Women, Gettysburg and the struggle for freedom

In honor of women’s history month and International Women’s Day on March 8, I am setting aside our series about 2014 goals to reflect on a few of the women of Gettysburg and the role they played in the struggle for freedom and the aftermath of battle at Gettysburg.  The sacrifices at Gettysburg by soldiers and citizens alike are part of a long continuum.  In the words of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on November 19, 2013, the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg:

“Just as the battle that raged on these fields stands at the vortex of American history, Lincoln’s words stand at the vortex of our national consciousness.  Hearing them, we are reminded of the sacrifice of so many for freedom.  We are likewise reminded of our long journey, still on-going, to fulfill the fundamental proposition that indeed all men and women are created equal and deserve the full benefit of this freedom that has been purchased at such great price.”

These days we can’t help but be reminded of this continuing struggle for freedom as we follow the news from across the nation and the world.  At Gettysburg National Military Park you can visit the special places where these stories took place and learn more about women like Margaret Palm, Elizabeth Thorn and Cornelia Hancock.

Jr Ranger Commemorative Identities-Reprints6

Jr Ranger Commemorative Identities-Reprints8

Jr Ranger Commemorative Identities-Reprints12

The struggles of these women and so many more who came before us are vitally important today.  Tying events from the past together and recognizing their relevance as we live our lives is an important mission of the National Park Service.  It’s all part of a continuing story.   Few people have said it more poignantly and more succinctly than Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Gettysburg last November.

Here are her full remarks, which match the length of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Remarks, 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg, Pa

November 19, 2013

 

  • One hundred fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln said, “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.”
  • He was wrong.
  • Just as the battle that raged on these fields stands at the vortex of American history, Lincoln’s words stand at the vortex of our national consciousness.
  • Hearing them, we are reminded of the sacrifice of so many for freedom.
  • We are likewise reminded of our long journey, still on-going, to fulfill the fundamental proposition that indeed all men and women are created equal and deserve the full benefit of this freedom that has been purchased at such great price.
  • The steps on this journey are marked by eloquence.
  • The patriot who regretted he had but one life to give for his country.
  • The president who affirmed our resolve on a day that will live in infamy.
  • The courageous woman whose simple “No” on an Alabama bus gave birth to choruses of “We Shall Overcome.”
  • The passenger above another Pennsylvania field, who declared “Let’s Roll,” giving voice to a nation battered by terrorism.
  • But no words are greater than those spoken here by a simple man, born in a log cabin, which not only saved the American union but also came to symbolize its greatest virtues of humility, honesty, and decency.
  • His words, chiseled on the walls of his memorial, are likewise chiseled on our hearts.
  • They tell us what it means to be an American.
  • They call us to unfinished work, not just to win a war, but to continue to perfect our nation and a government that is truly “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

-end-

Thanks to Brooke Diaz of the Gettysburg Foundation who designed the commemorative keepsake identity cards.  Gettysburg National Military Park and the Gettysburg Foundation produced set of limited edition keepsake cards for the summer of 2013 as incentives for younger park visitors participating in Gettysburg’s Junior Ranger program.  These cards are no longer available.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, March 6, 2014

Posted in Aftermath, Burials, Civilians, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Is George Gordon Meade’s prestige as the “Victor of Gettysburg” at stake?

Without a doubt, George Gordon Meade had one of the toughest assignments of the war- take command of an army in the middle of a critical campaign with the objective of thwarting the invasion of Pennsylvania and Maryland by Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. It was a daunting task and one few men would have relished, considering the history of command failures in the past and the prowess of a southern general who successively had met and defeated the Army of the Potomac. It was not just the order to command an army and send it hither and yon to find Lee, but to also answer to the chiefs in Washington at the War Department and the White House, as well as his counterparts commanding divisions, corps and even departments. Meade dutifully accepted the appointment knowing full well his assignment meant more than his personal reputation.

Five days later as evening night fell on the battlefield of Gettysburg, Meade had to be relieved that his first major test had been a victory. Lee was stopped and it appeared that the Army of the Potomac had scored a decisive victory. Even those who doubted Meade’s abilities expressed some admiration for him, but that respect soon faded as the guns fell silent and subsequent campaigns during the fall months only proved to some that Meade was indeed, not suited for the job. Lincoln, the man who appointed Meade to the position, felt different.

Meade and corps commanders

Meade with his corps commanders, Army of the Potomac in 1865. (Library of Congress)

 

Historians have preiodically debated the merits of this cantankerous general and whether the selection of army command at this crucial moment of the war was sound judgment on Lincoln’s part.  For all of the high opinions that fellow officers and enlisted men had of him- “elegant”, “thoughtful and silent”, “neatly uniformed and dignified”, and “man of high character”, he was also subject of ridicule and even humor for his temperamental outbursts directed at anyone who failed to fulfill their duties. To many an enlisted man, Meade appeared to be nothing more than the “goggle-eyed snapping turtle”, a nickname that has unfortunately followed him to this very day, who seemingly cared little for the condition and comfort of the rank and file. The person inside the uniform was more complicated than what people saw on the outside and what may have been his greatest fault- rather a personal obstacle, was overwhelming anxiety, which is often today’s diagnosis for sleeplessness and a sharp temper.  With high command thrust upon his shoulders on June 28, 1863, it was only natural that his level of anxiety would rise to near critical levels. Fortunately, it seems Meade’s anxiety did not cloud his judgment at Gettysburg where he had a treasure trove of good officers to depend upon while those who could not be trusted or performed poorly could be eventually pushed out of the army. He also relied heavily upon his corps commanders and junior officers whose skills and abilities worked toward the ultimate victory.  It was in the aftermath of the battle when both supporters and critics leapt into the debate of Meade’s merits. The Comte de Paris in his early history of the Battle of Gettysburg was critical of Meade’s generalship, more for his choices of where to be rather than the decisions made.

Gettysburg The Last InvasionThe arguments and discussion did not end there and have even been passed into recent scholarship, most notably the 2013 book Gettysburg, The Last Invasion (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2013) by Dr. Allen Guelzo, the Henry R. Luce Professor of Civil War Studies and Director of Civil War studies at Gettysburg College. Dr. Guelzo’s discussion of Meade focuses on ties the general had with former commander and soon to be Democratic nominee to the presidency, George McClellan, (though Meade had distinctly distanced himself from McClellan by 1863) while also stating the political woes Meade had with both generals and influential politicians that directed so much of his behavior as well as his mistakes, a number of which occurred long after the Gettysburg Campaign had ended. “Meade had his admirers over the years,” Guelzo acknowledges, “but much of the admiration is dutiful rather than enthusiastic, almost forced.” As to the Union victory at Gettysburg, “winning the battle had less to do with Meade that it did with a bevy of otherwise minor characters…who stepped out for a moment and turned a corner at some inexpressibly right instant.” (Guelzo, p. 462)

There are numerous cases at Gettysburg where Dr. Guelzo is right. Union generals, colonels, lt. colonels, captains and even sergeants and privates stepped forward at the right moment at the right time to do what needed to be done and it was not necessary for the commanding general to be present. But was it the influence of the new army commander that guided these soldiers or was it simply that this army did not have the opportunity for them to shine prior to Gettysburg?

