President Donald Trump's first paycheck was donated to fund repairs at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
The Battle of Antietam (known as the Battle of Sharpsburg for many in the South) was a major battle during the Civil War. It marked the last battle of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's first attempted invasion of the Union. More than 23,000 soldiers were killed, injured, or reported missing during the battle, marking the single bloodiest day in American military history. Lee's advance was ultimately halted, forcing the Confederates to withdraw from the battle first. While the Battle of Antietam did not produce a conclusive victor, it was widely seen as a strategic victory for the North. The battle gave President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to sign the Emancipation Proclamation just five days later, formally freeing slaves in all areas of rebellion.
Antietam National Battlefield is a National Park sitting on roughly 3,000 acres that is dedicated to the sacrifice of soldiers on both sides of the conflict and teaching future generations of this pivotal moment in American history. The park includes the Antietam National Cemetery, where 4,976 Union soldiers are buried. Of those, 1,836 remain unidentified. The cemetery only interred Union soldiers. The Battle of Antietam's Confederate dead were buried in other area cemeteries as the Confederate Army retreated. In recent years, however, the park has fallen into disrepair.
While President Trump promised on the campaign trail not to accept a salary, Federal law requires that the President be compensated. In April, President Trump decided that he would be donating his first Presidential paycheck - $78,333.32 - to the National Parks Service. In early July, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the donation would be given specifically to finance repairs and upgrades at Antietam National Battlefield.
Secretary Zinke also announced on July 5 that other donors were going to match the President's donation, providing an additional $185,000 to the Antietam National Battlefield renovation project.
"I'm honored to announce $185,000 in funds to match @POTUS salary which together will restore Antietam historic sites," Zinke wrote on Twitter. The money will go towards much needed repairs at the Newcomer House on the property, in addition to other repairs and upgrades on the grounds. The press conference also announced a new $7.2 million grant to the American Battlefield Land Acquisition Grants program, which works to acquire ownership of American battlefield lands to preserve history.
The President's critics have argued that the donation is simply a publicity stunt, especially given the administration's proposed cuts to the the National Parks Service's budget. The Sierra Club declared the donation was nothing but a "giant fake check." During recent testimony on Capitol Hill, Secretary Zinke was adamant that cuts - especially to wasteful programs - were necessary to move towards producing a balanced budget.
Antietam National Battlefield is open year-round, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Entry into the park costs $5 per person or $10 per vehicle and is good for three days. The National Parks Service estimates that 330,000 people visit Antietam National Battlefield every year.
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