North vs. South: Civil War Sites in the National Register of Historic Places

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

This post is part of an ongoing “road trip” featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.

“Infantry resting from drills” (National Archives Identifier 524639). Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes.

This year marks the 160th year since the beginning of the Civil War. There are nearly 7000 series of records described in the National Archives Catalog, including Civil War Muster Rolls (National Archives Identifier 7408844), Papers Relating to Female Nurses in the Civil War, 1861 – 1865 (National Archives Identifier 655674), and a large number of Matthew Brady Photographs (National Archives Identifier 524418), like the one seen above. There are also more than 15,000 records in the National Register of Historic Places files that concern Civil War statuary, monuments, and battlefields. You can also search Civil War records on NARA’s Access to Archival Databases (AAD) in the Records About Civil War Battle Sites, created, 1990 – 1993, documenting the period 4/12/1861 – 5/13/1865.

Great River Road – Civil War Reenactment (National Archives Identifier 7718892).

By way of the records, one can visit Civil War prison sites, like the Ohio SP Johnson Island Civil War Prison and Fort Site (National Archives Identifier 71990853) and the infamous Andersonville National Historic Site (National Archives Identifier 93208871) in Georgia. There are Civil War battlefields that can be toured and many monuments located on those hallowed grounds, such as the one seen below, which is one of many monuments in the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park (National Archives Identifier 71995661).

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway – Monument at Gettysburg National Battlefield Park (National Archives Identifier 7719714).

“Gettysburg National Military Park and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery are located in the environs of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Gettysburg battlefield covered an area of about 22 square miles; the national military park comprises 9 square miles of that total area. The Park is composed of two major battlefield areas located to the north and south of the town of Gettysburg, surrounding, but not including the town itself East Cavalry Field is located 3 miles east of Gettysburg. The section of the Park located south of the Borough includes the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, the present Visitor Center and the Cyclorama Center . . . When Gettysburg National Military Park was originally listed in the National Register on 10/15/1966 the acreage of the park was 3,865 acres. In 1990, Congress expanded the legislated boundary of the park (P.L. 101-377) to its current 5,989 acres.”

There are also a number of Civil War Monuments (National Archives Identifier 117692047) to be discovered in Washington, DC, that are “owned by the National Park Service,” including “cast metal equestrian statues of Civil War generals erected on stone pedestals in the city of Washington in the latter nineteenth century and the opening decades of the twentieth century.  Also represented in this nomination include, the “Dupont Circle Fountain, a marble fountain by the noted sculptor Daniel Chester French; the Nuns of the Battlefield, a granite monolith with bronze plaque and two supporting bronze figures; the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial, a granite shaft with bronze figures and plaques; and the Navy-Peace Monument, a marble sculpture with allegorical figures . . . statues are executed in the realistic style popular after the Civil War.”

HON. ROBERT SMALLS – CIVIL WAR HERO, STATESMAN (National Archives Identifier 535697).

You can visit many historic homes of Civil War personalities, including the Robert Smalls House (National Archives Identifier 118996818) in South Carolina. Robert Smalls was “born a slave in Beaufort, South Carolina, in 1839” and later was “hired out by his “master” to Charleston where he lived until the outbreak of the Civil War. During that “war for freedom,” as Smalls constantly referred to the Civil War, he distinguished himself first as the “abductor” of the Planter, an incident which catapulted him to national fame and attention, and as a guide for the Union ships attacking the Sea Island areas.” Smalls was later elected to the United States House of Representatives and had a distinguished career as a public servant. “Robert Smalls is of national historical importance because his abduction of the Planter is symbolic of the slave’s passionate love of freedom; his public career in state and federal service, as a state legislator, U. S. Congressman and customs collector, stretching from the Civil War to Woodrow Wilson’s election, typifies, in several ways, the aspirations and hopes of many blacks during the Civil War and Reconstruction; and because he exemplifies the role of military leaders who become political leaders.”

The Smalls home located in Beaufort, South Carolina, “built in 1843 . . . is a good example of a large frame house with a two-story portico. The original structure has been considerably altered and the result is a square house with small wings on the north and east walls which extend the northeast corner of the house. Currently, the south facade is shaded by a two-story balustraded portico, which rests on bricked-in foundations with wooden supports. The main entrance, centered in the south front, is approached by a short flight of brick stairs which leads to the narrow, decorated doorway. Here, as upstairs, two shuttered windows flank the door to the porch. The roof is supported above the attenuated Doric columns of the verandah by a plain boxed cornice. A lightly decorated pediment sits over the center of the colonnaded porch; the roof is gabled with east-west pediments . . . Robert Smalls purchased the house in which he had lived as a slave at a tax sale in 1863, He and his descendants occupied the property for approximately ninety years. Smalls’ ownership was contested in a legal case, which ultimately was heard in the U. S. Supreme Court. The case was decided in Smalls’ favor and established the validity of acts of Congress between 7 June 1862 and 6 February 1863 providing for direct taxes on property in occupied territory and penalties for non-payment.”