Meade & the Quartermaster

General Meade as many soldiers preferred to remember him, displaying his legendary temper. (Charles Reed – Hardtack & Coffee)

George Meade was not the beau ideal of a top ranking general, a “star” in army command. He was tough, irascible, strict and at times aloof; as difficult a man to understand in 1863 as he is today. His cautious approach, which is very apparent after Gettysburg through the Mine Run Campaign and the opening days of the Overland Campaign, may have found its root in the anxiety he suffered with but was also influenced by his concern for the personnel of the army he commanded in battlefield situations where any mistake, no matter how small, cost lives. In that respect, Meade’s choice of action, or inaction, was perfect fodder for his critics then and now when death on the battlefield is merely considered to be a statistical exercise. What is refreshing is how Meade’s counterpart viewed the general, not as another soldiers with faults both good and bad, but as an adversary who’s strategy would be difficult to comprehend . Ten years after the war had ended, Confederate veteran George Cary Eggleston wrote of General Lee’s opinion in the summer of 1863, of the newest and final commander of the Army of the Potomac:

“General Lee had a sententious way of saying things which made all his utterances peculiarly forceful. His language was always happily chosen, and a single sentence from his lips often left nothing more to be said. As good an example of this as any, perhaps, was his comment upon the military genius of General Meade. Not very long after that officer took command of the Army of the Potomac, a skirmish occurred, and none of General Lee’s staff officers being present, an acquaintance of mine was detailed as his personal aid for the day, and I am indebted to him for the anecdote. Someone asked our chief what he thought of the new leader on the other side, and in reply Lee said:’ General Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I commit one he will make haste to take advantage of it.’ It is difficult to see what more he could have said on the subject.” – (George Cary Eggleston, A Rebel’s Recollections, Civil War Centennial Series, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 1875, pp. 129-130.)

Was Lee, the most respected of southern commanders, right or wrong in his estimation of Meade? The debate still continues.

-John Heiser, Gettysburg NMP

Posted in Army of the Potomac, George G. Meade | 15 Comments

Cultural Landscape Report for Gettysburg’s first day’s battlefield

The 84th New York Infantry monument looks out over the study area on the first day's battlefield.

The 84th New York Infantry monument looks out over the study area on the first day’s battlefield.

In my last two blogs I wrote about important Gettysburg National Military Park goals for fiscal year 2014: addressing challenges at Little Round Top, and continuing battlefield rehabilitation on North Cemetery Ridge at the site of the old Visitor Center parking lot.  This week we will look at another of the four goals: creating a cultural landscape report (CLR) for Gettysburg’s first day’s battlefield.

cultural landscape is a geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with a historic event, activity, or person or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values.

This CLR would cover the 732-acre area that is part of the first day’s battlefield (Union 1st Corps) within Gettysburg NMP.  (See section 1 of the map below.)  Located in the northwest quadrant of the park, the first day’s battlefield is a broad, open area where the initial clash of Confederate and Union troops occurred on July 1, 1863.  This project area is National Park Service property between the Mummasburg Road and the Route 116 (the Hagerstown Road), with the exception of the acreage within the Forney farm boundaries. It includes portions of the 1863 Harman, Herbst, McPherson, Wills, Christ and Seminary properties.

Proposed RecTreatment AreasThis CLR will help the park protect the landscape’s character-defining features from alteration or loss and provide park management with the information needed to make decisions about changes in the future, including the Emanuel Harman farm (the former Gettysburg Country Club)  acquired by the NPS in March 2011.  (Note:  Historic records show alternate spellings for the farm, both Emanuel and Emmanuel, and both Harman and Harmon.)

The Gettysburg Country Club property shortly after the park acquired it in

The Gettysburg Country Club property shortly after the park acquired it in 2011.

In 1863 the country club property was part of the Harman and Abraham Spangler farms where Confederate Brigades advanced and retreated during an attack on the Union positions on McPherson and Seminary Ridges. In the 1950’s the property was developed into the Gettysburg Country Club and operated as a golf course and country club until it closed in 2008.   The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting important places across America, worked to successfully acquire fee title to a 95-acre portion of the land, and subsequently conveyed it to the NPS.  The Civil War Trust assisted with the project.

Cumberland Club Investment, owners of the remaining 14.5 acres of the old country club, the developed portion on the north side of the property where the club houses, tennis courts, pool and parking are, donated an easement to the NPS to protect the land with a height restriction on any new construction there.

McPherson  Barn 2 at Gettysburg NMP

The McPherson barn is within the study area.

The CLR will document the landscape history, existing conditions, and significance (Component A) and prescribe treatment recommendations (Component B) for two major battlefield areas: the upper ridge area, including McPherson and Oak Ridges, and the lower valley area just north of the Borough of Gettysburg. The upper ridge area is composed of relatively broad rises now under agricultural production.

The report will also provide long-term landscape management recommendations to the NPS for:

  • Preserving the panoramic views from the upper ridge area toward South Mountain;
  • Preserving the remaining features and ongoing agricultural and pasture use of several historic farmsteads located in the project area;
  • Address cultural and natural resource management objectives for areas along Willoughby Run and Rock Creek;
  • Provide guidance on rehabilitation of fields, fence lines, and orchards;
  • Address resource management issues related to heavy visitor use along Willoughby Run and Reynolds Woodlot and the potential for incorporating historic circulation systems for pedestrian or bicycle use.

At a later date, the NPS will do a CLR for the rest of the first’s day’s battlefield – Union 11th Corps (Section 2 on the map above).

NPS cost estimate: $120,000 – fully funded by a donation from the Gettysburg Foundation.  The Foundation is currently raising additional funds to implement the strategies identified in this CLR to bring back missing features from 1863.

