by Chris Harris
The Mill Springs Battlefield Park is already a sprawling sight to behold? Well it’s about to get a little bit bigger.
On Monday, Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers and officials with the national Civil War Trust organization appeared at the Mill Springs Battlefield Museum in Nancy to announce the preservation of nearly 100 acres of property that will become part of the park devoted to the seminal Civil War battle.
“Here on this hallowed ground, you can see the respect and admiration of those who went before us,” said Rogers, the Republican U.S. Representative who grew up in neighboring Wayne County and used to picnic at the Mill Springs “old mill” on that side of the river. “I’ve had an association with this place all of my life.”
The two properties being brought in total 95 acres. They are known locally as the Landmark Ventures tract and Gladstone-Muse tract. They will be added to the 450 acres currently protected in the park.
The protection of the two tracts of land was the result of a national fundraising effort initiated by the Civil War Trust, one which brought in approximately $832,000.
James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust, said that one of the key factors to preserving battlefields in the United States is to have a “viable local group,” which Pulaski County does in the Mill Springs Battlefield Association (MSBA).
“People ask me, ‘Why do you preserve Civil War battlefields?’” said Lighthizer. “The answer I give is that the American Civil War was a defining time in American history. In many ways, it made this country what it is today. It is essential ... that citizens, particularly future citizens, understand the history of this country.”
Past president of the MSBA Bill Neikirk stood alongside the current chairman, Dr. Bruce Burkett, and told the dozens assembled at the museum yesterday morning that what makes the battlefield association unique is that it’s not just one person in charge of the whole thing, but rather a team effort involving a lot of people, past and present.
“One thing that the federal government did right, very much right, in 1992 was to put a bipartisan group together and say, ‘Look, we’ve got a heritage out there of our Civil War battlefields that are being developed and destroyed as we speak, and we need to start something to preserve them before they’re already gone.”
That became the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program, funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fun and administered by the National Park Service Program. It is a matching grant effort, meaning whatever support can be found from private sources will be met with by equal amounts of federal funding. The fundraising campaign included more than $440,000 from private section donation.
The program has been used to preserve more than 19,000 acres of battlefield land in 16 states.
The Civil War Trust, meanwhile, has saved 36,000 acres of battlefield in 20 states in the last 14 years, involving over 100 battlefields. In Kentucky, that includes 2,200 acres of battlefield, making the Commonwealth a particular success story for the trust.
Neikirk said that $10 million every year is allocated by the federal government for Civil War battlefield preservation efforts, a relatively minor amount considering it took $15 million just to do the Mill Springs site. Neikirk noted that the Civil War Trust has been able to make the most of that money in making announcements like Monday’s possible.
“We don’t want it to stop,” said Neikirk. “We need to continue working on this. There is no end. There’s a lot more land we need to preserve.”
Neikirk recently went with Rogers to Washington D.C. to help make the pitch for the inclusion of the Mill Springs site into the National Park System, which would be a large tourism boost economically.
“Heritage tourists will spend $180 more than recreational tourists. They will spend an additional day in an area if they enjoy the experience,” said John Nau III, the Trust’s chairman emeritus. “... Those tourists are coming, and they are going to spend their money.”
Both the Landmark Ventures and Gladstone-Muse areas saw action during the Battle of Mill Springs in January of 1862. This included the first documented bayonet charge of the Civil War, as launched by the 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
“Battlefields are not just memorials to heroism, and that in itself would be worth doing, but they’re outdoor classrooms,” said Lighthizer. “They’re places where people can come, future generations yet unborn, and learn and hopefully take something from it, and become better citizens as a result of it.”
Lighthizer noted that another deal is in the works that would hopefully bring the Mill Springs Battlefield size up to about 600 acres when finalized.
Rogers has been a supporter of the matching grants program for battlefields in his role as U.S. House Appropriations committee chairman, an influential position on the body which effectively controls the nation’s pursestrings, divvying up funding for programs.
“I believe I’m standing with some people that really car about the past as well as the future,” said Rogers.