Battle to Save Civil War Sites Widens Congress Considers Options to Protect Battlefields from Encroaching Urban Development. HISTORIC PRESERVATION Series: WINDOWS ON AMERICA. Part 26 of a Series

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DOZENS of Civil War battlefields are in danger of disappearing.

In an effort to save them, a new battle between North and South has erupted a century and a quarter after Robert E. Lee surrendered the tattered remnants of his Confederate forces at Appomattox Station.

This time the struggle is over whether to preserve those domestic killing fields from urban encroachment from developments outside the actual parks.

The preservation issue goes beyond simply saving battlefields. It is about preserving a swath of America's historic and cultural resources. These aspects include native Americans, labor, women's history, archaeological, says Rep. Bruce Vento (D) of California, chairman of the House subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands.

"The problem we're talking about is the same - historic, cultural resource settings," Congressman Vento points out. "Our historic, cultural experience is hardly one of only Civil War experience." In the effort to save civil war sites, the conflict is dominantly between the desire to preserve hallowed ground and time.

How much time? No more than five years, say some preservationists, before the tide of rising population sweeps over numerous battlefields.

Particularly pressed by the prospect of development is the now virtually untouched Brandy Station, 65 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. In June 1863, 20,000 men fought the war's biggest cavalry contest there one month before the pivotal Gettysburg battle.

A major proposal in Congress, by Sen. Dale Bumpers (D) of Arkansas, would establish a study commission to identify those battle sites that should be preserved for all time. Senator Bumpers's proposal, which has the backing of US Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., grew out of a more modest plan to identify sites in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, proposed by Sen. James Jeffords (R) of Vermont. The Senate is likely to act on the measure in September.

If the commission idea makes it to the House, Representative Vento would like to broaden it to include other histo`there has been a recognition by the government ... of a tremendous outpouring of concern for the environment, for the historic, that is especially dramatized by the Civil War battlefields," says Tersh Boasberg, a preservation lawyer. The result is "a very definitely strengthened effort" to save the battle sites, he adds.

Much of the current preservation momentum stems from the perilous manner in which Congress, at a cost exceeding $50 million, in 1988 purchased 600 acres for the Manassas National Park while a commercial developer was even then building roads and a sewer system on the property. Congress and preservationists agreed then that in the future America must obtain historically important land before development closes in and prices rise.

Last month's $21 million gift to the US government from the Richard King Mellon Foundation of several Civil War battle sites demonstrates the renewed interest preservationists have in saving important sites. …