Kristen McMasters: I’m with the American Battlefield Protection Program. We are part of the National Park Service. We’re an external program, and we have been tasked over the years with figuring out battlefield landscapes. We started in the 1990’s with our own legislation, and basically we’re told what to do by Congress. No surprise there. We’re asked to assist institutions, governments, basically nonprofits with understanding their battlefield resources in order to preserve and protect them.
We are unbashfully preservationists who are specifically looking at battlefield resources. My talk to day will completely be limited to just the time period of the engagement. The good thing is though it could be any engagement. It could be Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican American War, as long as it is on American soil, it is an engagement that our program, as an external program, can engage in helping save and protect.
A quick overview of the history of our program. We started with our program giving grants in 1996. By 1998 we had gotten money for land and water conservation funds, and we started buying Civil War lands. To date we have almost … We’ve spent over 87 million dollars on purchasing land in order to protect their landscape attributes, archaeological, historical, and landscape attributes.
In 2003, we started working with Section 106 compliance assistance, and it really helped us crystallize how we look at battlefields, and how we don’t parse out archaeology from landscape, or history from landscape. We really look at protecting through Secton 106 all of those attributes. We started looking at wars for their understanding in total. We did a Civil War study in 1993. By 2007 we completed studies on the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 where essentially we looked at the history and the landscape, and said what’s left, what was here, what’s here now? We’re in the midst of completing a nationwide study over Civil War battlefields to update them from the last time we worked on them.
We now have a pretty good database of over almost 400 Civil War battlefields where we’ve mapped them, and we’ve done the history, and we know who won, and we know what the casualty rates are of almost 300 Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites. Incidentally, as we have gone through our grants, Mexican-American War sites, a couple dozen of those, and various wars throughout time. The King Philip’s War, the Seven Years’ War, other engagements … Indian Wars throughout the U.S. We’ve learned that some battlefields make it, and some don’t. You don’t want your battlefield to look like this “Welcome Brandywine” and here’s a bunch of houses.
We’re really looking at battlefields and how to save them. That’s all we care about is getting out there, and saving those battlefields. We have a specific understanding of our battlefields and a specific philosophy for our program. We look at battlefields as cultural landscapes first, and foremost. I’ve morphed a little over time. I used to sort of tell people when I go into communities they’re like grandma’s quilt. They’ve got various areas where they have pockets of resources and pockets of archaeology. I don’t believe that anymore. I look at battlefields now as seamless landscapes. Yeah, there’s integrity issues in places, but I don’t look at them as quilts.
They’re now spun fabric that’s seamless. It’s just some areas had different use, or were utilized in a different way, such that they each had their different role. Each had unique history. Each have unique resources. Each are within a unique community, and have treated these landscapes differently over time. Local advocacy is one of the few cookie cutter things I can say that’s just essential to every battlefield. If you don’t have local advocates, your battlefields don’t survive long because you don’t have anybody voicing their protection.
Now, let me talk a little bit more about defining a battlefield for you. They are places where fire was given, or exchanged. That leaves out a lot of old military stuff. That leaves out your depots, your hospitals, your headquarters. We’re tasked with battlefields that’s all we save are battlegrounds. That has to be a place of contest, a place of conflict and engagement. I get it that there’s a lot of old military stuff out there that’s super cool, but unless there’s a fight over it, our program doesn’t have the legislative background to get out there and save those landscapes. We’re only looking at battlefields.
Now, they can be through all time periods. In the United States, it doesn’t have to actually be in 50 states, right? We can work in Guam, we can work in the Virgin Islands, we can work with the [Dutch] and the British having a fight in [inaudible] in the Virgin Islands. We can work in the territories, but we have to stay on U.S. controlled soils. We have worked at Saipan, we’ve worked at Palau on World War II sites at [inaudible]. We have a variety of types of sites we can work at.
Maybe you’ve seen this before, this is sort of the leveling, looking at multi layers through history. You’ve got the modern today landscape that we acknowledge. You have the collaborative landscape. You may have the base terrain kind of the prehistoric level. I’m an archaeologist in training so I’m always interested in all these layers through time. Our program, however, is looking at the battlefield layer. That is our time period. That’s where we focus in. I don’t want to say that’s all we care about because I know there are other commemorative stuff that’s real important, but it’s what our program has to really fixate its focus on in order to save these battlefield layers. That’s the sweet spot for us.
