Wars Commission Grants: Saving Battlefields and Interpreting Military History

Image of Shaping a Nation Exhibit at the James K. Polk Home
"Shaping a Nation: Tennessee Volunteers and the Mexican American War" 2022 exhibit at Columbia’s James K. Polk Home.
Image of reenactors at Parkers Crossroads
Re-enactors at Parkers Crossroads work to attach a cannon to a limber for transport.

By Nina Scall, TWC Director of Programs

The Tennessee Wars Commission, a division of the THC, administers two grant funds each year that make key contributions to saving threatened battlefield properties provide an understanding of our state’s military heritage from period of the French and Indian War through the end of the Civil War. These grants, the Wars Commission Grant Fund (WCGF) and the Civil War Sites Preservation Grant Fund (CWSPF) support the Wars Commission’s preservation initiatives and help to preserve and promote the structures, buildings, sites, cemeteries, and battlefields of Tennessee. The THC/TWC awarded $641,372 in funding from the Civil War Sites Preservation Fund in 2022, and Wars Commission grants totaled $114,220.

Civil War Sites Preservation Fund

This year the Commission awarded funding to help ensure that two tracts in Chattanooga will be preserved forever. The Braddock Tract at the Chattanooga and Wauhatchie Battlefields will be preserved with the help of the American Battlefield Trust and the American Battlefield Protection Program. The 2.28-acre tract is in the core area of the Chattanooga Battlefield and the study area of the Wauhatchie Battlefield. Additionally, this tract is located within the study area of the Chickamauga Towns Battlefield, a Revolutionary War battlefield. The Braddock Tract is adjacent to the approximately 300-acre Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center, a recently acquired easement held by THC. Additionally, the Braddock Tract is also adjacent to the approximately 7.6-acre Burns Tract, which is the second acquisition of the 2022 grant cycle. The Tennessee Historical Commission will hold the conservation easement on both 2022 acquisitions. The American Battlefield Trust in Washington, DC was awarded $292,500.00 towards this acquisition.

The Burns Tract at the Chattanooga Battlefield has been preserved with the help of the American Battlefield Trust and the American Battlefield Protection Program. The approximately 7.6-acre tract is in the core area of the Chattanooga battlefield and the study area of the Wauhatchie Battlefield. Additionally, this parcel is located within the study area of the Chickamauga Towns Battlefield. The Burns Tract is adjacent to previously preserved lands and is positioned across Lookout Creek from a portion of the Lookout Mountain Battlefield that is already protected within Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. The American Battlefield Trust was awarded $348,872.19 for the acquisition of this parcel.

Wars Commission Grant Fund

1. The American Battlefield Trust (ABT) was awarded $50,000.00 to create The Road to Freedom Project which will feature both a brochure and map as well as a mobile application that explores Tennessee historic sites across 24 counties associated with the Black experience during the Civil War era. This project will enable visitors to experience the power of place and uncover compelling stories of strife, growth, and community by surfacing concepts of empowerment and self-emancipation. Locations featured in the project will range from Civil War Trails interpretative signs and historic highway markers to museums, cemeteries, and battlefields with permanent installations related to Black history. This interactive experience will elevate the visitor experience, making these sites come alive by introducing voices of the past in the places that shaped American History.

2. The Beech Grove Confederate Memorial Association was awarded $500.00 to repair broken tombstones and to reset approximately 20 leaning and sunken tombstones that commemorate the soldiers who were reburied after the Battle of Hoover’s Gap, the principal battle in the Tullahoma Campaign on June 24, 1863.

3. The James K. Polk Memorial Association was awarded $11,200.00 to design and install a long-term temporary exhibit titled “Shape the Nation,” on the 11th President, James K. Polk, and the Mexican-American War. The effects of the War on politics and the structure of America are massive and create an opportunity for further examination in an exhibit of this scale. The exhibit, open until August 2023, features artifacts and historic documents, from the Tennessee State Library and Archives the Polk Home, and The Tennessee State Museum, and contains interactive components for visitors of all ages.

4. Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) was awarded $30,385.00 to contract an assistant to thoroughly clean, stabilize, sort, identify, record, catalog, and accession the artifacts recovered in archaeological excavations from 2017 to the present at the Bass Street community associated with Fort Negley in Davidson County. The Bass Street community grew out of the contraband camps and became the first post-Emancipation African American neighborhood in Nashville and provides a unique window into the lives of the Civil War and Reconstruction era African Americans in the southern United States. After cataloging the artifacts, the project will photograph, scan, and digitize the artifacts, making them available to the public via a website and in an exhibit located at the Fort Negley Visitor's Center Museum.

5. Parkers Crossroads Battlefield, Parkers Crossroads, a state-owned battlefield park, was awarded $15,500.00 to purchase a reproduction limber to display alongside their two caissons with limbers on the battlefield. The battlefield park will explore the relationship between the field artillery pieces and the role artillery played in the battle at Parkers Crossroads. A limber is a two-wheeled cart designed to support the trail of an artillery piece or the stock of a field carriage such as a caisson or traveling forge, allowing it to be towed. The limber was attached to a cannon or caisson and typically pulled by four to six horses and contained one chest. When the artillery piece was in action, its limber was stored at the rear of the firing line.

6. Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) was awarded $6,822.00 to hire an intern to support ongoing efforts to understand the impact of the Union Army occupation on Nashville from 1862 to 1865. By locating lists of the deceased published in Nashville newspapers during this period, staff will identify contrabands who were pressed into service by the Union Army to build Fort Negley as well as citizen prisoners, government employees, confederate soldiers, and members of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). Additionally, this information will be helpful for descendants and genealogical researchers as they investigate the history of their ancestors. All the information will be loaded into a new database that will be included in the Genealogy Index of the Tennessee State Library & Archives.