It was a long time coming, but the Mill Springs Battlefield is now officially part of the National Parks System.
You have to remember that in 1991, the historic area in Nancy was identified as one of the 25 most endangered battlefields in America. Congressman Hal Rogers recalled his first visit there decades ago, only to find it strewn with litter, a forgotten relic. Since that time, the Mill Springs Battlefield Association has led the way to preserve the 900 acres of land spanning Pulaski and Wayne counties, along with iconic structures relevant to the Civil War battle.
Fortunately, the MSBA had powerful allies in Rogers and Sen. Mitch McConnell, who both worked diligently for decades to secure federal funding for land preservation, construction of the Visitor Center and Museum, and most recently, by working directly with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to establish Mill Springs Battlefield as a National Monument.
Rogers lives in Somerset and is a native of Wayne County. So as someone with roots entrenched in this region, Rogers is well aware of how important the sacred ground, where so many men lost their lives, is to our area.
“Today, we proudly declare that this once-endangered Civil War battlefield has been rescued, and it is another victory for Kentucky,” Rogers, who also helped establish the MSBA, said in a ceremony in Nancy on Wednesday. “It has been an honor to work with my friend Senator McConnell, Sec. Bernhardt, the MSBA, and so many others to preserve this historic battlefield so future generations can experience an interactive education about our history in Kentucky and the significant impact that Kentucky had in strengthening our nation.”
The Battle of Mill Springs was the second-largest battle to take place in Kentucky and engaged some 17,000 soldiers. It memorializes the Union’s first major victory on Jan. 19, 1862, when Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer was killed during the battle, becoming one of the first generals to die during the Civil War. The Battle of Mill Springs helped to maintain Kentucky’s Union affiliation throughout the war and offered more than a strategic victory for the Union Army. It served as a national rallying call heralded by the Union and provided a much-needed boost to morale, helping to re-energize Northern war interests.
On March 12, 2019, President Donald Trump signed into law the designation for Mill Springs Battlefield to become a National Monument. On September 22, 2020, Sen. McConnell and Congressman Rogers joined Secretary Bernhardt for a ceremonial signing in the U.S. Capitol to formally establish the Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument as the 421st unit of the National Park System.
While the entire project is authorized for the National Park System, some of the property — largely in Wayne County — still requires transfer to the NPS. Rogers assured attendees that a second celebration will be scheduled in Wayne County in the near future to mark the completion of this project.
That not one but two of our local counties can benefit from these efforts makes the MSBA’s victory even sweeter. The likelihood that tourists from all over the nation will come to our fair counties is only increased, and along with it, our potential for further economic development, a brass ring that local leaders continue to chase.
We want to applaud the hard work, from so many people, to make the Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument a reality.
This legendary battle not only was a factor in shaping our community, but the nation as well. Without victory at Mill Springs, the Union forces might have never had the momentum to stave off the rebellion that had our country in tatters.
We now know the men who lost their lives here will never be forgotten and will be recognized as American heroes through the Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument.
That’s something we all can be proud of.
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