09 November 2005 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 4 comments

Today, I want to address the question of prioritizing. A couple of days ago, Drew Wagenhoffer made an especially prescient comment in response to one of the other posts in this series: “Also, I would prefer that money be spent on open spaces rather than buildings, which are outrageously expensive to “restore”. People seem to want to keep every little shack that was a general’s HQ during some battle or another. I always cringe when I see several million dollars being spent on restoring some old home because “Washington slept there” or some other thing.”

Drew jumped the gun on what I had intended to say in this post, so kudos to him for making a very valid point.

Everyone has their own priorities and their own opinions, and I respect that. However, given a choice between saving a single building that has some historical significance or using the same money to buy actual battlefield land, that’s a no-brainer in my book. I am, at heart, a pragmatist. Recognizing that you’re never going to be able to save every marginally significant piece of land–and that doing so is not necessarily in anyone’s best interests–means that picking and choosing one’s fights is the key. Only fight the fights that are worth fighting, is what I always tell my clients.

Basic laws of economics apply here. Supply and demand govern. Let’s start wtih the following assumptions: the amount of battlefield land available is finite. So is the amount of money available to be spent on preservation. Thus, it seems to me that simple cost-benefit analysis should govern the exercise. Is it, for instance, a better use of scarce resources to spend several million dollars on a parcel of land next to a battlefield that saw no fighting, but which was important staging ground that was used as a bivouac site, or is it better to use those same dollars to buy a house that General Hossenfeffer used as his headquarters for three hours? It seems to me that it’s a much better use of those scarce dollars to buy the land next to the battlefield to preserve it and to prevent commercial sprawl from creeping right up to the edge of the battlefield, than to preserve General Hossenfeffer’s outhouse. If you need an example of what I mean here, pay a visit to the Monocacy battlefield just outside Frederick, MD some time. A massive mall one one side of the road and an enormous strip shopping center on the other butt right up to the battlefield, a matter of a few yards from where Special Orders 191 were found in 1862. It’s scary.

Now, I fully understand that some folks won’t get this, that they think it’s more important to preserve the outhouse since General Hossenfeffer used it once. I respect that opinion, but it seems to me that with the basic laws of supply and demand governing these events, it makes much more sense to prioritize and to get the maximum effect possible for those scarce dollars. If that means that some marginally significant ground is lost on one battlefield to save truly significant ground at another battlefield, I can live with that and not feel badly about it. In my humble opinion, it’s far better to save as much ground as possible than it is to spend those scarce dollars on the place where General Hossenfeffer took a nap for an hour.

It’s all about common sense, folks. Use more of it, act like a reasonable, rational human being, and developers will be much more likely to want to work with you than to go running away from the stark raving loonies bound and determined to save that outhouse.

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Comments

  1. Wed 09th Nov 2005 at 4:19 pm

    Eric, — I’ve enjoyed your new blog, especially your posts re: battlefield preservation. I agree that we need to set priorities surrounding what is worth saving and why. I would just like to add that whas is often missing in these debates is any historical context for preservation. Jim Weeks – who was tragically killed not too long ago – published an excellent study (the title escapes me, but it was published by Princeton University Press in 2004) of the marketing of the Gettysburg battlefield which started immediately following the battle. Many of the residents in Gettysburg saw the economic benefits of attracting visitors to the fields along with their cash. The residents of Gettysburg set the terms for how the battlefield would be used and now we are dealing with its consequences.

  2. Wed 09th Nov 2005 at 5:01 pm

    Kevin,

    My point precisely. And if you need a contrast, take a look at Antietam, which is still largely unspoiled by the commercial pollution that plagues Gettysburg.

    And thanks for your kind words. They’re much appreciated.

    Eric

  3. Paul Taylor
    Wed 09th Nov 2005 at 5:30 pm

    A related question to this discussion – how do we feel about saving core land from a minor battle versus marginal land from a major battle? I would sometimes tend to go with the former though from my past experience, it appears many would prefer the latter.

    To give just one example, several years ago I discovered that a very small, pristine (about 3 acres) piece of land was for sale that was a core part of the all-but-destroyed Chantilly battlefield. It was about a 1/4 mile away from all that officially remains of that battlefield, which is only 4.5 acres to begin with. The parcel in question was on the Ox Hill ridgeline right at the spot where the 21st Massachusetts lost over 100 men in a single volley from Confederates hidden at the top of the ridge. To this day, the occassional bullet or button is still found on that undeveloped ground.

    Yet, the various organizations I contacted seemed disinterested, pointing out that Chantilly was now a fragmented battlefield and that land was still available at better known places.

    Admittedly, that field was close to my heart due to the book I had written on the battle, and without a doubt the land was quite pricey being in northern Va. I was certainly not an objective advocate. Nevertheless, the speed with which many dismissed my information was surprising.

    Paul Taylor

  4. Thu 10th Nov 2005 at 12:14 am

    Paul,

    That’s a valid point, and I appreciate your raising it. Apparently, the thought is to preserve that which is preservable–if there’s nothing left of the field, evidently someone felt that it was a better use of those scarce funds for a battlefield that was still intact.

    Eric

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