’s inherent challenges, passionate members propelled the nonprofit to continued success

(Washington, D.C.) – Despite a year that will go down in history for its unprecedented challenges, the American Battlefield Trust further cemented its status as the nation’s premier battlefield preservation and education organization in 2020, recording its 22nd consecutive year saving more than 1,000 acres of hallowed ground. Meanwhile, the organization set records for digital engagement, deepened strategic partnerships with likeminded organizations and extended support for battlefield preservation among elected officials and the general public.   

David Duncan and Jim Lighthizer
Trust President David Duncan stands with friend, mentor, and Trust President Emeritus James Lighthizer. Buddy Secor

“Despite the extraordinary challenges faced in 2020, the American Battlefield Trust remained unwavering in our commitment to mission,” said Trust President David Duncan. “We triumphed at renowned places like Antietam and Shiloh but also at overlooked gems of battlefields, such as Bennington, N.Y., and Williamsburg, Va. — all while connecting with students and history enthusiasts at record-breaking levels.” Beyond the near-universal difficulties experienced by all nonprofits operating during the pandemic, the Trust also underwent a change in leadership. Duncan, the longtime the chief development officer, was unanimously selected by the Board of Trustees to assume the top role in October, following the retirement of James Lighthizer, who led the organization more than 20 years.  

Working closely with landowners and preservation partners, the Trust closed 28 transactions at 22 battlefields in 10 states, amounting to 1,126.8 acres. This included projects at: Antietam, Md.; Bennington, N.Y.; Bentonville, N.C.; Brice’s Cross Roads, Miss.; Gettysburg, PA; Cedar Creek, Va.; Cedar Mountain, Va.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Cold Harbor, Va.; Fredericksburg, Va.; Jackson, Tenn.; New Market Heights, Va.; Parker’s Cross Roads, Tenn.; Perryville, Ky.; Port Royal Island, S.C.; Reams Station, Va.; Shepherdstown, W.V.; Shiloh, Tenn.; Stones River, Tenn.; Trevilian Station, Va.; White Oak Road, Va.; and Williamsburg, Va. Amidst this year’s preservation victories, numerous other transactions edged closer toward completion, setting the stage for a productive 2021.  

Brown's Tavern
Brown's Tavern, dating to 1803, has connections to the Trail of Tears and to the 1863 Battle of Brown's Ferry. Kenneth May

Especially noteworthy was the acquisition of 48 acres at Stones River, Tenn., which included a 42-acre tract once lost to industrial use. The Trust approached the owner of the site, O’Reilly Auto Parts, and after presenting the site’s incredible historic and preservation significance, landed on a purchase price of $4 million — a hefty but fair sum for industrial land in a highly developed area. Elsewhere in the Volunteer State, the Trust secured the permanent protection of Brown’s Tavern at Chattanooga, an important site with connections to Native American history and the Civil War. In both instances, matching grants provided by the American Battlefield Protection Program and Tennessee Civil War Sites Preservation Fund played a key role in the victory.  

While the protection of battlefield landscapes is central to the Trust’s mission, the organization also seeks to impart historical knowledge to both students and lifelong learners. Our quality educational tools reached more people than ever before during a year of digital and socially distanced learning, as the Trust welcomed some eleven million visits to, including more than eight million student visits. We actively sought new pathways to deliver history content digitally, resulting in the launch of more than 300 new or overhauled articles, creation of more than 300 videos, debut of two battlefield tour appsintroduction of an inquiry-based Civil War curriculum — plus shorter Crash Courses — and publication of Battle Maps of the Civil War: The Western Theater, the second book in a series collecting the Trust’s acclaimed historical maps in bound form. And while our National Teacher Institute was forced to go virtual, the free continuing education program was a roaring success, seeing a record attendance of 784 educators from 47 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and three additional countries.  

The organization looked to push the envelope on content produced but also invested in the power of perspective and connections. Two different video productions, “Civil War 1864: A Virtual Reality Experience” and “Brothers in Valor,” won awards recognizing their immersive and personal storytelling. The success of these video productions is a testament to the collection of quality videos housed on the Trust’s YouTube channel, which had amassed 127,200 subscribers and 22.9 million views by the end of the year. New productions included the Gettysburg AR Experience, an augmented reality app that allows users to interact with historic events, and the Southern Campaign Animated Map, a joint video venture with the National Park Service that details the often-overshadowed Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War. The Trust’s first foray into audio storytelling came through the innovative capstone project of a member of its inaugural Youth Leadership Team.   

Marion Square archaeology
Archaeology research near the Hornwork fortification in Charleston's Marion Square in front of the old Armory. Sarah Nell Blackwell / Wingshot Design

The Trust is committed to showcasing the relationships between the conflicts of America’s first century and our contemporary lives. In 2020, this included the launch of a partnership Ancestry and Fold3 that helps place genealogical connections on the battlefields where those past soldiers fought, and debut of the Warrior Legacy initiative, which draws upon the rich pride in heritage of the American military. In South Carolina, The Liberty Trail — envisioned to ultimately link more than 70 sites and preserve 2,500 acres across the Palmetto State — blazed forward in terms of land protection and interpretation. An archeological study in Charleston’s Marion Square to document the footprint of what was the Patriot-controlled defensive fortification known as the Horn Work and, anchor a physical and digital “Gateway Experience” that will introduce The Liberty Trail to potential visitors.  

The ongoing success of the battlefield preservation movement stems from bipartisan support for the issue among elected officials and decisionmakers. Enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act in August permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which feeds the federal matching grant program most frequently used by the Trust and its partners to protect battlefield land, and allocated $9 billion to address the deferred maintenance backlog for federal lands. During the 2020 legislative session, the Kentucky Battlefield Preservation Fund became the third statewide matching grant program to specifically pursue hallowed ground, and in the fall the Bluegrass State celebrated the Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument’s official incorporation as the 421st unit of the National Park System.  

The Trust’s 2020 preservation  accomplishments were made possible by the assistance of numerous partners, including: the American Battlefield Protection Program; National Park Service; Beaufort County, S.C.; Brice’s Crossroads National Battlefield Commission; Commonwealth of Kentucky; Commonwealth of Virginia; Friends of Perryville Battlefield; Friends of Shiloh; Friends of Stones River National Battlefield; HTR Foundation; Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board; Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort; National Park Partners; Parker’s Crossroads Battlefield Association; Save Historic Antietam Foundation; South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust; South Carolina Conservation Bank; State of New York; State of North Carolina; Tennessee Civil War Sites Preservation Fund; Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation; U.S. Department of Agriculture; Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund; Virginia Land Conservation Foundation; Williamsburg Battlefield Association. 

The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to preserving America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educating the public about what happened there and why it matters today.  The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has protected more than 53,000 acres associated with the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War. Learn more at