CITIZEN JOURNALISM: Webb eyes more battlefield funds

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Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, is seeking more federal money for Civil War battlefield preservation as area groups gear up to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war.

Mr. Webb wrote to Senate committee leaders saying that protecting the battlefield lands is very important, the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reported.

“As America prepares for the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Civil War, beginning in 2011, it is more important than ever that we preserve these memorials of that tragic and nation-defining conflict,” Mr. Webb wrote. “Once protected, these sites offer a myriad of benefits, serving as tourist attractions and outdoor classrooms while also spurring economic growth in local communities.”

Mr. Webb asked the chairmen of four Senate committees to match the $9 million funding proposal of their counterparts in the House.

The Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program has set aside more than 15,300 acres on battlefields in 14 states and already has gone through its fiscal 2009 appropriation, according to Associated Press.

The Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation is one example of organizations that would benefit greatly from more grant money. The foundation acquires land from willing landowners who want their land to be preserved and protected from residential and commercial development.

“We deal with landowners who are interested in protecting their land,” said Elizabeth P. Stern, director of policy and communications for the foundation. “There [are] around 14,000 unprotected acres in the Shenandoah Valley.”

Ms. Stern also said the major threat to battlefield land is its conversion from agriculture to other uses, such as residential and commercial. The grant money, which will be open for competition, will enable the foundation and like-minded groups to protect more of those areas.

The Shenandoah foundation also has helped its partners raise $550,000 from local governments and $3.5 million from Virginia to match federal funds to preserve battlefields such as the sites of the Battles of Cedar Creek, near Middletown, Va., and Second Kernstown.

According to its Web site, the foundation recognizes that it is “practically impossible” and “politically unfeasible” to protect all battlefield lands from development, but it counts on voluntary “stewardship” to help protect key areas of American history.

The money “is very important for the nation and for the valley as well,” Ms. Stern said.

Meanwhile, area history buffs and residents are meeting to develop plans for Civil War sesquicentennial events. Dave Cavanaugh, an Alexandria historian currently focused on the Fort Ward area, attended one such group meeting Oct. 24 at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial that included a speaker from the Virginia Tourism Corp.

Attendees expressed a desire to incorporate the experiences of slaves, freedmen and American Indians along with the traditional battlefield history in developing commemorative programs.

“Hopefully, any project would enhance the visitation experience of tourists and provide an opportunity for our community and this generation to tell the story of what the Civil War means to them,” Mr. Cavanaugh said. “With the passage of 150 years and the changing context of our society, the Civil War can take on new interest and meaning that can inform our residents and students. The challenge is to find and present human-interest stories that are relevant to history buffs and this multicultural generation.”

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