Legislation to expand Petersburg National Battlefield on track to become law
U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that legislation to add more than 7,000 acres to the Petersburg National Battlefield is on track to be approved by Congress as soon as next week.
Text of the annual defense authorization bill released by a congressional conference committee includeslegislation sponsored by the two Virginia Senators authorizing the National Park Service to acquire additional historic land sites related to the Siege of Petersburg, the longest military event of the Civil War. The National Defense Authorization Act is expected to pass the House of Representatives on Friday, with the Senate projected to follow suit early next week.
“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.”
“The NDAA ensures that the Petersburg National Battlefield will become the nation’s largest protected battlefield,” Sen. Kaine said. “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.”
“After working for years with my colleagues to secure the expansion of the Petersburg National Battlefield Park, I am proud to be able to say that we have protected these hallowed grounds and ensured that the lands and history of this battlefield will be preserved for future generations,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), who introduced the legislation in the House.
“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,” said Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), who sponsored the House legislation.“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.”
The Petersburg National Battlefield – which injects more than $10 million into the local economy annually – currently protects over 2,500 acres of battlefield and historic buildings that were involved in General Ulysses S. Grant’s 10 month Siege of Petersburg, Virginia in 1864-1865. During the Civil War, Petersburg was an important supply post for General Robert E. Lee’s army and the Confederate Capital of Richmond, Virginia. General Grant’s victory over Lee’s army at Petersburg in March of 1865 directly precipitated Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. This was the longest siege in American military history and was an important event for the United States Colored Troops (USCT) as over 16,000 African-American soldiers served in battle.
In 2005, the National Park Service recommended modifying the Petersburg National Battlefield to include 7,238 acres of significant core battlefield land. The land identified for inclusion was the site of 18 major battles during the Civil War and are in danger of being lost to development. These sites are not currently protected within the National Battlefield and have been identified by the Civil War Trust as one of the most endangered group of historic battlefields in the country. The Petersburg National Battlefield Boundary Modification Act does not spend any money, only authorizes the National Park Service to acquire the land. The legislation also authorizes one small land transfer between Fort Lee and the battlefield.
The acquisition – through purchase or donation of the land – would make the Petersburg National Battlefield the largest Civil War historic battlefield in the nation. 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.
In August of this year, Sen. Warner joined the National Park Service on a tour of Grant’s Headquarters at the Petersburg National Battlefield. Photos from that visit are available for media use here.
Sen. 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.