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Laws for Gettysburg preservation are being supported by U.S. senators

| Monday, March 5, 2012

Preservationists are drawing lines of defense around more of America's hallowed ground.

U.S. senators hoping to control development near Civil War sites have introduced legislation to protect two parcels at Gettysburg and preserve thousands of acres of battlefields at Vicksburg, Miss., and Petersburg, Va.

"That kind of historic land can never be replaced," said Michael Kraus, curator of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland and a member of the National Civil War Museum Advisory Council. "These are places where people fought and gave their lives."

Preservation groups recently fought off a developer's proposal to build a casino a half-mile from Gettysburg National Military Park, drawing attention to the preservation issue.

A planned Gettysburg expansion would add 46 acres, including two parcels known as Plum Run and the Gettysburg Train Station. Supporters hope that will happen before next summer's 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

"History is dry when encountered only in a classroom. History comes home when we see land on which horse soldiers battled ... or walk into the yellow brick (train) station where Lincoln arrived to define our nation as a union free of slavery," said Susan S. Paddock, chair of No Casino Gettysburg, which supports expanding the 6,000-acre park.

The National Register of Historic Places says the train station was built in 1858. The station became a field hospital during the July 1-3, 1863, battle that shifted the war's momentum to the North. On Nov. 18, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln arrived there to deliver the Gettysburg Address the next day.

Cavalry skirmishes occurred on the Plum Run property, located at the southern end of the battlefield.

Expanding the park also would protect plant and animal habitat, including critical wetlands, supporter say.

Sen. Robert Casey, a Scranton Democrat, introduced legislation in November to authorize the park's expansion. Wayne and Susan Hill donated the Plum Run property to the Gettysburg Foundation in 2009, and the foundation will donate it to the National Park Service when it is within the park's boundary. The park service would buy the train station for about $772,000 with money the foundation raises.

"It is a sacred place," said Nicholas J. Lund, Civil War associate at the National Parks Conservation Association in Washington.

The association and the Civil War Trust, a land preservation nonprofit based in Washington, find it encouraging that Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County, gave his support to the bill in January.

"It will help preserve Pennsylvania's unique history and encourage tourism and growth in the area," Toomey said.

Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both Republicans from Mississippi, are pushing to add about 10,000 acres at Vicksburg National Military Park, which preserves sites involved in the battle for control of the Mississippi River. Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner, both Democrats from Virginia, want to add 7,200 acres to Petersburg National Battlefield, site of a 9 1/2-month siege with 70,000 casualties that ended with a Union victory a week before the South surrendered at Appomatox.

Housing, roads and other development have destroyed nearly 20 percent of America's Civil War battlefields, the Civil War Trust estimates.

"The concern for Gettysburg is that there are boundaries for the park, but that's not the only places that are important land, hallowed land," said Mindy G. Crawford, executive director of Preservation Pennsylvania, a private statewide nonprofit dedicated to helping preserve historic places.

"We always expect places like Gettysburg to be protected," she said.

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