Historic battlefields all over the world are under threat. There is a constant stream of plans and applications from developers to nibble away at the edges of even our most famous military clashes. These are a few that I’ve seen since starting this blog, and the status of their fight against the developers.
|Successfully defended, so far.||A Royalist victory outside Bradford in the English Civil War. The Parliamentarians (3-4,000) took on the Royal forces (10,000) at Adwalton Moor and lost. The site is on the Battlefields Register and lies within the ‘green belt’. In 2018, a pub on the edge of the site erected two large marquees (for weddings & special events) without planning permission, on land behind the pub’s car park. When objections were raised, they applied retrospectively for planning permission, which they were denied in July 2019. Historic England and the Battlefields Trust argued that the marquees harm the special heritage of the battlefield and could “jeopardise” future archaeological works. The case went to appeal and lost in Feb 2020, leaving the pub with a month to remove the offending marquees.|
|Agincourt (1415, France)||Probably already lost||One of the most famous battles in English history. Henry V’s weary band of 6-9,000 men, mostly archers, seemed destined for annihilation when they faced between 12-36,000 French soldiers, mostly knights, at Agincourt. The rest, as they say, is history.
Despite protests, developers were already building access roads and sub-stations in 2018 for a set of wind turbines around Agincourt and neighbouring villages.
|Bosworth (1485, England)||Lost||
The Battle of Bosworth was the deciding clash of the Wars of the Roses, when the resulting death of England’s last Plantagenet king, Richard III of York, led to the start of the Tudor dynasty under the victor, Henry Tudor.
Now (Dec 2019), once again, Bosworth is under threat from a new set of developers wanting to build a mini estate of six houses on the edge of the Bosworth battlefield. Unfortunately, the precedent has already been set – it’s ok to rip up our heritage here.
|Champion Hill (1863, Mississippi, USA)||Not under specific threat and gradually coming under the protective care of Vicksburg.||
In May 1863 Union forces under Major General Ulysses S. Grant, drove off Confederate forces holding the strategic crossroads on Champion Hill, forcing them back to Vicksburg.
The city of Vicksburg has (Dec 2019) awarded a grant of $35k that will match fund a further $150k from the American Battlefield Protection Program to incorporate elements of the Port Gibson, Raymond and Champion Hill battlefield areas with the Vicksburg Military Park to help visitors better understand events leading to the Siege of Vicksburg.
|Culloden (1746, Scotland)||Lost but ongoing||
The end of Jacobite dreams came at Culloden when the 5,250-strong army of Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) met the 7,800 soldiers of the Government army (loyalists) under the command of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. In 60 minutes the Jacobites were routed and 2,000 of them killed.Less than 300 Government troops suffered the same fate.
Shaken by losing this latest planning battle, the Scottish Battlefields Trust announced plans in Apr 2019 to raise funds and buy on behalf of the nation, the remaining two thirds of the battlefield that are not protected by the National Trust for Scotland. There is also a plan to apply for UNESCO World Heritage status for the site but it is not certain this will secure it.
|Killicrankie (1689, Scotland)||Ongoing but losing||
The battle took place during the First Jacobite Rising between Scots & Irish supporters of James VII of Scotland (Jacobites), and those of William & Mary of Orange, who had just deposed him in England & Ireland in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 (Government). The smaller Jacobite army (2,400 foot, 40 cavalry) defeated the government forces (3,500–5,000 foot, 100 cavalry), leaving 800 dead.
Campaigners are still resisting the plans and another public enquiry will begin in Jan 2020. Meanwhile the defenders of the battlefield site have produced a video demonstrating the key areas that are under threat.
|Neville’s Cross (1346, England)||Just started||In the Battle of Neville’s Cross, which took place on the outskirts of Durham city, a Scottish army of 12,000 men led by King David II was heavily defeated by an English army of up to 7,000 men led by Lord Ralph Neville.
