Piece by Piece: The Restoration of Battleground National Cemetery
Battleground National Cemetery, established in 1864 as a result of being chosen by Abraham Lincoln, is located on Georgia Avenue, NW, in Washington DC. Designated as the final resting place for forty-one of the soldiers killed during the Battle of Fort Stevens (July 11-12, 1864), Battleground National Cemetery is one of the smallest National Cemeteries in existence. Managed by Rock Creek Park as one of its administrative units, the cemetery is one of only 14 managed by the National Park Service. Despite the management challenges of having the cemetery being geographically separated from Rock Creek Park proper, the site itself is in reasonably good condition and well preserved. Although it had been identified as being one of the most endangered historic places in Washington, DC by the DC Preservation Leagues in 2005, the one-acre cemetery and its main features are intact. The headstones and monuments have not been vandalized, cast iron plagues have been left in tact and there is no graffiti found any place on the site. With the exception of the recent theft of a “US National Cemetery” sign at the main entrance, volunteers working with Rock Creek Park staff and the vigilant eyes of the neighbors have helped in protecting the cemetery when interpretative rangers are not on site.
Despite these positives in a difficult environment, the cemetery has suffered in the past from a lack of a holistic approach to maintaining the site. The headstone were crooked and sinking, as well as being barely legible as a result of biological growth. The ornamental, cast iron flagpole and base had suffered extensive degradation as a result of pieces being lost either by theft or heavy corrosion causing the pieces to fall. The Rostrum, constructed in 1921, was suffering from extensive damage due to a leaking roof. The detailing on the plaques were worn away and made it difficult for visitors to read the inscriptions. The four granite monuments, dedicated to the regiments that participated in the battle, were in need of conservation treatment. The Superintendent’s Lodge, a Montgomery Meigs design executed in 1871, enlarged in 1873 with an addition from the 1930s, had been vacated and in need of rehabilitation.
In 2005, the National Park Service, with the help of the National Capital Regional architectural conservator and Rock Creek Park maintenance staff began working to improve the appearance of the site. Regular mowing and trash collection became a priority. Treatment was carried out on the four granite monuments. A cemetery preservation volunteer day, utilizing local groups, reset and cleaned the 28 Civil war era headstones. In anticipation of the upcoming Sesquicentennial, National Park Service staff has developed a systematic approach to tackling some of the larger projects that will allow Battleground National Cemetery to be brought back to the condition it so rightfully deserves. Several projects are currently underway that will rehabilitate, restore, and interpret the site for visitors and to honor those buried there. Conservation treatment projects for the 70 foot flagpole and its ornamental base, the 1880 war department plaques that contain the Bivouac of the Dead poem and cemetery rules and regulations, the cast iron plague inscribed with the Gettysburg address and another national cemetery bronze plague began in 2009. In spring 2009, Architectural and Engineering construction documents were completed for the rehabilitation of the Superintendent’s Lodge and Rostrum. The rehabilitation project has been chosen as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and is slated to begin by September 2010. The final piece of the holistic approach to returning Battleground National Cemetery to its rightful condition is the installation of wayside exhibits to correctly interpret the importance of the cemetery as well as the story of the mislabeled headstones. An exhaustive investigation by an interpretative ranger on staff uncovered the fact that five of the headstones incorrectly identify the man buried in the grave. For the first time in almost 150 years, these men will now be known to the public.
As a result of these various efforts executed across different disciplines, Battleground National Cemetery will once again be the condition expected of the hallowed ground of a National Cemetery.
Regional Architectural Conservator
National Park Service – National Capital Region
Simone Monteleone Moffett
Cultural Resource Specialist
National Park Service-Rock Creek Park