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A House Divided
Posted at 10:43 AM ET, 06/06/2011

Harold Holzer: Have we preserved enough Civil War sites?

Author or editor of 36 books, many on Lincoln, and chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation


At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, and with enormous respect for the pioneer preservationists who have safeguarded so much sacred land from development and disappearance, I do think we may have reached the time when our efforts ought to become a bit more selective. For one thing, it is enormously difficult to maintain the kind of momentum, enthusiasm, and fund raising that the movement has long generated, though I concede that the current Civil War sesquicentennial does present an enormous and irresistible opportunity for one more round of preservationist cheer leading.

Yet even those who have supported the movement for so long might also usefully examine whether they truly ought to defend every street corner, every plot of land, and every blade of grass associated with what historian E. B. Long calculated as 10,455 military actions between 1861 and 1865.

Perhaps our energies would be far more profitably focused on major priorities: making absolutely sure the great, widely visited sites are completely protected around their borders, and maintained ideally within; or focusing on hitherto neglected sites that might acknowledge the importance of the war at sea; or looking at ways to consecrate the suffering of slaves, or the acrid memories of wartime urban and racial strife like the New York City draft riots--still sorely in need of marking.

The needs are so widespread, the ground so vast, the legacy so crucial, that it behooves us to choose our battles more wisely in the future--and then fight as if history itself depended on our success.

By Harold Holzer  |  10:43 AM ET, 06/06/2011

 
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