In early 2019, Durham County Council announced plans for a bypass to run close to the battlefield, raising concerns about disturbing buried bodies at the edges of the site.
|Perryville (1862, Kentucky, USA)||Not under threat||The American Civil War battle of Perryville (also known as the Battle of Chaplin Hills) was fought on October 8, 1862, in the Chaplin Hills west of Perryville, Kentucky. While the site is not under direct threat at the moment, the American Battlefield Trust is (Apr 2019) planning to purchase a newly-available 128.5-acre tract of land in the middle of the site that would bring the total acreage preserved up to about 1,155, making the preservation almost complete. ²|
|Princeton (1777, New Jersey, USA)||Mostly won||George Washington led American troops into battle against the British at the Battle of Princeton and secured an American victory.
The land is owned by the Institute for Advanced Study, which disputes the specific location of the battle, and has had plans to build on for years. In 2016, the Civil War Trust, a preservation group dedicated to protecting American battlefields and historic sites, reached a deal with the institute to buy 15 acres for $4 million, securing the key parcel of land, but not all of it. The plan now is to restore the land to its war-time state before transferring ownership to the state so in can be incorporated into the neighboring Princeton Battlefield State Park.
|Sheriffmuir (1715, Scotland)||Nibbling away||
The Battle of Sheriffmuir (1715) just outside Dunblane was part of the second Jacobite rebellion, which had been triggered when John Erskine, Earl of Mar proclaimed James Francis Edward Stuart as King, and then set about capturing Inverness, Aberdeen and Dundee. His next target was Stirling Castle. However, a small government army led by John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, intercepted Mar at Sheriffmuir.
Argyll was a way more experienced commander than Mar, but he had less than half the number of troops (3,000 to 7,000). However the Jacobites failed to press their advantage and by the end of the day the battle was inconclusive. Although the government army suffered around 700 casualties compared to the Jacobites’ 250, it was the Jacobites who withdrew, leaving the field to Argyll, who had surprisingly succeeded in his ambition to stop Mar from reaching Stirling.
In 2017 battlefield historians were disappointed the Forestry Commission was given permission to plant woodland over a large part of the battleground. Now preservationists and locals are opposing plans from Dame Ann Gloag (co-founder with her brother of Stagecoach) to build a 135-chalet leisure/adventure centre on her Glassinghall estate which abuts the battlefield and is the likely site of the pre-battle Jacobite encampment.
(1862/3, Tennessee, USA)
|Looking good. Not really under threat.||A major Civil War battle with huge casualties (25,000) and no overall victor, however it is considered a strategic victory to the Union army which repulsed two Confederate attacks and cemented Union control of central Tennessee. The battlefield site is designated as a Class A site, meaning it had a “decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war.” Only 12% of battlefield sites carry the designation. Now the American Battlefield Trust is asking for donations from the public to help it purchase 42 acres of Stones River National Battlefield land by the end of 2019 or early 2020. The trust hopes to close on the land, which is not a part of the protected battlefield site in Murfreesboro, to preserve it from future development.|
(1651, Worcester, England)
|Not under serious threat.||The last battle of the English Civil War, won by the Parliamentarians with an almost 2-1 advantage in numbers. The battle took place both outside the city and moved inside, where there are a few building that were there at the time. There’s not much left to see on the floodplain outside by Powick Bridge, but it is open and has some info panels erected by the Battle of Worcester Society. This Sep 2019 there has been a chance for archeologists to find more debris from the battle as a new road is being laid.|
¹The US National Parks Service has a Battlefield Protection Program, designed to help preserve important battlefield sites on American soil.
² The State of Kentucky takes battlefield protection seriously. They’ve just passed House Bill 319 which would set up the Kentucky Battlefield Preservation Fund enabling them to apply for federal funds to protect important sites from the U.S. Civil War, the War of 1812, the Revolutionary War and Underground Railroad sites.
If you have any updates or news of other battlefield sites in trouble, let me know.
Image: John Tenniel’s illustration of the poem ‘The field of battle’ by Thomas Penrose, 1771. Maria finds the body of her husband Edgar dead of his wounds on the battlefield. Published as an etching in 1861. Courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.