All right so we look at basic steps to save any battlefield landscape, and we insist on really good historical research as your basis. We insist on great survey, and inventory. We feel like if you don’t do that, if you don’t know what you have, how in the world are you going to figure out how to save it. It’s critical to know what you have.
It’s also really important to register these sites. We use the National Register criteria. We try, and use that lingo throughout as we’re insisting people get out there, and register their landscapes. Then we can begin supporting resource planning and interpretation. There’s no point inviting the public onto your site if you don’t know what you’re protecting. That’s always where you have the most important feature and you put your parking lot on top of it because you’re so eager to invite people into your landscape, to introduce them to how important it is.
All right so we have lots of examples of the kind of research that we support. We have two grant programs. One grant program purchases land at a 50% match. The other grant program supplies planning documents. We can do historic overviews. We can do a landscape analysis, or KOCOA analysis, which I’m going to talk to you a little more about, and introduce to you the concepts of KOCOA. We can do research designs for archaeology, for landscape. Inventory research designs for figuring out traffic studies, for example, and how to protect these battlefields. We did one at Chancellorsville to calm the traffic down so that our landscape stayed in better shape. We can do viewshed analysis, and we can help you with that research design. We complete archaeological projects. We even work on submerged battlefields. We can work underwater. These all should eventually lead into a great preservation plan that really keeps the character defining features saved for the long term in perpetuity.
All right, so I guess I want to transition now into talking a little bit more about mapping battlefields with this concept of KOCOA. This is a survey and inventory method we use throughout the nation on all battlefields. I actually judge, now, research when I see it, whether it’s compliance or university setting. If they’re not using KOCOA, immediately I know they’re on step behind. This concept is one that’s now woven into state regulation of how to do survey and inventory. The state of Virginia insists that if you’re going to work on battlefields you need to do KOCOA as part of its base documentation towards Section 106. It’s really just sort of an organizing approach to the landscape where it takes defining features within a studying core area. It associates those features with actual activity and use of the engagement, and can help you figure out where you need further documentation. Where are the holes in your research, and help you go forward into better preservation planning.
Let’s talk about how to do KOCOA, and what does that all mean. Since it is our survey methodology, we of course have a manual. Doesn’t everybody? I will spare you having to go through the manual. You can get a copy from me, just email me, and I will send it to you. We use it in all time periods. It’s basic, and easy. We’ve used it with volunteers and grantees, but it’s only useful on battlefields. I found very few other settings where this approach works. There are cheat sheets available, just two page cheat sheets to make your life a little easier, and it lays out the essentials of KOCOA. It tells you how to do it.
All right, so now let’s talk really quickly about defining features. Defining features, are those spots in the ground where something happened? That’s about as basic and easy as you can get. Something on the ground happened, it becomes a defining feature. Look at your defining features of your battlefield, and you draw a circle around your defining features. You can’t have a battlefield feature happen outside of the battlefield, that makes no sense. You want to be surgical around your defining features from your historic documentations. That is your boundary for your battlefield. We call that a study area. I know that’s awkward, but it’s just the term that we started fifteen years ago, twenty years ago. It is the full extent of the battlefield.
If you want to understand the heaviest engagement areas, we call those core areas. We felt in the 90’s we needed to talk about core areas because our partners, and our volunteers didn’t know where to start preserving and protecting their battlefields. We would always say, “Well, start with the core, or that area that experienced the bloodiest hours, or the fiercest engagements.” To people who understand the National Register, the core area is not necessarily equivalent to highest significance. Let me give you just a quick example. Most engagements people want to know where that first shot happened. They want to know where that first shot happened at the Ephraim House at Gettysburg. You might start your tour there in order to understand the battlefield, but that’s not where the heaviest fighting happened. The Ephraim House is not included in the core. Don’t make that mistake of making equal cores and significance. It’s just a way to tell people where to start preserving and protecting their battlefield.
Finally, you may look at your study area and your core, and you may realize there are parts that no longer hold integrity and not make it on the National Register. We would only know this from a windshield survey. What we would do is just pull out that area that has potential. The potential National Register area of integrity. We would leave pieces of the study area out because they may have a Walmart on them, or something that’s just obliterated their understanding for people. They just couldn’t come back from the dead. They were a trooper, and look around, and see if they could understand the battle from that corner. The partner, or the area of integrity is the area that we would tell people you need to try and save, both the core and the study area.
