(Chattanooga, Tenn.) – This morning, as part of the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission’s annual signature event in downtown Chattanooga, the Civil War Trust announced the successful completion of a $1.4 million fundraising campaign to protect 109 acres of battlefield land associated with Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (NMP). The newly preserved land is located at historic Reed’s Bridge, site of the opening salvo of the battle of Chickamauga.
“The Civil War sesquicentennial has presented us with a remarkable opportunity to transform public interest in Civil War history into the tangible legacy of battlefield preservation,” said Trust president James Lighthizer. “The protection of these historic landscapes is an investment in our nation’s future, complete with educational, economic and environmental benefits.”
The day’s events began with a welcome from Susan Whitaker, Tennessee commissioner of Tourist Development and co-chair of the state Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, and included presentations from an array of state and local officials, as well as scholars and preservationists. Following remarks from Dr. Carroll Van West, director of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area and the sesquicentennial commission’s other co-chair, Lighthizer and Trust chairman Michael Grainger, himself a member of the Tennessee Sesquicentennial Commission, joined these officials to announce the preservation victory at Reed’s Bridge.
“The Civil War Trust once again has helped our efforts to preserve key Civil War battlefields and to tell the whole story of a conflict that changed our nation forever,” said Van West. “The leadership and contributions of the Civil War Trust continue to help Tennessee and other states preserve and highlight the countless heritage treasures from the Civil War era.”
While the veterans who established Chickamauga and Chattanooga as the first national military park in the late 19th century hoped to see the Reed’s Bridge area preserved, financial constraints precluded this key land from becoming part of the park. Consequently, virtually every battlefield tour of Chickamauga in the past century has struggled to interpret this important action, since the land was in private hands and difficult to access. As early as 1998, the Civil War Trust and officials at Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP identified the Reed’s Bridge area as a top priority for purchase.
Finally, in August 2013, the Trust had the opportunity to make this dream a reality, announcing a national fundraising campaign to protect Reed’s Bridge. Thanks to the availability of federal matching grants through the American Battlefield Protection Program and major contributions from the Lyndhurst Foundation of Chattanooga, the Williams Family Foundation of Georgia and the Georgia Battlefields Association, as well as the generous contributions of numerous individual donors, in only two months the Trust was able to successfully complete fundraising on this project.
The Trust also used the occasion of the signature event to publically thank Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly for creation of a new state-wide matching grants program to protect Civil War battlefields in the Volunteer State. The new Civil War or War Between the States Site Preservation Fund, is the second state-level matching grant program for Civil War-era site preservation in the country, and creates new opportunities for historic land preservation in Tennessee.
“The creation of this grant fund is just the latest example of Tennessee fitting decisive actions to its long-standing pledges of commitment to the historic preservation cause,” said Grainger. “I have no doubt that in the near future we will have numerous new land preservation successes to celebrate thanks to the availability of these matching grants and the strong support of state officials.”
The legislation enjoyed broad bipartisan support as it made its way through the state house — meeting unanimous approval in the Senate and passing the House by a vote of 92 to 2. In addition to purchasing battlefield land, grant funding can also be used to protect sites associated with the Underground Railroad, ensuring that a broad spectrum of Tennessee heritage is set aside for future generations.
In thanking the numerous state officials who played a role in the passage of the legislation, Lighthizer and Grainger especially noted the work of House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, as well as State Rep. Steve McDaniel and State Senator Bill Ketron, two legislative members of the Tennessee Sesquicentennial Commission who sponsored the legislation. The new program will be administered by the Tennessee Historical Commission, a state agency that has long championed the cause of preserving Tennessee’s unique Civil War heritage.
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 36,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states, including nearly 3,200 in Tennessee. Learn more at www.civilwar.org, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.