Federal grant to help map Revolutionary and Civil War sites

07/26/2014 9:25 PM

07/26/2014 9:26 PM

Within a few miles of Fort Sumter where the Civil War began, there are dozens of little-known fortifications built by soldiers wearing blue, gray or red. Now, with the help of a grant from the National Park Service, those sites will the documented for the first time.

The South Carolina Battlefield Preservation Trust has received a $75,000 American Battlefield Protection Program Grant from the National Park Service. The funds will allow researchers to create a database of Civil War and Revolutionary War sites in Charleston and Jasper counties.

The project list battlegrounds, their GPS coordinates and a narrative of what happened at those sites.

Doug Bostick, the executive director and CEO of the trust, said that in applying for the grant, a cursory examination in the National Archives of battle reports and period maps turned up about 220 Civil War sites in Charleston County alone.

Of those, about 60 survive and, of those that do survive, only 16 are permanently preserved. “I have to throw Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter into the pot to get to 16,” Bostick said.

A look at the project.

Why it’s important: Currently there is no comprehensive database of battlefield sites so state and local governments — and landowners too — may have no idea of the significance of a plot of land when development permits are sought.

The History is All Around: Thousands of motorists a day pass by a Confederate entrenchment on James Island that, from the road, simply looks like a raised berm in the woods. A raised golf tee at the County Club of Charleston, on a course developed in the 1920s, is on what used to be both a British and Confederate fortification, Bostick said.

Why wasn’t a database done earlier: With the exceptions of Fort Sumter and Battery Wagner, where the black 54th Massachusetts fought in a charge commemorated in the movie “Glory,” most people don’t know a lot of the Civil War history in the state. “It hasn’t been publicized and hasn’t routinely be written about. So it hasn’t had the weight of private foundations, municipalities and the state pushing to preserve these places,” Bostick said.

New Development Pressure: Five years ago none of the known battleground sites were threatened by development. Now with real estate rebounding, Bostick is working to get conservation easements to protect 11 threatened sites.

Doing the Work: The mapping project, expected to take about a year, will involve a GPS and a database technician as well as an archaeologist and two paid historians. There will also be a volunteer historian and two to four interns. Aerial laser mapping will be used but researchers will also walk the ground of each site where possible.

Past is Prelude: Once the work is complete, Bostick hopes to expand to other counties, eventually developing a statewide database.

Battlefield Protection Grants: The National Park Service awarded $1.4 million in grants for 2014 for projects nationwide as varied as preserving the site of the War of 1812 Battle of River Raisin in Michigan to making maps of George Washington’s principal Revolutionary War supply depot in Fishkill, New York.

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