All right, so let’s parse it out even further. We’re going to be looking for these defining features. We’re going to be looking through primary, and secondary sources. Many of you have good understanding of history and how to look in historic records to find defining features. You’ll want to go through those records. Often what I do is I go through three or four accounts, and I highlight them and pull those defining features, and if you see something that’s repeating itself, you’re going to call that a key defining feature. Those would be the ones you can locate on the ground. That fence, that road, that fork in the path, that rock where Turkey Foot stood and commanded. Those place are your defining features. If you see them over and over again in your historic records, they’re probably key defining features.
A good KOCOA analysis won’t have every single place that anyone stood. It will have the key defining features. In some battlefields that’s anywhere from maybe a dozen to three dozen spots on the ground. Those defining features will fall within these five attributes of KOCOA. They will be either key terrain, observation and fields of fire, concealment and cover, obstacles, or avenues of approach. They sometimes have more than one character, but these five headings for the defining features almost always fit the defining features in one way, or another. You will be able to take your defining feature, and put it within these five attributes of a battlefield. I invite anybody who can’t figure one of those attributes out to come to me, and I’ve talked about this for years, and nobody’s ever come to me so I got the feeling they can fit in somehow. All right. I’ll just say, once again, they can sometimes have more than one attribute. There may be one attribute that’s sort of the principle part of that key defining attribute.
Let’s talk about these in more depth. Let’s talk about what is key terrain. It’s any local feature that may dominate the immediate surroundings by relief, or some other quality. It could be the high ground. It could be the place of observation. It could be a transportation choke point. It typically offers control of your local objectives. It could be Hill 409, for instance, go get Hill 409. That’s your key, your decisive landscape feature. That is your key defining feature. As I said, there may be a couple of those, but you’ll know it from your understanding of the historic records – what are the key terrain that must be controlled for this engagement? What are people ready to die over is those spots. These are working spots. It’s got nothing to do with aesthetics, or scenery. It’s spots that control, or dominate. Here are some defining features [visual of written history] and we could go through this if we had a little more time, and pick out those key terrain defining features of the Battle of Monmouth.
Next, let’s talk about observation, or for some people it’s easier to understand field of fire. What’s the ability to see the enemy? How can you judge their strength, prevent surprise, respond to threats? How far does your weapon work effectively? Where’s the dead ground? I love to use this definition because it has a lot to do with observation. It’s like what can you see to make this work? What does command see? How is that different maybe between the troops and command? How far do your weapons actually work? You may be able to see further than your weapons work, or maybe vice versa in World War II sites. In dead ground you might have a lot of shrapnel and a lot of shell shatter and a lot of grape shot. A lot of artifacts, high density, but that may not correlate with significance.
Just this morning I was having a conversation about Ball’s Bluff and a specific piece of ground that was within this viewshed of Fort Evans that had a low density of artifacts. So what? Nobody was shooting there, just because it doesn’t have many artifacts doesn’t mean it’s low in significance. If you understand how this battlefield works, you could practically predict that. You wouldn’t take that ground right in the observation point of that fort, and say it’s unimportant because it doesn’t have a bunch of objects. It shouldn’t have a bunch of objects. If there’s a bunch of objects there a problem. It should change your ideas of what’s important on a battlefield as far as density goes. The density model of finding all kinds of loot, all kinds of items in the battlefield, making those pieces of ground important completely negates this working side of the landscape. This view, and this observation, and how the guns worked. It’s a little revolutionary maybe.
Here’s a siege at Corinth, and here’s the field of fire. This suddenly should make the landscape look very different as far as significance, and how it fits in the battlefield, and how it can be assessed. Now, where the Federals and Confederates shot, the cross over area is the dead zone. Again, JF can be very helpful and historic documents. Sometimes it’s just getting out there though and looking at the ground. It will help you predict how many items your archaeology friends will be finding in the ground, but it may not help those folks figure out significance. They will be finding a lot of stuff in the cross area, but the critical spots may be without hardly any artifacts at all. This is actually a tough fight to make with regulators in Section 106. It’s very tough to convince them these parts are really important, but when you look at the landscape as working, as having to function under battle, the landscape takes on a much more critical view and understanding of viewshed.