In my next blog in this series we will look at creating a fire management plan for Gettysburg NMP in fiscal year 2014.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, February 21, 2014

Posted in Battlefield Farms, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association

When Gov. Curtin traveled to Gettysburg shortly after the battle concluded he quickly realized the need for a formal and more fitting place to bury the dead. David McConaughy, a prominent citizen, offered the land adjacent to the Evergreen Cemetery, of which he was the president, for that purpose. He faced strong resistance from another local citizen, David Wills, who fought to keep the burials of the soldiers separate from those of the town. Wills’ plan won out and the Union dead would now be laid to rest adjacent to the Evergreen cemetery but distinctly set apart. While McConaughy lost out on the chance to have control of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, he was quick to pursue other avenues.

A local lawyer and former student under Thaddeaus Stevens, McConaughy was active in politics and had helped to organize the local YMCA. He had represented the Republican Party as a delegate in the 1860 National Convention and was a strong supporter of President Lincoln. During the battle of Gettysburg, McConaughy, and a group of Gettysburg residents, created a citizen-spy organization that worked in conjunction with the Bureau of Military Information, an intelligence gathering arm of the Army of the Potomac.

Image

David McConaughy

McConaughy’s loss of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery did not deter him from pursuing his dream of creating a lasting memorial to the men that died at Gettysburg. Rather, he looked for areas of the battlefield that stood not only as visual reminders of the conflict, but that also created picturesque landscapes. Some of his early purchases were parts of Little Round Top, for its complex breastworks, and the bullet-riddled faces of Culp’s Hill- each of which would had evoked an instant emotional experience  by the battlefield visitor. In an article for the Adams Sentinel, McConaughy called finally articulated his intent and called for the creation of the battlefield to eventually be supported by state-wide committees. By 1864 McConaughy had organized the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMA) and was on the way to achieving that vision of a large and fitting memorial to the men and battle at Gettysburg.

The ultimate goal of this vision included the creation roadways or “avenues” throughout the battlefield, the planting of trees and landscape elements, the erection of pieces of art and even rules on how visitors would experience the battlefield. However, the vision needed strong financial backing and McConaughy had to sell this idea to anyone who would listen. He knew he needed big names to attract supporters to his cause and had hopes of securing Generals George Meade and Winfield Scott Hancock as members of the board. He also desired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier to put pen to paper and immortalize Gettysburg in their writings. He even used his position as part of the state legislature to secure funding ($3,000 in 1866 and again in 1868) to help create a landscape that would draw visitors from near and far to this memorial field.

Image

Springs Hotel

When mineral springs were found on the battlefield McConaughy saw opportunities to capitalize on the aging ranks of soldiers. The creation of the Gettysburg Lithia Springs Association in 1866 (of which McConaughy was an incorporator) and the erection of the Springs Hotel in 1869 further propelled McConaughy’s dream of an idealized landscape. But what McConaughy was probably not ready for was the beginnings of a backlash from the commercialization of these sacred fields. Both the New York Herald and the New York Tribune ran articles that blasted the GBMA’s efforts as money-making schemes. Even Gen. Alexander Webb noted that efforts seemed to be drifting away from the battle and more toward the pockets of individuals.

Unfortunately, while McConaughy’s efforts had been focused on commercial enterprises, his efforts to create beautifully landscaped fields and include tasteful artwork and sculpture were falling extremely short. By the 1870s little had been done to erect monuments on the field. McConaughy had been able to erect some of the breastworks, place wooden informational placards and erect some cannon on the field. But funding sources outside of the state of Pennsylvania were practically non-existent. Eventually, the Philadelphia chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic purchased a majority ownership of the GBMA. By 1880 they had wiped out the GBMA’s remaining debt and now were the numerical majority of the board of directors. With this, McConaughy was out of the picture while another, John Badger Bachelder, entered.

Image

John Badger Bachelder was born in New Hampshire in 1825, attended the local military academy and later became a professor at the Pennsylvania Military Institute in Reading, PA. When the Civil War began he took an interest in creating paintings that accurately depicted the battles and would attach himself to the Union army. He was present for the Yorktown, Peninsula, Fair Oaks and Seven Day’s campaigns but had to return to New Hampshire for his failing health. Though he left with the understanding that he should be called on if there was another campaign, he missed the battle of Gettysburg and arrived a few days afterward. Upon arriving on the field Bachelder probably did not realize that he would be spending the next two decades researching, erecting monuments and creating this memorial landscape.

By 1883 Bachelder was appointed the Superintendent of Tablets and Legends under the GBMA.  He worked closely with veterans to help place monuments on the field, though this was not always easy. The combination of Bachelder’s confidence, and many times over-confidence, and the veterans’ first-hand accounts now recounted twenty years post-battle presented challenges in creating an accurate battlefield landscape. Bachelder would be responsible for implementing policy which dictated that monuments should be placed where attacks were launched rather than where they culminated- obviously of much more benefit to the Union veterans than their southern compatriots.

Image

John Bachelder and wife at Devils Den

To increase awareness of the efforts of the GBMA, the GAR hosted week-long encampments almost every summer from 1880-1894 to bring veterans back to the battlefield. During this time the GBMA was also able to construct avenues over which the hacks, or carriages, transported the veterans and their families over the fields. There were continued efforts to purchase land and in 1882 the GBMA moved forward to purchase a now famous wheat field as well as additional portions of Little Round Top. And having received $5,000 from Massachusetts for placement of monuments, the GBMA now focused their attention on securing land over which these men fought.

By 1884 the GBMA had also purchased land to the east of town where Gregg’s cavalry fought to fulfill the requests of veterans from the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry for a monument. The Association also moved forward with efforts to create a new avenue from Oak Ridge via Reynolds’ Grove to the left of the Union 1st Corps line. Two years later, in 1886, they continued improving the area with the inclusion of an avenue for the Union 11th Corps line of battle.

And though the new efforts of the GAR-controlled GBMA were somewhat more focused on preserving the landscape and establishing lines of battle, a new complicating factor came into play- the Gettysburg Electric Railway. A majority of the land that surrounded the GBMA parcels was private farm land and was by no means guaranteed to be incorporated into the GBMA and could be sold to the highest bidder. The GBMA argued that this intrusion was desecrating the landscape over which men lost their lives as blasting was needed to allow the tracks access to portions of the field. A number of newspapers noted the destruction and potential upheaval that the Railway’s trolley would have on efforts to preserve the landscape, while in subsequent paragraphs fearing that if too much of the field was destroyed the economic impact would be substantial. Eventually the controversy would come to a head in 1896, after three years of fighting, with a decision by the Supreme Court deciding that the government did have condemnation authority to protect areas of historical significance.

