The battle is over. It has been won. Mill Springs — and all of Pulaski County — emerge victorious.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump officially signed into law the piece of legislation which admits the Mill Springs Battlefield and Museum into the National Park System, the culmination of years’ worth of work on behalf of those local individuals dedicated to the preservation of the historic site in western Pulaski County.
“(Trump) was thrilled to do it, as was I thrilled to see it done,” said U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, Somerset’s own Congressman from the Fifth District who has fought the good fight in Washington on behalf of the battlefield. “This is a modern-day victory for a Civil War-era battleground that helped define Kentucky as part of the Union.”
The item concerning the battlefield was located in the bill S. 47, the “John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.” This bipartisan package of over 100 public lands, natural resources, and water bills is the result of months of bipartisan and bicameral negotiations and provides Federal protections to millions of acres of Federal lands.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 92-8 on February 12th and passed the House on February 26th by a vote of 363-62.
Taking place largely on what is now commonly referred to as Zollicoffer Park in the Nancy area, referencing Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer, who died there, the Battle of Mill Springs took place on January 19, 1862. It was the second-largest battle to take place in Kentucky and had a significant impact on the momentum of the war.
“It was the first major Union victory win in the western theater which really turned things around,” said Rogers. “It stopped the southern forces from moving further north and changed the dimensions of the war.”
Rogers introduced legislation in January of 2013 to conduct a study regarding the feasibility of bringing the Mill Springs Battlefield site and its museum located on Ky. 80 into the nation’s National Park System. Doing so presents a number of advantages for preserving and promoting the historic grounds.
“This has been decades in coming,” said Rogers. “(The Mill Springs Battlefield Association) has to raise money to buy parts of land and piece them together. I was able to help them build the museum but this is the capstone.
“Making this part of the National Park Service will give it national recognition, national advertising,” he added. “I think it will bring a lots of tourists to the area, especially when there are large reenactments.”
It had previously been thought that the era of Civil War reenactments taking place at the battlefield was over, the last one being held in 2012. However, another national reenactment has been scheduled for November 1-3 later this year and will feature numerous events and attractions recreating life during the Civil War period — as well as the battle itself, of course.
“I went to one of those (reenactments) years ago,” said Rogers. “I was absolutely astounded at the size and scope of the reenactments. All sorts of cannon fire and explosions and volleys and reenacting the battle as it was then.
“This is a significant day for Pulaski County and Kentucky, and for the nation,” he added.
Bill Neikirk, who has been extremely active in the Mill Springs Battlefield Association (MSBA) over the years as a president and in other roles, was “very excited and very pleased” to see the bill signed.
“We really appreciate the work Hal Rogers and (U.S. Senator from Kentucky) Mitch McConnell did getting this signed for us,” he said. “It will be a big economic boon for Pulaski County. Any time you’re a national park, tourists will be coming in.”
Making the site a national monument and part of the national park system “means there will always be money there from the federal government to make sure they’re maintaining the battlefield in pristine condition,” said Rogers.
He noted that the bill will mean taking in around 900 acres of land acquired by the MSBA over the years and transferring it to the park service as well as the visitors center and museum. Additionally, the actual Mill Springs mill across the lake in Wayne County will be donated from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the park service “to create some interest in that.” Also taken in will be a couple of old historic homes that served as general’s headquarters during the battle.
Rogers said he’ll even donate the pen used by the president to sign the bill to the museum for posterity.
There is no indication yet on how long the transfers might take; Rogers said conversations are ongoing with the U.S. Department of the Interior about that.
McConnell said in a statement that he thanked his colleagues for passing the bill to “give these treasured lands the recognition and protection they deserve,” along with Camp Nelson in Jessamine County.
“The Mill Springs Battlefield Association has worked hard to preserve hundreds of acres of battlefield property and to educate the public about the history of the American Civil War and the Battle of Mill Springs,” said McConnell. “Thanks to this legislation, we are now one step closer to protecting and preserving this historic battlefield, which is important to the history of the Commonwealth and our Nation, and I want to thank Congressman Rogers for his leadership on this issue.”