Let’s talk about concealment and cover. Concealment is where you just can’t see the enemy. You don’t know what their approach is. It’s protection from observation. It could be forest or ravines and dense vegetation. Cover is actual protection from enemy fire. Ditches, entrenchments, create a cover. If you ask anybody in the military who learns these KOCOA principles as part of basic training, they all know this. Ask anybody in uniform if they know KOCOA or some form of the letters in order. They will tell you over, and over again they would want cover instead of concealment, because cover stops bullets. Concealment just shields eyes, but you can still get killed through concealment. Cover stops bullets, okay?
Now, there are all kinds of ways that we use to discuss the density of cover and concealment. We can talk about restricted and unrestricted views. We have a whole bunch of details on how to do that and you’d see that in the manual. Basically cover limits the field of fire, that’s the descriptor difference.
Obstacles are really important to understand on your battlefield. Obstacles are natural or can be manmade terrain features that prevent or impede the military movement. It can be towns, or steep slopes, rivers, lakes, forests, swamps. The presence of these obstacles can determine whether a terrain is restricted, unrestricted, or severely restricted. Again, this is how armies move across the landscape. Again, there’s a real working element here. It’s got nothing to do with what you can see, and not see. It’s how you can move. How you actually use that three dimensional space.
We’re going to next look at some views. I’d like you to just take a minute and reflect on what you see as far as KOCOA, and as far as observation and movement, actual obstacles. You have Harpers Ferry to the upper right, and you have obstacles of the river, you have those hills, and they can make a real difference on how the army can move. If you look to the lower view you can see the [inaudible] and the entrenchments, again, creating real obstacles. Less visual observation however. All these historic views can help you on a very micro level understand these KOCOA attributes, and on a larger macro level like up in the upper right Harpers Ferry. It can very much limit your observation, create obstacles, lay out your key terrain, and help you really understand those areas of command.
Lastly, I want to talk about avenues of approach. Avenues of approach are just critical because, until very recently, people didn’t helicopter into their battlefield. They made it in on train, or on foot, or on animal, but somehow there was a mobility corridor to bring the battle to that place, to those deciding features. It’s really critical to understand those avenues of approach. They may have been limited somehow by observation. It might be a minor thing, but more often it’s terrain conditions that dictate mobility. It may be over a road. Imagine over a causeway or a bridge, but the size of an attacking unit is completely limited by the brunt, and difficulty of its avenue of approach. It’s just a critical factor in understanding how the armies were able to move, and how you can assess what’s important. For example, we were talking about [inaudible] Bridge up at [inaudible] that makes that area have a particular area of approach character defining feature that’s critical to understand.
All right so take a view of this historic map. It shows not only the road network of the town, which would change your avenue of approach, it shows the [inaudible], which again, would dictate your avenues of approach. Suddenly, I hope you’re looking at these defining features and changing how you understand the military moves towards engagement, engages, and then how the heck they get out of there. This is also a matter of retreat. Avenues of approach have an implicit avenues of retreat involved when we say them. You’ve got to get off the field somehow. Sometimes you’re getting off the field real fast.
All right so we had an old think way of looking at battlefields at one time. This is Aldie in Virginia. It is a part of several engagements. Aldie was fought just before Gettysburg, and we had that kind of squiggle box line approach to understanding the battlefield. Without the terrain even. That’s the way we would record things. We kind of amped it up in recent years to putting it on a topo map, and maybe even using GIS to understand these character defining features. You know, using KOCOA analysis you can push it ahead even more. You can look at the old think with blobs on the ground, with no real avenues of approach. You can put your battlefield in kind of a fence like that, which I think is just abhorrent, or you can look at a newer philosophy. Look at your defining features. Let them help you understand your battlefield. Look at the real extent of a place like Aldie. Suddenly you get a much different view of what that battlefield really is. It’s a lot more roads. People don’t like to hear this out of us. There’s a lot more roads, and the roads are still there. You can still understand them. You have your core again in the dark green, and your study area in the light green. It’s all bounded by really easily defendable boundaries.
What does this do? If you look at three engagements like Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, and you apply the same principles of redoing your KOCOA, re-understanding your landscape, meshing them together. You have the old orange blobs, but our new understanding of the battlefields, and it’s a much greater area to preserve and protect. It’s features we didn’t think of before that really require attention like the roads. It really sets us up for being able to defend our decisions to want to fix folks in a much more cogent and direct way.
Imagine this can be done for the Revolutionary War as well. It can be done for earlier Indian Wars. Same principles, but suddenly you have a lot more attributes than landscape to protect. More archaeology, more historic architecture, more understanding of the way terrain lays. Suddenly buying battlefields before we didn’t care so much about civil culture. Now we really care, because it can really do a lot of damage to the way the land lays.