Image

A trolley car makes its way through Devils Den.

By 1895 the GBMA had run its course and a new era of management of this Gettysburg landscape would be ushered in. A bill introduced to Congress on December 6, 1894 by Representative Dan Sickles would eventually be signed into law on February 11, 1895. With that, the GBMA ceded control of 522 acres, seventeen miles of avenues and 320 monuments to the United States War Department and the idyllic and tranquil landscape imagined by David McConaughy would find itself transformed into one of order, precision and regimentation.

Angie Atkinson, Supervisory Park Ranger

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Battlefield Rehab continues on Gettysburg’s Cemetery Ridge

On January 30, 2014, contractors began to move equipment onto the project site.  The 136th New York Infantry monument  along with Taneytown Road and the cemetery wall are visible in the background.

On January 30, 2014, contractors began to move equipment onto the project site. The 136th New York Infantry monument along with Taneytown Road and the cemetery wall are visible in the background.

This week we’ll look at another of Gettysburg National Military Park’s 2014 goals, the rehabilitation of North Cemetery Ridge   Since 2009 the park and the Gettysburg Foundation have been implementing phases of this project to return key portions of the center of the Union battle line on Cemetery Ridge to its appearance at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863.  Key steps along the way have included: demolition of the old visitor center in 2009; planting 41 apple trees to reestablish the Frey orchard (North) in 2010; and demolition of the Cyclorama building in 2013

Looking southwest from the 136th NY monument across the project area.

Looking southwest from the 136th NY monument across the project area.

Last week, C.E. Williams, a contractor for the Gettysburg Foundation, started the project to remove the old Visitor Center parking lot, which is located along Taneytown Road across from the Soldiers’’ National Cemetery.  They will also re-grade the area to its historic profile in 1863 and plant meadow grasses.  Historic fencing on the site will be built during the Friends of Gettysburg’s annual volunteer day in June.  The project will take approximately two to three months for completion, depending on the weather.

Map21 Treatment Plan Cem Ridge

an 1878 view of the Soldeirs' national Cemetery with the David Ziegler farm visible in the background on the right.

An 1878 view of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery with the David Ziegler farm visible in the background on the right.

The project area includes the 136th New York Infantry monument and left flank marker as well as the site of the battle-era farm owned by David Ziegler, located along the east side of what is now Steinwehr Avenue between the entrances to the old Visitor Center parking lot and the old Cyclorama parking lot.  This farm is marked on the Warren maps as the Emanuel Trostle farm. The farm buildings are now lost to history.  The park does not have sufficient documentation to rebuild the structures.  We do have sufficient documentation to rebuild the fencing associated with the farm.

Randy Krichten, an arborist on the park staff, marked several trees "Do Not Cut."

Randy Krichten, an arborist on the park staff, marked several trees “Do Not Cut.”

In general the project area was open farm fields in 1863 and most of the existing trees will be removed.  Battle era photos show that even in open meadows and crop fields there were scattered mature trees so the park has marked some trees “Do Not Cut.”  Some of the existing trees provide natural screening from Gettysburg’s Quality Inn, located outside the park’s boundary just north of the project area.  The park will keep some of these healthy, native trees as screening.

Hemlocks screening the hotel next door.

These hemlock trees will have to be removed.

On a side note, removing the hemlock trees that formed part of this tree screen will help protect hemlocks in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery nearby.  Hemlocks and other trees in the cemetery are significant because they are part of the formal cemetery design created by William Saunders.  We have been treating the cemetery hemlocks to protect them from the invasive pest known as the Hemlock wooly adelgid.  Removing the nonhistoric

Trees screen the view of the hotel from park land near the 136th NY monument.

Many of these trees will be kept in order to screen the view of the hotel from park land near the 136th NY monument.

hemlocks in this part of the tree screen will help protect the cemetery hemlocks.

Through the generosity of its donors, the Gettysburg Foundation is funding this project by covering the cost of general contracting, construction management and design costs which total approximately $400,000. The Foundation also funded the cost of last year’s demolition of the Cyclorama building which was $750,000.

The asphalt has already been shredded in this photo from February 6, 2014.

The asphalt has already been shredded in this photo from February 6, 2014.

The old Cyclorama parking lot, now known as the National Cemetery lot, will be retained for visitor use, although a future phase of this project calls for some changes to the lot.  Additional future phases of the rehabilitation of Cemetery Ridge include reconstructing a commemorative era pathway and moving five monuments to their historic locations.  These features were altered during the construction of the Cyclorama building in the early 1960s.  The nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation continues to raise funds for future phases of the rehabilitation of Cemetery Ridge.

In future posts we will look at two more 2014 park projects:  a Cultural Landscape Report for Gettysburg’s First Day Battlefield, and Creating a Fire Management Plan for Gettysburg.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 2/7/14

Posted in Battlefield Farms, Monuments at Gettysburg, Soldiers' National Cemetery, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Joshua Chamberlain, Little Round Top, and the Memorial That Never Was

A few months ago, prior to the arrival of the frigid weather we are now enjoying, I had the pleasure of bringing a group of visitors around Little Round Top. It was a fairly predictable tour. We visited the requisite sites as we made our way south along the crest of the hill, namely the Gouverneur Warren statue, Hazlett’s Battery and the 44th and 140th New York Monuments as we roughly followed the progress of the battle on July 2nd. It was a good forty-five minutes before we made our way into the trees and down a tail-like ridge known as “Vincent’s Spur” which runs across the southern face of Little Round Top. Our final stop of the program was at the 20th Maine Monument, which is situated on a shelf of rocks well below the summit and nearly on its reverse slope.

I usually stop here last whenever I bring visitors around Little Round Top. It is a relatively non-descript place, covered with boulders and rocks like the rest of the hill. Unlike the western slope, this part of Little Round Top is completely wooded. Visibility here is, at best, a hundred yards; much less in the summer when heavy vegetation covers the field. Compared with the rest of Little Round Top, with its sweeping views and elaborate monuments, Vincent’s Spur is slightly underwhelming.

Image


A view from the right flank marker of the 20th Maine down Vincent’s Spur. The rock walls visible were built following the battle of July 2nd.

Despite this, it remains among the most visited spots on the battlefield and ranks as a high point for many. This has less to do with the geography of the spur than it does with the actions of the 350 infantrymen of the 20th Maine and their commanding officer, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

For students of the battle of Gettysburg, the story of the 20th Maine and Chamberlain is well known. For a brief time on July 2nd, 1863 the regiment was the extreme left of the Army of the Potomac. They fought on the spur for about ninety minutes and during that time lost almost 130 men killed and wounded. After having withstood repeated assaults by the 15th and 47th Alabama they made a desperate counterattack, drove the Confederates from the slopes, and captured a substantial number of prisoners in the process. That evening under the cover of darkness, they advanced up the craggy side of Big Round Top and occupied the summit.

