10 November 2005 by Published in: Battlefield preservation No comments yet

Today, I’m going to wrap up this series on battlefield preservation. I hope that it hasn’t been too boring.

In my mind, the key to successful battlefield preservation is being pro-active instead of reactive. In other words, think ahead, plan ahead, and make the necessary arrangements to preserve the ground instead of panicky, crisis mode responses to threats.

Here’s an example.

Ohio has only one Civil War battlefield, at Buffington Island in Meigs County on the Ohio River. On July 19, 1863, Federal cavalry forces under Generals Judah, Hobson and Shackleford finally caught up with Morgan’s raiders, and a short but sharp engagement followed that led to more than half of Morgan’s command being captured. About 13,000 cavalrymen were engaged there, so it was a good sized action. The battlefield itself is largely pristine. The only changes are a handful of 20th Century houses, and an elementary school (which is now a community center that will house a museum exhibit on the battle). Meigs County, and in particular the area where the battle was fought, is a sleepy place, and the county is very poor.

A major portion of the battlefield has been owned by a sand and gravel company for decades. The company claims that the blend of sand, loam, and gravel there is unique and that there is no substitute parcel for this one. Consequently, the company has planned to turn a very significant portion of the battlefield into a very unsightly sand and gravel pit for decades. Lots of permits are required–from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, etc. That process takes years.

In 1997 or so, we learned that the company had begun the process. I offered my legal services pro bono, and was involved in trying to stop it. We got a brief stay from the ODNR based purely on an emotional appeal, but the company eventually prevailed. All of the permits have been issued, and sooner or later–probably sooner than later–the battlefield will be forever destroyed. At the time, Bob Taft was running for governor of Ohio. Given his family history, I figured it was worth trying to get his support. His campaign office was in the same building as my office, so I made an appointment with one of his policy wonks. The guy politely heard me out, and then we never heard another word about it. Why? Apparently, the politics are such that jobs in a poor county are much more desirable than the preservation of a Civil War battlefield and the injection of whatever tourist dollars it might generate. Taft was not interested. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I have to admit that I was.

Eventually, the final recourse available would have been an eminent domain proceeding to save the battlefield. Eminent domain falsl within the takings clause of the 5th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, which says that the government cannot deprive a person of his or her property without paying them fair compensation for that property. Eminent domain proceedings can be very expensive, since they usually entail knock-down-drag out fights over the value of the property, and it requires taxpayer dollars to pay that compensation. Again, jobs are politically more desirable than preservation, and we couldn’t get anyone interested in pursuing that avenue either. With that, we were done. There was no other recourse left to us at that point. Given that the sand and gravel company has owned the land for decades, there’s nothing we can do about it.

The Ohio Historical Society owns 4 acres of the battlefield, and, to mollify some of the hue and cry, the sand and gravel company agreed to save 4o acres of the most heavily fought-over ground when the time comes. And that’s the end of it.

With a little bit of foresight by those in power, and the expenditure of what would have been a trivial sum of money in those days, this land could have been preserved forever. Instead, that shortsightedness will cost Ohio the legacy of its only Civil War battlefield. It’s a tragedy, but there is NOTHING that can be done at this point.

The moral of the story, and of this entire series of posts, is: Use common sense. Think ahead. Plan ahead. Make contingency plans. Get politicians on board to support preservation efforts. Work with developers, not against them. Be realistic and understand that you won’t save every parcel. Save those that are worthy of saving. Make wise use of limited preservation dollars, and get the maximum benefit for those dollars, even if it means that General Hossenfeffer’s historic outhouse gets bulldozed as a consequence.

And in so doing, you will help to save the legacy of our battlefields for generations yet to come.

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