FREDERICK – The site of the Civil War “battle that saved Washington” now needs Washington to return the favor, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said Thursday.
The Monocacy Battlefield — within shouting distance of Interstate 270 to the west and Frederick to the north — could become a victim of urban sprawl unless Congress steps in and buys the last parcel of private land, which sits in the middle of 1,200 acres of national park property, Babbitt said.
“The Civil War was the event which defined who we are,” Babbitt said. “We have an opportunity to do something important. These opportunities come maybe once in a generation.”
The Clinton administration asked for $1.5 million for a down payment on the 260-acre farm that sits “like a big doughnut hole” in the middle of the battlefield, said Susan W. Trail, assistant superintendent for Antietam and Monocacy National Parks. But Congress has offered $500,000, said Babbitt at a news conference on the battleground.
The Monocacy funding is part of a $20 million administration request to save Civil War battlefields across the country. Congress has budgeted about $9.5 million, said an aide to Babbitt.
Babbitt, joined by state Sen. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick, and other local officials, said Congress is moving too slowly on the Monocacy purchase. He guessed the government would have about three years to buy the farm before it is sold to private interests.
“We’re in a race against time,” he said. “But the rate at Congress is responding, this is going to take 10 or even 20 years.”
But Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said he had not heard of the farm before, and he was skeptical that it was worth buying. Bartlett said it might be better for the National Park Service to buy an easement, preventing development of the property.
“They’ve been buying land down there for a long time,” Bartlett said. “If this was all that important, why didn’t they buy it earlier?”
The farm in question was the scene of the pivotal part of the battle, said B.F. Cooling, a professor of grand strategy and mobilization at the National Defense University.
About two-thirds of the 1,700 casualties in the Battle of Monocacy occurred on the farm, where Cpl. Alexander Scott won a Medal of Honor for saving his regiment’s national flag from capture.
Without the Battle of Monocacy, Confederate forces would have reached Washington a day earlier and likely would have captured it, Cooling said. The delay allowed Union forces to fortify the capital.
“[The Battle of Monocacy] was a small battle, but it was a pivotal one,” Cooling said.
Trail said it was important to preserve the entire battlefield.
“The Civil War was an event that really determined our national identity,” she said. “It’s a way to honor the men who sacrificed their lives to keep the union together.”
“This is sacred ground,” he said.