Image

Joshua Chamberlain, post-war

The heroics of the 20th Maine and Chamberlain have received a significant amount of attention in the past 150 years; some would argue a disproportionate amount. Their story has been retold (and perhaps embellished) in works of history, literature, documentary and Hollywood film. Chamberlain, an academic turned warrior, has come to embody the archetypical American citizen-soldier, an unlikely hero who triumphs despite the seemingly overwhelming odds against him. A significant portion of Chamberlain’s post-war years were spent cultivating that very image of himself. He was fortunate in his efforts in that he was an eloquent writer and he had survived the war when so many of his fellow officers were killed.

Chamberlain’s apparent self-aggrandizement riled the feathers of a number of his contemporaries. Ellis Spear, who had served as second in command of the 20th Maine during the Battle of Gettysburg, had a cordial relationship with Chamberlain after the war, but disparaged what he perceived as Chamberlain’s attempt to glorify himself at the expense of others. “His literary ability was of a high order, and he always had a gracious manner,” Spear wrote a fellow Little Round Top veteran in 1916, “but he was absolutely unable to tell the truth and was of an inordinate vanity.”

Of a similar opinion was Oliver Wilcox Norton, who had served on the staff of Col. Strong Vincent during the battle. Writing to Bishop Boyd Vincent on June 5, 1916 Norton concluded, “I used to think very highly of General Chamberlain; he was always very nice to me, but during the last two or three years I have come to the conclusion that he was more anxious to claim credit to himself than accord it to his associates.”

Not long following his death, Chamberlain fell into a kind of obscurity. It wasn’t until the publication of John Pullen’s classic regimental history of the 20th Maine appeared in 1957 that Chamberlain began his resurgence. This was helped along by the publication Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angel’s in 1974 and the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War in 1990.

The 1993 Turner film Gettysburg had the most substantial impact in catapulting Chamberlain to the folk-hero status he now enjoys. Following the release of the film, visitors flocked to Little Round Top in such numbers that the National Park Service had to add waysides, additional parking, and signage to guide visitors to the monument.  Yet two decades have passed since the release of the film, and it’s no-longer the touchstone it once was for visitors to Little Round Top. That being said, Chamberlain remains a well-known figure, having in a sense outlived the product of popular culture most responsible for his modern day renaissance.  

Normally I conduct an informal poll near the 20th Maine Monument. Who has heard of Joshua Chamberlain before? Usually about half the group has some familiarity, noticeably more than if I were to ask the same question regarding Vincent, Warren, or James Rice. Usually I have at least one true Chamberlain admirer who has traveled to Gettysburg specifically to see where the fight for Vincent’s Spur took place.

It has become a fairly common occurrence on Little Round Top for visitors to ask to see where the Chamberlain statue is. Such was the case with my tour group when we had concluded our program a few months back. Surely someone as famous as Chamberlain, a Medal of Honor recipient and bonafide Hollywood hero, would have some sort of monument on Little Round Top. My negative answer usually results in general disappointment.

Joshua Chamberlain does not have any statue or memorial on the Gettysburg battlefield, other than the two monuments to the 20th Maine on Little and Big Round Top. That being said, in the first two decades of the 20th Century, long before he graced movie theaters around the country and while still alive, Chamberlain came very near to having a life-sized bronze statue on the battlefield.

In the early 1900’s Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ranked as one of the true Maine heroes to emerge from the American Civil War. His prestige was further cemented by his four terms as Governor and his continued involvement with the one of the state’s premier academic institutions, Bowdoin College. Along with an equestrian statue to Oliver O. Howard, the state had intended on honoring its other famed son, Chamberlain, on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Image

Henry S. Burrage

In 1909 Civil War veteran Henry S. Burrage, a Brevet Major General in the United States Volunteers, was serving as the Maine’s first official state historian. As such, he was partly responsible for work on the Chamberlain Memorial at Gettysburg, and as a matter of course consulted with Chamberlain himself regarding the proposal. On November 22nd, 1909 Burrage wrote Chamberlain from the National Soldiers Home in Portland, Maine regarding the placement for such a statue.

“I enclose a letter from Col. Nicholson concerning the position of the Chamberlain Memorial at Gettysburg. You are the one most familiar with the place and so the best fitted to make the selection. I send the plan. I take it that the position deemed the best by the Commission is the boulder 1.0 feet in diameter and 3 feet high, just opposite the L.F. of the 20th Maine, where from the curve in the avenue a memorial would be seen in front and on either side.”

A copy of the very same blueprint mentioned by Burrage was sent to Jacob M. Dickinson, Secretary of War during the Taft Administration, by Senator Eugene Hale from Maine. With the blessing of the State of Maine, the Gettysburg National Park Commission, and the knowledge of the War Department, it would seem that the Chamberlain Memorial was fait accompli.

Yet, for some reason the project languished. By 1914, the year Chamberlain succumbed to his old Petersburg wound, nothing had been accomplished. From time to time it would be mentioned in official documents and correspondence, or some brief update in a local newspaper. In an article from the November 11th, 1916 issue of the Gettysburg Compiler it was reported that a commission from Maine had been appointed by the Governor of the State and that they had traveled to Gettysburg, but nothing seemed to have resulted from the exercise.

A few years later, in the Annual Report of the War Department for 1918, it was recorded that the site for the monument was selected many years before, with Joshua Chamberlain in attendance, but that the project had not moved forward.

In the end, the project ultimately died, the statue was never placed. It would be easy to blame the passing of time, the death of Chamberlain, and the inauguration of World War I for this fact, but other monuments, such as the Virginia Memorial in 1917, the Alabama Memorial in 1933, and Oliver O. Howard’s equestrian statue in 1932, continued to be placed on the field.

Perhaps the true reason why Chamberlain was never honored with a monument on the battlefield was Chamberlain himself. Buried in the vertical files of Gettysburg National Military Park is a twenty eight word letter written from Col. John P. Nicholson, Chairman of the Gettysburg National Park Commission, to Henry S. Burrage.

