U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced legislation Tuesday to support making Mill Springs Battlefield in southern Kentucky part of the national park system.
McConnell's legislation directs the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to evaluate a proposal to include the Civil War battlefield as a national park. Such a feasibility study makes a final national park designation easier to achieve.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, successfully introduced and backed identical legislation earlier this year in the U.S. House.
"The Mill Springs Battlefield Association has worked hard to preserve hundreds of acres of battlefield property and to educate the public about the history of the American Civil War and the Battle of Mill Springs," McConnell said in a news release. "This bill would put the people of Kentucky one step closer to protecting and preserving this historic battlefield, which is important to the history of the commonwealth and our nation."
Rogers said preservation of the Mill Springs Battlefield has been "a joint progressive effort to honor the young men in blue and gray who fought in the first significant victory of the Civil War for the Union Army in the West."
Carolyn W. Mounce, executive director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said having a national park would boost tourism in the area. Jack Keeney, executive director of the Mill Springs Battlefield Association, said the group asked McConnell and Rogers for help after years of preserving the site.
On Jan. 19, 1862, the Battle of Mill Springs spilled across Pulaski and Wayne counties in southeastern Kentucky. It was the second-largest battle in the state, involving more than 10,000 soldiers.
It was the first significant Union victory in what was then considered the Western Theater of the Civil War. The Union's victory meant that the main Confederate defense line that had been anchored in eastern Kentucky was broken, freeing Union soldiers to move through Kentucky and into Tennessee.