We really have to be more careful and more cognizant of what requires preservation and protection in battlefields, and really how important those viewsheds were. We now start thinking more and more outside the box. This battlefield is so sad. That’s what we were taken to when we asked to see the [inaudible] Battlefield, just this little box. We think now outside the box much bigger. With Lake Minnesota one way we were able to find the tribal Indian fighting grounds was by looking for the burned turf of the village, and then we could key off all our understandings from that burned turf. Cut the ground and look underneath. Very little archaeology and nothing disturbing required.
We now don’t look at density models the way we used to. We now look at things like roads as significant. We recently had a National Register nomination be accepted for Short Hills in New Jersey, mostly based on the roads. The roads are still in the same type of configuration. We look at something called reverse KOCOA with the Pequoits in Connecticut. They understand their wars the Pequoits [inaudible] Indians, but they don’t have all the historic documents. What they do is they apply KOCOA to what they have, find the defining features for what they understand, and then reverse the battle to include all five characteristics and figure out where those other features are. They’ve been very successful in finding things that have literally no historic documentation. KOCOA works on the water, believe it, or not. We have a manual on submerged resources and how you can use these same five principles in naval engagements, and naval and land engagements. Lastly, we’ve been trying to use KOCOA for even World War II overhead engagements. How do you think about protecting the air in those dog fights. We’re just beginning to work on that. Using it in the third dimension is really fascinating with the airplanes.
How do we do that? We do that a lot with grants. We work a lot with communities and do grants, and I welcome you if you know of anybody outside the National Park Service who needs a grant, they can call us. We don’t grant inside the parks, but outside the parks we do technical assistance however inside the parks. We’re happy to observe, to talk to you about best practices with battlefields, give you advice on adjacent lands, and friends groups who can apply, and suggest possible projects for battlefields. We work very closely with a lot of battlefields in the National Park Service to help them with adjacent land preservation.
These are contacts, people on our staff, you can get ahold of. If there’s any way we can help you preserve, and protect the battlefields, we’re more than willing.
Pat: Hi, it’s Pat [inaudible]. I have a question about more contemporary battles. Have you dealt, or thought about at all riots of the ’60s, or you said “fire must be given or exchanged,” did you actually mean gunfire or did you mean actual engagement?
Kristen: We do mean actual engagement and gun fire, and we unfortunately don’t look at massacres or 9/11 or Oklahoma City.
Pat: [inaudible] didn’t mean that, I meant race riots from the ’60s where people actually engaged with each other or Kent State for example. I know that is in NHL already, but would it be considered a battlefield?
Kristen: Not be, because the students were not firing back, and in fact we’ve tightened up our definitions to being governmental entities, so even the race or the riots in Baltimore during the Civil War are not considered battlefields, it has to be actual government entities, otherwise it is civil disobedience.
Pat: Okay. I just want to let you know that when we did the Stonewall National Register nomination, we did use the battlefield model because it gave us a way to analyze things that happened on the street that moved around, that people went one way because of this, just because of some of the things you meant, you know obstacles and viewpoints and all stuff like that. We did use that method of analysis to analyze the “battleground.”
Kristen: I’d love to tell you there are actually several examples where we’ve done it cheating, like Blair Mountain, where a lot of the union activists were actually World War veterans, so they had understanding of strategy and set up a sharpshooters nest, and had fields of fire. I have to admit KOCOA gets used outside of the battlefield setting. Another example I can think of is at the Wilderness McGowans camp was laid out in three or four months anticipation of the Union troops coming down, and they were completely laid out so that they could trap the Union troops coming down. They were not in an encampment that was engaged until the last minute, but they were lying in wait for that whole time during the winter. You can understand their encampment using KOCOA in wait. They were waiting, and we did KOCOA on that.
That’s unusual that the attributes of a battlefield could be understood in non-battlefield situations, and so that’s why I’m very conservative and I just say this can be applied to battlefields. If you can use it in other settings, more power to you, that’s terrific.
Pat: Okay, but you wouldn’t consider … But it only has to be governments against governments?
Kristen: For us to use our funding in our grant program, that is a stipulation. For us to technically advise you if you were doing a project that used KOCOA and you called me up and said, “I want some help,” I’m sure I’m happy to help you.
Pat: Okay, thanks.