- Altogether Fitting and Proper: Civil War Battlefield Preservation in History, Memory, and Policy by Timothy B. Smith
Timothy B. Smith's Altogether Fitting and Proper is a much-needed comprehensive and critical assessment of federal, state, local, and private efforts to preserve Civil War battlefields. In his study, Smith focuses on the individuals behind these various preservation efforts, weaving together three narrative themes: "outright preservation, federal historic preservation policy, and memory" (xvi).
Beginning with the efforts of Union and Confederate soldiers to mark battle sites and ending with the recent successes of the Civil War Trust to preserve historic sites, Smith recounts the one hundred fifty-year history of battlefield preservation. Smith emphasizes the generational aspect of battlefield preservation, thus highlighting the "cyclical process" of preservation (xx). In the opening chapter, he describes the earliest attempts [End Page 343] to preserve significant Civil War sites as soldiers, families, and visitors swarmed the battlefields soon after the fighting stopped. These early efforts marked historic sites and aided future preservation efforts. In subsequent chapters, Smith continues his focus on the generational aspect of battlefield preservation as veterans' efforts at the private and state levels gave way to national attempts to preserve these historic sites. Yet, as Smith makes clear, federal efforts at battlefield preservation were uneven and peaked during the New Deal period. With the end of the New Deal the federal government began to back away from battlefield preservation. After a resurgence of federal efforts during the Civil Rights era and the Civil War centennial, federal efforts dropped off in the late 1960s and remained low into the 1980s. In these periods, preservation efforts fell to individual states. For example, in 1971, Texas acquired the battlefield at Sabine Pass and designated it a state historic site managed by the Texas Historical Commission.
Smith's focus on the generational aspect of battlefield preservation is effective. It highlights the highly contextual character of battlefield preservation: each subsequent generation held different views on how and why to preserve Civil War battlefields. Moreover, those views were influenced by key events such as the advent of blue and gray reunions and the rise of imperialism in the 1890s, the events surrounding the centennial and sesquicentennial of the war, and the increase in public interest in the Civil War resulting from productions like Ken Burns's documentary The Civil War and James M. McPherson's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Battle Cry of Freedom.
The generational focus also allows Smith to focus on key individuals in battlefield preservation efforts, emphasizing the importance of dynamic leaders such as Jim Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust (CWT). From 2000 to 2015, the CWT on average saved more than two-thousand acres of historic battlefields annually. Much of the CWT's success is due to the leadership of Lighthizer. As Smith reflects in his concluding chapter, future preservation efforts will depend on individuals like Lighthizer; if his leadership is not carried forward, Smith argues, the significant successes of the CWT will disappear, and future historians will "lament the Civil War Trust as yet another of the capable but temporary organizations on the larger preservation scene" (227).
Altogether Fitting and Proper is an important contribution to the field of Civil War history and the preservation of its battlefields. It appears at an especially opportune time, as public debates about the memorialization, preservation, and interpretation of the Civil War continue to intensify. [End Page 344]