Legislation to expand Petersburg National Battlefield expected to become law

By Michael Campbell – News Editor

VIRGINIA – A recently proposed expansion to Petersburg National Battlefield is now that much closer to becoming law as the National Defense Authorization Act makes its way through Congress on track for passage by both the House and Senate.

The expansion would add more than 7,000 acres to the Petersburg National Battlefield would allow for the National Park Service to acquire additional land sites related to the Siege of Petersburg, which was the longest military event of the Civil War.

The Petersburg Campaign of the Civil War consisted of 26 major battles during which the Union Army attempted to capture the city of Petersburg. During a 14-month period between June 1864 and April 1865, the Union and Confederate armies battled across 576 square miles to secure access to five railroads that connected Petersburg to the Confederate capital, Richmond.

Petersburg served as the Confederate’s main supply base and control of the railroads meant the

Union could isolate Richmond and severely weaken the Confederacy. The eventual Union victory on April 2 lead General Robert E. Lee to abandon Richmond and head to Appomattox Courthouse where the Confederacy would surrender on Apr. 9, 1865.

This expansion allows for the battlefield to add 7,238 new acres across 12 different battle areas. The battlefield currently protects over 2,500 acres of battlefield and historic buildings and provides more than $10 million for the local economy.

“After the site’s creation in 1926, the official boundaries only included a small portion of the battles fought during the Campaign,” explained lawmakers with the Committee on Natural Resources. “Residential and commercial development near the park increased NPS concerns that the integrity of many battle sites would be compromised in the future.”

“After assessing the significance, integrity, and interpretability of several battle sites, NPS recommended that 12 new battle sites be included in the park’s boundaries,” officials said in their Mar. 14, 2016 report. “These battles were all either decisive or major and had a ‘direct, observable impact on the direction, duration, conduct, or outcome’ on the Campaign or War.”

Last week, Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined by Congressmen Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Bobby Scott praised the inclusion of the expansion measure on the defense authorization bill.

“The Petersburg National Battlefield bore witness to the longest sustained siege in our nation’s military history and draws visitors from all across the country, injecting millions of dollars into the local economy every year,” said Sen. Warner. “Expanding the park will encourage tourism to the region while preserving this important piece of American history for future generations. After working on this legislation for several years now, it’s great news that we are so close to seeing it a reality.”

According to Warner, in 2005, the NPS recommended modifying the battlefield’s boundaries to include 7,238 acres of significant battlefield lands, particularly lands that were in danger of being lost to development.

The acquisition – through purchase or donation of the land – would make the Petersburg National Battlefield the largest Civil War historic battlefield in the nation.

“The NDAA ensures that the Petersburg National Battlefield will become the nation’s largest protected battlefield,” Sen. Kaine said in a statement. “This hallowed ground bears witness to one of the longest, hardest and most decisive contests of the Civil War.   The stories of all the combatants–including more than 16,000 African-American troops–will now be more accessible to the current generation. I thank my colleagues for their support and acknowledge the work of my predecessor Jim Webb in getting us to this day.”

Kaine’s bill to reauthorize and expand the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program was signed into law in 2014, and his bill to create a National Park Service commission honoring 400 years of African American history has passed out of committee and is before the full Senate.

Longtime supporter of the battlefield expansion Forbes issued a statement ahead of the defense bill’s expected passage and adoption.

“Having worked toward this goal for years, I am pleased to see this important legislation being made into law during my final weeks in office,” Forbes said in a statement. “The Petersburg area contains so much of history and heritage, and I thank my colleagues in both parties and both chambers for their efforts to protect it.”

Several nonprofits, including the Civil War Preservation Trust, already acquired key acreage that will be turned over to the National Park Service to expand the Battlefield.

This legislation will also authorize one small land transfer between the neighboring Fort Lee military installation and the battlefield.

Copyright 2016 by Womack Publications

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