This paper is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Kristen McMasters
American Battlefield Protection Program, National Park Service

I work for the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP), which is part of the National Park Service (NPS); however, I do not wear a uniform. That’s because I work for an external program. The NPS external programs like the National Register of Historic Places and the National Heritage Areas are meant to be of service to the outside communities and people outside of National Park Service units.  In some strange way I’m an archeologist who is not assigned a National Park.  Our legislation directs us to work with nonprofits, governments and local communities to steward battlefields.

“…to assist citizens, public and private institutions, and governments…in planning, interpreting, and protecting sites where historic battles were fought on American soil during the armed conflicts …,in order that present and future generations may learn and gain inspiration from the ground where Americans made their ultimate sacrifice..”

– 16 USC 469k-1, as amended

We are fortunate with an explicit mission statement, because then we don’t have to live with the mission creep of other managers may suffer.  We have Congress telling us what to do.  We are to be assisting citizens, the public, private institutions and governments in planning and interpreting and protecting battlefields. They’re to be on American soil or territories.  That includes all the territories, from the U.S. Virgin Islands out to Saipan or Guam, so we have a pretty big span. As long as I can call our technical assistance “domestic”, we can be helpful. We’re here to preserve and protect battlefields in perpetuity.

We were a product of necessity, to Congress, after the Disney event near Manassas.  Disney was going to have a theme park, 30 years ago, around Manassas.  That issue got settled with a very expensive Congressional “taking of land” or use of eminent domain.  The essentially the question morphed to, “How many significant or principal battlefields are there out there that are going to cause these kind of disasters, where the government has to come in and purchase land?” The Park Service did not know.  We manage our own land, and we didn’t have an inventory of what was out there in the rest of the world. There was no good systematic survey or inventory of Civil War battlefields across the U.S.  We started with a survey and inventory, of historic sites. We ended up with 384 of principal battlefields in 1993 as a report to Congress to give them the condition of these significant battlefields throughout the nation.

These battlefields really were the principal ones in the nation that had an outcome that affected the Civil War’s actual unfolding, or a campaign, or a famous person.   By 1996 it was clear to Congress and the ABPP that not just Civil War battlefields needed attention and assistance, so our grant abilities were expanded to include helping any battlefield at any time period in the U.S.  For example, there were engagements in the U.S. Virgin Islands, like the one the Dutch and the British. As long as the battleground is on American soil, we can be involved.

We also have created reports to Congress that prioritize battlefields and their endangered status. By 1998 we were offering funds to buy Civil War battlefields in fee purchase or in easement, and to date we have leveraged over $87 million dollars that have been given to us by Congress for land acquisition. As a matching program, that means there’s an equal amount, 50%, out there of at least $87 million dollars that someone else provided towards securing the battlefield. By 2003 we were asked by the President’s Advisory Council of Historic Places to be of assistance on battlefields that had adverse projects with National Historic Preservation Act of 1968, Section 106, so we help our sister agencies to try and come up with good mitigation efforts, or to identify the battlefields that are under threat from Federal action.

By 2007,  we were asked to create an equivalent report to Congress for Rev War and War of 1812, and over 270 battlefields were assessed in that report for their priority and for their threat, and for their significance.  That report titled “Report to Congress on the Historic Preservation of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Sites in the United States” and is available on our website.

Then 2010 we were asked to do an update for the Civil War reports, since they were already dated.  They are also available on our website on a state by state basis and are titled variously under the title of “Update to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields.

We have a specific philosophy for preservation with all our battlefields.  We see battlefields as cultural landscapes.  Each has a unique history, unique resources, and are within a unique community. We look at local advocacy as key for stewardship, and essential for preservation.  I find it interesting today to hear many of the conference presentations discuss the importance of having a shared lingua franca, a common language, and a common methodology.  Because we have so many battlefields in the nation we found the same issues.  Our program has become very rigorous in our methodology, and very rigorous in our labeling of how we identify battlefields.  The labeling and the method are the same whether the resource is terrestrial or underwater.

Of all the criticisms I’ve heard over the years of our studies, perhaps our 1993 study was most criticized. It was not because we got the battle action in the wrong place, but because we didn’t have underwater resources identified quite correctly or as expansively as we should have.   I think we’ve made great strides to change that with our updates studies.  How we establish the battlefield boundaries has expanded since 2004.

Let me take a moment and  talk a little bit about defining battlefields.   For us, a battlefield is any space that has been fought over.  The space must have gun fire has been taken or received by two governments in conflict.  We automatically consider any tribal activity as government sanctioned.  The engagement does have to be an actual exchange of fire.   We don’t look at massacres or sites of civil disobedience.   For example, the 9/11 site in New York would not be considered a battlefield, nor would some Tribal massacres of women and children.

Most Americans cannot imagine the number of battlefields that exist in the U.S. There are 3,000 battlefields related to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, and over 10,000 sites of Civil War engagements.