While most of the battles of the Civil War were confined to the East Coast, the Western Region of the country also saw some conflicts. In the Oregon Territory, the U.S. Army recognized a need to provide for coastal defenses in the Pacific Northwest along the Columbia River and in the Puget Sound. Fort Stevens (National Archives Identifier 77848996) was a result of those efforts.

The original earthen ramparts of Fort Stevens as built in Civil War days. (National Archives Identifier 299670).

“Located at the entrance to the Columbia River, Fort Stevens represents the evolution of military architecture and engineering over a period of 80 years. Its gun emplacements complemented fire power of defense posts, Fort Canby and Fort Columbia, on the North shore of the Columbia in the State of Washington . . .  The primary features of the site are Battery David Russell, Battery Lewis Clark, the several nearly contiguous emplacements known as the West Batteries (Battery 245, West Battery, Battery Pratt); Battery Elias Smur, Battery Constant Freeman, buildings of the Upper Fort and Soldiers’ Cemetery . . . There are in addition to emplacements and buildings of the post, integral structures and sites including base end stations used in triangulation, fire control stations, search light shelters and mine loading rooms. All guns and most of the metal fittings of the concrete emplacements were taken for scrap after the post was released by the military in 1947.”

“Fort Stevens has the longest history as an active military post of any site within the present borders of Oregon. Named for General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, first governor of Washington Territory, the fort was established by the U, S. Army in 1863, during the War Between the States as part of a system of defense points at the mouth of the Columbia River. It remained active until 1884. After a hiatus of 14 years, the post was reactivated and used as a training base through the Second World War. The post was briefly involved in action by the enemy on the night of June 21, 1942, Shells fired from a Japanese submarine landed in the vicinity of Battery David Russell. Fort Stevens is believed to be the only military base in the continental United States to have been fired upon by enemy during the Second World War.”

There are a number of Civil War battlefields listed on the National Register, including the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (National Archives Identifier 93207251), located in “northwest Georgia and Southeast Tennessee preserves the sites of two major battles of the Civil War. The park comprises three separate units, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge – besides several small detached reservations.”

“In the quarter-century after 1863, the battlefield of Chickamauga changed very little. Chattanooga, however, had grown to nearly 12,000 people. In 1888, a proposal to establish a National Battlefield for the two battles was put forth by the Society of the Army of the Cumberland. Unlike Gettysburg that contained only Union Army markers, this proposal suggested that veterans from both sides share in the determination of the battlefield boundaries and the placement of markers to locate their units. The next year, during a meeting at Chattanooga, the Chickamauga Memorial Association was formally organized with 28 Union and Confederate officers serving as directors. In 1890, a bill establishing Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park passed Congress and was signed by the President . . . The National Military Park was administered by the War Department until 1933 and then transferred to the National Park Service. Additional monuments were erected during the decades after 1895 and support structures added by both agencies. However, the two battlefields retained their basic appearance. The Chattanooga area was impacted by the steady growth of the town over the years. Chickamauga Battlefield was used by the military as a training and staging area — however, after each use the barracks, company streets, hospitals, and other evidence were removed and the field returned to its historic appearance.”

A related entry is the MPS Chickamauga-Chattanooga Civil War-Related Sites in Georgia and Tennessee (National Archives Identifier 135817327).

VP Cheney: commemoration of the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga in McLemore’s Cove, Georgia. (National Archives Identifier 174679048).

In the photo above, taken in September 2008, Vice President Dick Cheney is seen with Re-enactment participant Jack Fishman and an oil painting showing Cheney’s great-grandfather, Samuel Fletcher Cheney at the Battle of Chickamauga. Samuel Fletcher Cheney fought in the 1863 battle as a Captain in the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

The records in the National Register related to the Civil War represent many intriguing sites that can be virtually explored in the National Archives Catalog. Click on any of the hyperlinked National Archives ID numbers above to open the fully digitized records in the National Archives Catalog. The NRHP files include additional documents, photographs, drawings, and maps.