Image

From the tenor of Nicholson’s letter, it would seem as if Chamberlain had no inclination to have his likeness adorn the battlefield. At some point Chamberlain must have expressed this sentiment, either to Burrage or Nicholson or perhaps both. No doubt the repository of some library or institution contains this document. His motivation for such remains a bit of a mystery. It could be he felt his honors had already been accorded him, namely the Medal of Honor and Chamberlain Avenue which for a time ran the length of Vincent’s Spur. Perhaps he thought that the bulk of the glory should go to the men he commanded, particularly those who breathed their last on the hill. The five foot high block of granite that honors the 20th Maine regiment had been humbly serving that function since its placement in 1886.

Chamberlain’s reluctance to his own planned memorial does draw into question the conclusions of Spear, Norton, and others regarding his alleged egotism. Do self-aggrandizers shun memorials in their honor? The answer might be that Chamberlain’s motivations were misunderstood, or that there were limits to how far he was willing to go to further his status as one of the heroes of the battle.

The end result is that the visitors of today will search in vain for a Chamberlain statue, though with the proper amount of sleuthing they may be able to track down the boulder Burrage mentioned as a suitable site. Chamberlain admirers can rest easy however, with the knowledge that his legacy and that of his men is still very much alive on the Gettysburg battlefield.

 Christopher Gwinn, Acting Supervisory Historian

Image

As a fitting postscript, it can safely be said that though Chamberlain lacks a statue, he remains the only regimental commander at the Battle of Gettysburg who now has his own micro-brew. Perhaps that is some consolation.

Posted in 20th Maine Infantry, Army of the Potomac, Joshua Chamberlain, Veterans | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Addressing challenges at Little Round Top

Each year Gettysburg National Military Park identifies goals to accomplish in the coming twelve months.  For our current fiscal year, which ends October 1, 2014, we are working on four projects: Little Round Top Rehabilitation / Environmental Assessment; Cultural Landscape Report for Gettysburg’s first day’s battlefield; Fire Management Plan; and Rehabilitation of North Cemetery Ridge.  In my next few blogs we will look at each of these projects in depth. 

Little Round Top Rehabilitation / Environmental Assessment – This project rehabilitates the Little Round Top visitor use area – both battle era features and the commemorative landscape features – while eliminating numerous safety concerns.  This project will provide an adequate pedestrian circulation system that keeps visitors off of the fragile natural environment and removes tripping hazards. The natural landscape will be rehabilitated which will improve the natural resources. Site drainage will be installed where needed to protect both natural and cultural landscape features. Surrounding monuments and markers will have their foundations stabilized when the landscape surface is rehabilitated. The project would locate buses away from the primary resources to improve the visitor experience – especially the sounds and smells of idling buses.

100_8248 by WP

Inadequate pedestrian paths, erosion and accessibility challenges at Little Round Top

Project details:  The work entails new roadwork, car and bus parking areas, retaining walls, trails, sidewalks, ramps, stairs, accessibility, drainage, retention areas, slope stabilization, erosion control, grading, seeding, plantings, interpretive signs, regulatory signs and other improvements.

The Gettysburg Foundation is partnering with the park to fund some of the costs to complete this project.

100_8250 by WP

Cars, buses, segways, bicycles and pedestrians compete for space in the Little Round Top parking area.

 

The majority of the park’s 1.2 million annual visitors go to Little Round Top, with as many as 10,000 visitors per day during the peak visitation.  The existing infrastructure does not have the carrying capacity to accommodate this number of visitors and protect cultural and natural resources.  Bus and car parking is so congested that it creates safety hazards for visitors trying to cross the road to access the resource area. In addition, the visitor experience is highly impacted due to noise and air pollution from idling buses and cars. Over the past four years the park has documented 17 personal injuries at the site.  Many more go unreported.

Paths presently available to visitors are too narrow for present visitor volume, resulting in serious erosion of the site’s highly erosive, rocky soil. Available paved surfaces are primarily asphalt, but these are too narrow and insufficient to accommodate the visitor loads. Signage has had limited success. Logical connections between monuments and key views do not always exist, creating confusion for the visitors. Non-paved paths to the summit have been closed using brush piles in several heavily eroded areas and temporary posts and chains have been installed along the perimeter of the asphalt pavement at the summit.

DSCN6272

Heavy use creates erosion in many areas at Little Round Top

Major contributing factors to the acceleration of erosion are high storm water volume and fast runoff from paved surfaces and casual pedestrian use of non-paved areas. With the crush of visitors seeking space to move, edges of paved areas have eroded, and many beaten paths have been created along Sykes Avenue and between Sykes Avenue and Plum Run. Compaction of the soils is also occurring in many areas due to heavy foot traffic. In some areas, erosion has been so heavy that roots of large trees have been significantly exposed and paths become gullies during rainstorms.

Because of the sloping terrain, access by individuals in wheelchairs is also difficult.  The ramps and sidewalks do not meet ADA standards for slope, width, and other requirements.

One of the primary circulation problems at Little Round Top is the conflict between buses, pedestrians, and cars. The presence of several buses, often as many as six or seven at a time, parked or idling among cars, along Sykes Avenue. This severely limits drivers’ visibility due to the size of the buses. Pedestrian visibility when crossing the road is also limited, since they cannot see past the buses, and must therefore step in front of a parked bus before being able to see an oncoming vehicle.  When pedestrians are finally able to cross the road, pedestrian traffic flow is also awkward, confined and uncomfortable due to limited paved pedestrian surfaces. As a result, pedestrians scatter themselves randomly throughout the site, exacerbating the erosion problems and damaging remaining vegetation.

100_8279 by WP

Congestion causes pedestrians to walk on roadways and compete with buses and cars on busy days at Little Round Top.

Idling buses at Little Round Top create diesel fumes and nearly constant motor noise during most of the peak visiting days.

The estimated project cost is  $8,816,707.  We are anticipating a 50/50 cost share between federal funding and funding from the Gettysburg Foundation.

In my next blog we will look at the project to create a Cultural Landscape Report for Gettysburg’s first day’s battlefield, including the Emanual Harman farm.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, January 24, 2014

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 15 Comments

The Confusing Case of the 80th New York Volunteers- 20th N.Y.S.M.

The 80th NY-20th NYSM Monument

Monument to the 80th New York – 20th New York State Militia at Gettysburg.

One of the more attractive New York monuments on the battlefield has to be the 80th New York Volunteers-20th New York State Militia monument on Reynolds Avenue. A pre-war organization that mustered into Federal service in 1861, the “Ulster Guard”- named for the county in New York where it was raised- served the first three months in Federal volunteer service as the 20th New York State Militia until mustered out in August 1861. Reorganized for Federal service as a three month volunteer regiment, the 20th mustered back into Federal service that fall and, like other New York militia regiments, believed their designation as state militia would remain intact as a three years regiment. Much to the chagrin of the officers of the regiment, the unit received the numerical designation of “80th Regiment of New York Volunteers”, the title it was assumed, to be carried by the regiment throughout its three years of ensuing service. Case closed.  

