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Trump salary, other donations to support Antietam preservation

President Donald J. Trump’s salary for the first quarter of 2017 will go toward a pair of restoration and maintenance projects at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and one of its most pivotal, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Wednesday.

Zinke also announced that the federal government will provide $7.2 million in matching grants toward the preservation of land at 19 other battlefields associated with the American Revolution, the Civil War and the War of 1812.

Two of those sites are in Maryland — the battlefield near Boonsboro where the bloody Battle of South Mountain was fought on Sept. 14, 1862, and the one in Washington County where Gen. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac faced Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s forces at the Battle of Williamsport between July 6 and July 16, 1863.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump promised to give away his full-year presidential salary of $400,000 if he was elected.

In April, the president announced his intention to donate $78,333 — his salary from the date of his inauguration through March 31, the end of the first quarter — toward national battlefield park maintenance.

Officials said Wednesday the funds would benefit two restoration projects at Antietam: preservation of the historic Newcomer House near the battlefield’s Middle Bridge site, and the replacement of 5,000 feet of deteriorating rail fencing along what is now Dunker Church Road, the site of some of the battle’s fiercest fighting.

The Newcomer House served as a makeshift hospital in the wake of the fighting, and the fence was a barrier for passing troops during the fighting, particularly early in the day. The fence also served as a backdrop for some of the earliest photographs ever taken of soldiers killed on Civil War battlefields.

Trump’s first-quarter salary will be matched by a donation of more than $185,880 from three nonprofits — the Civil War Trust,the National Park Foundation and the Save Historic Antietam Foundation — that have long been involved in battlefield preservation.

The federal grants for South Mountain and Williamsport are part of the American Battlefield Land Acquisition Grants program, a National Parks Service initiative founded in 1999 that is financed through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Those grants will go to states, localities or nonprofits for the purchase of about 1,200 acres of battlefield land not owned by the National Parks Service.

The grants include $316,234 for the purchase of two private properties totaling 66.5 acres at South Mountain Battlefield in Frederick and Washington counties. They’ll become part of South Mountain Battlefield State Park.

Another $45,751 will allow for the purchase of a 3.5-acre property at the Williamsport Battlefield just south of that Washington County town.

“When people think of a historic battlefield, especially at places like Gettysburg and Antietam, they assume they’re protected by the National Parks Service, but that’s not usually the case,” said Jim Campi, a spokesman for the Civil War Trust. “Even the ones that are, it’s only part of the battlefield. Our purpose is to preserve the land so that the entire story of a battle can be told.”

The Battle of Antietam — the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with a combined total of 22,217 dead, wounded or missing — represented a turning point in the Civil War, ending Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland.

The narrow victory by Union forces at Antietam proved enough to allow President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation from a position of strength.

Susan Trail, the superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield, said the wooden siding, windows and porches of the Newcomer House at Antietam have long needed to be restored.

The type of wood fencing along what was then the Hagerstown Pike needs to be replaced every 15 years or so, and it has been 20 years since the fence has received such attention, leaving portions of it rotted, Trail said.

Camp called that stretch of fencing “one of the most famous in American history,” as it appears in the earliest photographs of men killed in the Civil War.

To Trail, it’s essential to posterity to keep such structures in good condition.

“You might not consider each one critically important in its own right, but as part of the overall landscape, they’re crucial for conveying a larger understanding of what happened here,” she said. “It’s important to have these things in place to tell the stories of the battles.”

The donations announced Wednesday are “really nice, very helpful for us as we work to keep up with all of our structures and landscape features,” Trail said.

 

jonpitts@baltsun.com

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