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Arkansas residents seek to preserve Civil War battlefield

September 17, 2018

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — A group of local residents is looking to preserve a Civil War battlefield in Sebastian County.

Mark Christ, community outreach director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, recently spoke to members of a grass-roots group interested in preserving the Devil’s Backbone Battlefield outside Greenwood in south Sebastian County at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Fort Smith. One of the members of the group, Donna Goldstein, said it is possible the remaining portion of Devil’s Backbone Mountain Ridge that is not privately owned will be sold and something will be built on that site.

Christ said Arkansas was the site of more than 770 offensive military operations during the Civil War. Only three other states, Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri, saw more military activity between 1861 and 1865. Virtually every community in Arkansas was affected by the war in some way. The Battle of Devil’s Backbone took place on Sept. 1, 1863.

There have been some preservation activities concerning the Devil’s Backbone Battlefield over the years, Christ said.

“Back in the early ’90s, the federal government fought the Third Battle of Manassas when a developer was going to ... put a shopping mall on part of the Second Manassas Battlefield,” Christ said.

Christ said Congress intervened and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase the land, but then it formed a Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, which had the duty of mapping about 373 Civil War battlefields all over the country. This included 17 in Arkansas, one of which was the Devil’s Backbone Battlefield.

There was an attempt to list the battlefield on the National Register of Historic Places around 1994, Christ said. However, there was extensive property owner opposition to that project, so it was abandoned.

“The next thing that happened was in 2008, somebody approached ... what was then the Civil War Preservation Trust about having 10 acres available for sale, so they ended up purchasing that, and they own that to this day,” Christ said.

The current opportunity that has come up, Christ said, is 21 acres for sale adjacent to that 10.7 acres the trust acquired in 2008, the Southwest Times Record reported.

“The land was appraised at $91,000, and ... basically, the way it generally works is any battlefield that’s from that ’93 sites advisory commission report is eligible for (a) matching grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program of the National Park Service,” Christ said. “So between their half of the $91,000 and whatever money the trust has available ... they need to raise $40,000 in order to match that grant and put that property under preservation.”

If the property is not acquired, Christ said there is a possibility the owner of the property will build on it, which will result in it being lost as pristine battlefield property.

Christ said there is great economic development potential for Civil War battlefields because they attract heritage tourists.

“They tend to be older, better educated,” Christ said. “They make more, spend more, stay longer. They’re the kind of folks that you want to bring into your community to visit your heritage tourism sites.”

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Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/

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