“It’s not that simple,” states Seward Osborne, author of The Three-month Service of the 20th New York State Militia, April 28 – August 2, 1861. (Longstreet House, Hightstown, NJ, 1988), and keeper of the sacred trust of the history of the 20th NYSM. The new designation came with some baggage and had, in all probability, cancelled out the 20th’s officers dates of commissions, reducing their seniority among fellow officers and also causing quite a stir among the enlisted men whose loyalty lay to their state and original designation as a regiment of the State Militia.

According to the new muster date at Kingston, New York on October 25, 1861, the regiment left for Washington still bearing the title of 20th NYSM until two months later when that somewhat mystical “80th NY Volunteers” began to appear. A somewhat perturbed Colonel George Pratt wrote to Captain George Ruggles,  the Assistant Adjutant General of the Army of the Potomac, the following April from the regimental camp at Bailey’s Cross Roads, Virginia:

“I have no commission, nor has any other person in this camp any commission or authority, to my knowledge to act in and for the 80th N.Y. Volunteers: the officers of the 20th Regt, expressly refused any ‘Volunteer’ designation before the regt quitted Kingston, N.Y. and its present status, was accepted and determined by the governor himself and it is therefore part of the contract.”

Gates- Library of Congress
Colonel Theodore Gates
(Library of Congress)

The regiment’s indignation was briefly silent after Colonel Pratt’s death at Second Bull Run, but later that fall the regiment’s new commander, Colonel Theodore B. Gates, re-initiated the campaign to have the state delegated decision reversed and for the original militia designation restored. Persistence paid off. On January 22, 1863, New York’s Adjutant General, Isaac Vanderpool, wrote to Colonel Gates:

 “The Governor has received a communication from Genl. (Henry) Samson under date of the 19th Jan. with reference to the preservation of the number and organization of your regiment as it left for the Seat of War.  He has forwarded a copy of this communication to the General in Chief of the Army Major Genl. Halleck accompanied by his own request that nothing should be done to alter the position or number of the Regiment. It will be regarded at this office as the 20th N.Y.S. Militia; but to avoid any difficulty which might arise as to its rights in the Volunteer Service, the words ‘20th Militia’ will be inserted in brackets in each commission after the words 80th Volunteers.

 “The Governor feels a warm interest in the welfare of the 20th,” Vanderpool added, “and will endeavor, that the honors it has won in the field, shall be preserved to it under its Militia designation.”

 Gates and his officers won their case- designation restored and commissions preserved. “The document (from Vanderpool) makes my case for me,” Osborne wrote to the park last year.  “In the so-called volunteer service, the Federal government paid the regiment by Federal paymasters, on Federal paymaster stationary, as the 20th N. Y. S. Militia, and you still continue to have the real name and designation.”

20th NYSM Flag, 1863

Flag of the Ulster Guard carried at Gettysburg. (Courtesy of the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center)

But wait- the words “20th Militia’…inserted in brackets in each commission after… 80th Volunteers”? Was this truly the restoration of the proper title for Gates and his men? On the muster sheets and pay roll of the regiment, the title is 20th NY State Militia and, as Osborne is also quick to point out, the men still carried the old flag with “20th NYSM” and wore the number 20 on their caps. Did that truly cancel the state’s volunteer regimental number? In similar fashion, the 14th Brooklyn ferociously guarded its original title rather than accept the designation 84th New York Volunteer Infantry, though the 9th New York State Militia may not have been so upset when its three year service title was changed to 83rd New York Volunteer Infantry, though the title “Ninth Regiment” was a necessary addition to the regiment’s monument.

We can think of this as simple matter of unit pride but that was only part of it. The primary concern was preservation of the original regiment and those all-important commissions on file in the state attorney general’s office. Even so, the designation of 80th New York Volunteers was never completely scrubbed from the rolls of the state returns nor from the official monthly rosters compiled by the adjutant general of the Army of the Potomac, so it must have been with some mild disgust when veterans of the regiment, following the rules of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, dedicated their monument on Reynolds Avenue in 1888 with the inscription of “80th New York Volunteers” prominent on the face of the stone base. Yet above all is what Colonel Pratt and his fellow officers and men would have wanted- the open hand as borne on the regimental flags surrounded by the title “Ulster Guard” and “20th N.Y. State Militia”, this time without the brackets.

John Heiser, Gettysburg NMP
January 2014

Posted in 20th New York State Militia, Monuments at Gettysburg | 1 Comment

“You Never Know What the Shift Might Bring”

Student Ride-Alongs create deep connections between a younger generation and our national parks

 

Chief Ranger Ryan Levins, left, with Jennifer Newberry

Chief Ranger Ryan Levins, left, with Gettysburg High School student Jennifer Newberry

One of the rewarding parts of the Protection Rangers’ job at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Park is working with our local communities and schools. Rangers assist the state, township and borough police officers regularly as part of their jobs. Coordination and cooperation between police, fire, emergency response and other governmental entities are essential to provide the best services for the park and community.

Today was one of our opportunities to work with local students interested in future criminal justice careers. The Adams County Tech Prep Law Enforcement Program conducts ride-along shadowing with rangers this time of year. Students from various high schools around the county shadow law enforcement agencies to experience different parts of the criminal justice system. Students shadow 911 dispatchers, State Police officers, local township officers, fish and game officers, judges and a host of others.

 

Tires dumped along red Rock Road at the Eisenhower national Historic Site.  Anyone with information about this incident should call the Ranger office at 717/ 334-0909.

Tires dumped along Red Rock Road at the Eisenhower National Historic Site. Anyone with information about this incident should call the Ranger office at 717/ 334-0909.

Jennifer Newberry of Gettysburg High School was my senior shadowing student for the day. Winter days are usually quiet, especially during a cold snap. When Jennifer arrived we immediately were called by other rangers to a report of tires dumped on part of the Eisenhower National Historic Site. Cumberland Township officers also responded and after a short discussion of land ownership rangers took lead on the case. The tires were removed by park staff for proper disposal.

We patrolled the park while Jennifer asked me a series of questions about our jobs, educational requirements and challenges.  Jennifer expressed that her career goal in the criminal justice field was to become a behavioral analyst for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I was able to show her certain areas of the park she had not seen before and took her to the Visitor Center for a close up look at the Cyclorama painting. While at the Visitor Center, rangers were dispatched to the Eisenhower Farm 1 Barn for a fire alarm. Turns out this alarm was caused by a burst pipe in the system due to the change in temperatures. Park maintenance employees were also on scene to take over and fix the problem.