In this paper, I will just discuss the principal battlefields, and how we deal with those.  Principal battlefields are those that have an influence on a major campaign or the outcome of the ware.  There’s a whole lot more places of conflict than just the three wars I have mentioned. French and Indian War, plenty of Indian wars out in the West and the Mexican-American War.  Lots of engagement sites in the U.S.  I have to smile at thinking what a moment in archeological time battlefields are.  Many of our places of conflict were only for a few hours and what a slight signature that leaves in the archeological record.  What an instant they are, and how differently we look at our data set for battlefield sites.  We are far less concerned about stratigraphy and dating items in that, if you’re at Gettysburg and you don’t know when that Minie ball flew from the gun, you can guess it is within three days in time in 1863. We have different concerns, and underwater battlefields actually allow us a certain amount of freedom to think differently as well.

To understand the submerged battlefield, it is important to see whole strata from prehistoric layers, to the battle layer to layers above reflecting all the activities that have happened since the conflict.   Our program focuses at that middle, that battlefield layer. It’s not that we disregard the upper layers, and it’s not that the lower layers aren’t important.   However, Congress gives us a mandate for top consideration for the battle layer, and we consider everything within the battle layer.  We consider that battle layer the “middle of the Oreo cookie.”  We hope our program will be protect that battle layer and the other layers will be swept up in that action of stewardship.   Everything below and everything above hopefully will be maintained, but our focus has to stay with the battle layer.

I’m going to explain how we identify our battlefields, how we put boundaries around them.  There was a time when we would go to a historian, and we’d say, “Hey, where’s the battle?” They’d give us a blob on a map.  We’d often go to the National Register of Historic Places and ask for the blob that’s on their maps.   We’d take that, and that would be our blob and that would be how we would look at it. Nowadays we’re actually looking a lot closer at our battlefields, and we start off by looking for defining features. We borrow that term from the National Register of Historic Places, key defining features.   We assign defining features for battlefields for any spot, any location, that can be found where the conflict happened. That “tree,” that “bridge,” that “fence,” that “rock,” that “corner of a building.”   If a spot where conflict happened can be located, they can be referred to as a defining feature.

That leaves out that General’s order, that concept, that specific movement.  What concentrating on the ground does is to pins things to a three-dimensional spot on the planet. What’s a little bit revolutionary about our program is we have always considered natural resources just as important as cultural resources.  That rock where Turkey Foot stood matters.  That escarpment where the men hid matters. That ravine, that defile, that water crossing, that all could be a defining feature.  Even that swamp could be an obstacle to be removed by troops (that’s a very big defining feature!)  We’ve always looked at the natural and cultural as being tightly linked.

Once you get your list of defining features, you just put them on the ground on a map. Once we get our defining features on the ground, then we put a boundary around it, a Battlefield Boundary area.  All your defining features have to be within your battlefield.  We don’t have defining features outside of the Battlefield Boundary.  The heaviest area of fighting, the area that saw perhaps the most action … Of course, wherever you are is where the most action is, but most people can generally agree about the area that really has key outcome to your objectives, that one area that really is very important.   It’s called the Core Area.

As preservationists, we’re beginning to think that concept might be a little outdated, and the reason why seems to be that people tend to say, “Where’s the core area? Well, that’s all we’re going to put on the National Register.  Where’s the core area? That’s all we’re going to say. That’s the only land we’re going to buy.” We really are having a trouble with that concept of Core Area as only being part of the whole, and that may be actually deleted as a program term in the future. We’ll have to see what our next studies bring us.

On top of your Battlefield Boundary and Core Area, you would impose what we call a POTNR, or Potential National Register area.  You could see here this little section has been removed from the Potential National Register area. It might have a Walmart on it. There might be something that so erased the readability of that battlefield that it’s just clear from driving around that there’s nothing left.  The determinations are based on windshield surveys, and to archeologists I know that’s not very welcoming.   These surveys can be done in a couple of days, where you get your defining features pulled together and you have your first look around.  It gives us a way to begin our understanding of the battlefield. Grants help us flush out a better understanding as we go.

How do we put this concept underwater?   We find the defining features, then we create the Battlefield Boundary.  We also show troop movements.  You can see depending on your old maps and features that might have looked differently in the past, and reflects this whole idea of using defining features. This is pretty consistent with National Register Bulletin #40; our system is just an elaboration.

All those defining features can actually be broken down even further.  We’ve found in battlefields that it’s important to use, again, the same language among different times periods in different parts of the country and different engagements.  All our defining features actually can fall within one of these five rubrics, and can be Key terrain or a key position.  Some people call Key terrain also a decisive location. It might be the way you know that you’ve reached your objective. If you’re told as a military unit to go take Hill #409, then Hill #409 is key terrain. It is your decisive position or your objective. Observation and fields of fire could be another type of defining feature.  I think some of you may have seen KOCOA analysis out there, where observation and field of fire has been considered in marine settings.  This can include looking around the corners of islands. Anybody who can do that’s really smart, but having that field of vision of being able to see or fire around the corners may really influence how that battlefield event turns out.

Being able to see through fog, being able to deal with weather, being able to deal with water current patterns and be another factor in considering battlefield outcomes. Conceal and cover are terms also within KOCOA could also be the reverse of what can be seen.  If you can’t be seen because of fog, or you can’t be seen because you’re around the corner of an island, then that’s concealment and cover.   I was on the plane once and I asked a military guy if he knew what KOCOA was, and of course they teach it in basic training. I wish I was smart enough to make  up the system myself.  The only thing I did was apply KOCOA to archeology.  When I have talked with modern day troops, I once asked the difference between Concealment and Cover, and I was told, “Well, if you’re concealed, the enemy can’t see to shoot you.  If you’re covered, the enemy can’t actually shoot you.” He said he’d pick cover every time.  I like that explanation.

Obstacles are those funny features that get in the way of mobility or movement.  A swamp can be an obstacle.  It can stop you from moving around on the battlefield.  In a marine setting it could be an obstacle of wind, it could be an obstacle of current, it could be an obstacle of getting into a river setting. The obstacles can be many, and in an avenue of approach is how did you get to the field of fire, or how did you get to that place of contest?  How did you get there, and when did you know it began, and when did it end, as the edges of the battlefield’s avenue of approach.

For all these principal battlefields, the 384 of them we’ve done with this KOCOA system, the 270-plus for the Rev War and War of 1812, we have those all in GIS.  I offered to Jimmy Moore with BOEM, if he thought that would be useful, we’d be happy to share all that GIS data so that you know where we think battlefields are right now. We can be helpful with that. You don’t have to do this from scratch, even though you might want to challenge our thoughts and our findings.

Here’s a way that we can rethink some of our underwater resources.  If you look at Credit Island in Iowa, look at where the most likely British gun position.   KOCOA ideas are imposed the known history to predict the gun location. Now, one thing we’re doing, and I got to give it to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, they have done something called a Reverse KOCOA. They don’t have the best written backgrounds for their engagements, but Kevin McBride actually took all five KOCOA principles and said, “Every battlefield has at least these.” Some defining features fall within a couple of the categories. He said, “What am I missing? Which KOCOA attributes am I missing?” He did a reverse KOCOA.  I think at Credit Island, Iowa, they did the same thing.  Looking for where the gun positions were based on what was missing.  KOCOA can help you with your predictive modeling, if you’re interested in doing that on battlefields.

You might say to me, “Kris, where can I find a list of battlefields that have had some basic research by our grant office?”  You can look online, and we have all of our grants listed.  You can look and see where our reports are for Revolutionary War and Civil War, and you can see GIS data maps online for the Civil War Principal Battlefields. Otherwise, you can contact me and I’m happy to get you some information.  Also, if you want to know where our program projects are, like the Charleston Harbor one I was just talking to you about, you can go back through the years of our previous grant winners and you can see a little three-line write-up and the dollar amount, and see what was proposed as far as doing research.

I suggest that we should be thinking outside the box.  For example, we have used heritage tours and projects with mapping for dive shops and PSA’s in tours in Saipan.  We’ve considered Kiska and Peleliu for island inventories, where we used both terrestrial and underwater resources.  At Kiska, we actually considered the resources of the air, because it was a firefight using airplanes. That’s a third dimension for airplane fights we have to think about. We’ve also done the handbook with the Lake Champlain folks, which is available.  I’ll step you through a couple of our good examples.

In Saipan, we’ve worked with Dr. T. Carrell and Dr. J. McKinnon, and Ships of Discovery.  It seemed the tourists were ripping off pieces of WWII tanks and taking them home. We came up with a heritage tourism trail to help the community.  We did a basic site inventory of materials underground, and we came up with posters and PSA’s in order to advise people not to rip stuff off.  We trained the dive shop owners in how to treat these archeological resources with respect, and I hope it’s turning out well.

On Peleliu, we had some basic problems with understanding the boundaries of the battlefield, partly because landowners were concerned.  We’ve done at least two archeological projects in order to work out ways into the community, to talk with folks about assuring them how important it is to protect what we’re finding.  We’ve used archaeologists in the back door of getting at issues of landscape and issues of local cultural folks, and the archeologists seem to like being used.

Valcour Bay has been working a dive program for years, and we have spent a couple of years supporting that effort.  We’re seed money, we’re not really meant for long-term preservation projects, but just to spark things.  We have sparked some research on the zebra mussels on the Spitfire. We have got our underwater manual up on our website, and we’ve done a compilation of some of the research from Valcour Bay.  We have additional resources.  We’ve done entire engagements, surveys for entire river settings, and regional inventories.  You can always ask me for a bibliography. Eligible sites are above ground and underground.

In sum, the ABPP can help with best practices, and we can even help potential applicants form grant requests. We have KOCOA Cheat Sheets and we have a submerged resource manual on how to do KOCOA on underwater battlefields. These are available through our office, including online. Although the staff is small, it is there to help.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
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Email: ncptt[at]
Phone: (318) 356-7444
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