- Associated Press - Friday, February 14, 2014

NEWTONIA, Mo. (AP) - A study to determine whether two Civil War battlefields in Newtonia should become part of the national park system was completed more than a year ago, but its findings have still not been made public.

Members of the Newtonia Battlefields Protection Association have become impatient, said member Kay Hively.

“I have not heard a word,” Hively said. “There’s no movement. I’ve talked to (U.S. Sen. Roy) Blunt’s man. Apparently it’s not dead, but it’s not going forward, either.”

Hively speculated that nothing is happening because of federal budget constraints, The Joplin Globe (http://bit.ly/1ei4MMB ) reports.

“I wish we could get some answers,” she said.

Patricia Rooney, spokeswoman for the Midwest Regional Office of the National Park Service, said release of the study to the public will come after it is presented to Congress.

“The release of the Newtonia Study to the chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources by our Washington office is imminent,” Rooney said in an email last week, adding that that would result in its public release.

“Bear with us just a bit longer,” she stated.

The study was authorized in 2008.

The village of Newtonia was the site of two Civil War battles. The earliest, on Sept. 30, 1862, was the first time organized units of Native Americans fought on each side. Union Brig. Gen. Friedrich Salomon tried to drive the last remaining Confederate troops from the state. Fighting began at 7 a.m. and lasted until after dark, with the reinforced Confederate troops driving away the Union force.

But the Confederates were unable to maintain their presence in Missouri, and most soon retreated to Arkansas.

The battle resulted in 245 Union and 100 Confederate casualties.

The second battle, on Oct. 28, 1864, was the last Civil War battle in Missouri and also one of the last battles west of the Mississippi River.

Confederate soldiers commanded by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price were in full retreat after a 1,500-mile raid into Missouri when they stopped to rest south of Newtonia. Union troops led by Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt surprised them. A Confederate division led by Brig. Gen. Joe Shelby engaged the Union troops as other Confederate soldiers retreated into Indian Territory. The Union forces failed to capture the Confederates, but they forced them to retreat. There were 400 Union casualties and 250 Confederate casualties.

The historic Ritchey Mansion, which served as a hospital and headquarters in 1862 and 1864, overlooks both battlefields.

The mansion, adjacent slave and Ritchey family cemeteries, some nearby land and the community’s Old Civil War Cemetery - in all about 26 acres - are today owned and maintained by the Newtonia Battlefields Protection Association.

Blunt, R-Mo., said the battles were significant. It was Blunt, a former U.S. representative for the area, who launched the study to add the Newtonia sites to the National Park Service six years ago. The study also was to determine whether Newtonia should be a free-standing unit of the Park Service or part of the nearby Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield near Springfield.

But based on Blunt’s comments, Hively and other members of the Newtonia Battlefields Protection Association may not be happy with the results when they’re released.

Blunt, though he didn’t confirm that he has specifically read the report, said that he would challenge its findings.

“I still have questions about things in the report,” he said.

Blunt also spoke of a possible local and federal partnership on the project.

“We’re trying to work with the Civil War Trust and work beyond the normal way things are done in Washington,” he said, referring to the private, nonprofit organization with a mission of preserving Civil War battlefields.

Larry James, president of the Newtonia Battlefields Protection Association, said he would wait until the results are available to make his judgments. He said the wait has been a long one already.

“We had anticipated the findings to be released a couple of years ago, to be quite honest,” he said.

James said that when he visited with a representative of the National Park Service a few years back, she seemed positive about the prospect for federal designation.

“I’d like to know exactly what they have to say,” he said. “We were told things were very positive. We really have not heard from them at all in quite a while now.”

James said he fears that budget cuts may be hampering the effort.

“As the membership grows older, we’re in need of preserving this for future generations,” he said about the local association. “That’s one of the things we’re looking to do.”

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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