Ready to ride in the patrol car at Gettysburg.

Ready to ride in the patrol car at Gettysburg.

Gettysburg’s outreach program for high school students supports the National Park Service’s Call to Action C2A #2 Step by Step.  The ride-alongs will continue into the springtime.

Protection Rangers at Gettysburg and Eisenhower parks perform a wide range of duties during their shifts. The traditional National Park Service protection ranger provides law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical service and search and rescue services as part of their jobs. Depending on the park unit, the ranges of these services certainly vary. Rangers at Gettysburg are not conducting high angle rescues like rangers at Yosemite National Park. There are no swift water rescues such as those at Delaware Water Gap or airboat patrols like at Big Cypress National Preserve. No matter the park unit all rangers protect the resources of the park (s) they serve.

Jennifer with one of the patrol vehicles on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Jennifer with one of the patrol vehicles on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Protection Rangers enjoy their jobs because of the variety. You never know what might happen or what the shift might bring. Certainly the bitter cold winter nights on patrol over the last few days has led to quiet shifts with the park to ourselves. Quite the change from 2013 which brought lots of traffic, lots of visitors and lots of busy days.

Having the opportunity to share with students our love for the job is one of the things I enjoy most. We might not make them into US Park Rangers, but hopefully they at least will know more about the National Park Service and our mission. When my shift with Jennifer was complete, it was back to one of my favorite parts of the job – paperwork.     

Ryan Levins, Chief Ranger, January 9, 2014

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It Has Been an Honor

We recently received our annual statistical report from WordPress about this blog. In 2013 we produced 46 posts which received approximately 160,000 views. Since we started the blog in May 2011, we have written 130 posts, including this one, and these have received a grand total of 316,877 views from people in 117 different countries. This represents a new world of interpretation that we are just beginning to explore. Take Chris Gwinn’s recent post about the controversy over the Lee statue on the Virginia Memorial as an example. In two days it had 2,115 views. It took Chris some time to put this post together with the research and writing, but one post reaching 2,115 people is a pretty good day’s work. If we have 100 people attend an interpretive walk it is something to talk about. Chris reached 20 times that number with one post, and those enjoying what he wrote could be anywhere in the world. There is great power in personal interpretation on the resource, but there is also value in reaching out beyond the resource to those who are interested in it but unable to physically visit. That is what this blog can do. And it can tell stories we might not be able to tell in a regular interpretive program. The possibilities are limitless.

Tomorrow, I will retire from the National Park Service and Gettysburg NMP after 34 years and several months of service. This blog is one of the many things I will miss as I move on. I feel as if I have only scratched the surface of topics to be explored. But others, like Chris and Katie Lawhon and John Heiser will carry on without me and they may even invite me to write a guest post now and then.

I don’t wish to bore you with maudlin reflections of my years at Gettysburg, but permit me to reflect on three things that stand out to me as I ponder the past 34 years. The first is the people, you . . . the readers of this blog, the park visitors, those who visit multiple times a year, and those who seem to find Gettysburg by accident, and all the people I have worked with. It is the people that have made my time here so rewarding and interesting. There have been frustrations but they are heavily outnumbered by the positives. As the title of this post indicates, it has been an honor to serve the public for over three decades. I cannot imagine a more rewarding job than I have had. And the people I have worked with, co-workers, bosses, licensed guides, volunteers – the dedication they bring to serving the visitor and telling the story always inspired me and made me proud.

Second, is the resource, the battlefield. It is an evocative and beautiful landscape yet one can feel the tragedy. Someone who knew nothing about the battle and drove up Hancock Avenue to the High Water Mark would instantly know that something important

NPS

NPS

happened here. The iron fence around the small copse of trees and close concentration of monuments, cannons and wayside exhibits beckon the visitor from their car. Although it has been quoted to exhaustion no one has ever captured the feeling of this place like Joshua Chamberlain when he wrote, “In great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision place of souls.” There is tremendous emotional power in this place which may seem odd for a landscape where something so utterly terrible took place. I was reminded of this after September 11. On two separate occasions visitors I did not know but who had attended my programs sent me notes afterwards to thank me. They also both wrote that they had been in the Twin Towers that terrible day and survived. What drew them to Gettysburg? What did they hope to find here? I don’t know specifically and can only speculate. Surely, they did not seek a reminder of the fear and terror they had known that day. Perhaps, instead, they found hope and comfort in that Gettysburg symbolized that government of the people, by the people and for the people could endure a crises as great as the Civil War. Perhaps it was something else that brought them here. The landscape evokes different feelings in each person but it rarely fails to stir emotions.

Lastly, it is the Gettysburg story that looms largely in my mind. I never lost sight of the fact that the story of this place, the battle, the people, the town, the park, was bigger than me. I was merely a conduit. I feel that those who lived the event expected one thing from those of us who tell their story – and that is that we do so honestly and objectively. At the height of the fame Joshua Chamberlain achieved after the movie “Gettysburg” was released, I was told a story of a group of visitors that were standing on Little Round Top. When someone in the group, who had seen the movie, brought up Chamberlain’s name, the leader pretended to gag and dismissed Chamberlain as overhyped. In a battle that pitted nearly 165,000 men the attention Chamberlain received after the movie “Gettysburg” was certainly out of proportion. But my first thought when I heard this story was that if that individual had stood in Chamberlain’s shoes that day, had watched over 120 of his men get shot down around him, heard the shrieks and groans and cries of men he knew, had felt the fear and chaos in his bones, listened to subordinates reporting they were nearly out of ammunition and some advising that they should fall back, and still had the coolness and courage to order a bayonet charge, well, I don’t think he would have gagged when asked about Chamberlain.

The battle is only part of the story here. It is also about the people who lived here, the people at home who waited with dread the news from the front, those who helped preserve the field after the battle and war, and how we have remembered it, commemorated it, and preserved it. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reminds us that the story is also about big things, what the war was about, what it resolved and what it did not.

Dwight Eisenhower once said that he has always wanted to own a piece of land and

Photo by Warren Motts

Photo by Warren Motts

leave it a little better than he had found it, which is what he did with his Gettysburg farm. I always liked that sentiment, to work to make something better than you found it. I hope I did that in my time at Gettysburg. Regards and sincere thanks to you all.

D. Scott Hartwig

Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments