Finding Connections

Over the past nine seasons, while working as an interpretative ranger at both Antietam and Gettysburg, I have met dozens —if not, hundreds—of visitors whose ancestors fought in the Civil War. Usually it is a great-great-great grandfather or great-great-great uncle, but on at least half a dozen occasions, I have had the great pleasure of meeting folks whose grandfathers served in the war. This happened most recently during the Sesquicentennial Anniversary weekend in September 2012 at Antietam when an elderly gentleman inquired of the location of the 9th New York/Hawkins’s Zouaves Monument. He was looking for it because, as he said, he wanted to stand upon the same ground where his grandfather had fought 150 years earlier.  Talking further with this gentleman, I discovered that his grandfather was born in 1840 and that he had passed away at the age of 95 in 1935. The soldier’s grandson, who in September 2012 stood before me at the desk at Antietam, told me that he was ten years old when his grandfather died. Curios, I asked if his grandfather had ever discussed the war with him when he was a young child. The man simply shook his head no and said that it was something they just didn’t talk about.


Monument to the 9th New York Zouaves, Antietam National Battlefield.

To be able to point out and physically connect a visitor to a particular part of a battlefield where their ancestor—or at least their ancestor’s regiment—served, is a great and satisfying feeling and one that I have had the privilege of doing countless times over the years. Many times the visitor’s face will light up when I circle on a map where their ancestor served; other times, their eyes swell with tears knowing that they would be able to stand where their ancestor fought and where, on some occasions, their ancestor fell. Usually after doing this, I am myself asked if any of my ancestors served in the war. It is a question I have been asked many, many times over the past nine years. And the answer is a simple no.  Indeed, as far as I’ve been able to discover, none of my direct ancestors were even in the United States during the 1860s. They were, instead, many thousands of miles away, scattered across Eastern Europe, and another five or six decades would pass even before any of my ancestors finally made the long journey to America.  

I, thus, may not have any direct, ancestral ties to the Civil War but there are still many personal connections I can make to the war’s great battlefields. During my years at Antietam, for example, I had a strong connection to the southern end of the battlefield, to the famed Burnside’s Bridge and to the ground where the 9th Corps made the final Union attack on that bloody Wednesday, September 17, 1862. It was there where the 48th Pennsylvania served and where they lost some 60 men. The 48th Pennsylvania was recruited from my hometown, from my native Schuylkill County, in the east-central portion of the Commonwealth. Growing up, studying the Civil War, I focused in on this particular regiment. I studied its service, its experiences, and the soldiers who composed its ranks. I frequently visited their graves. Indeed, in my hometown of Orwigsburg, a small community of just 2,500 or so people, lies buried the remains of Corporal Lewis Focht while only a few miles away, in Cressona, lies the remains of Private George Dentzter. Across Route 61 from Cressona is Schuylkill Haven and there is buried Corporal Daniel Moser while only a few miles further north, in Port Carbon, is the grave Lieutenant William Cullen. All of these soldiers were members of the 48th Pennsylvania, and all gave their lives at Antietam. For me, finding something of a personal connection to Antietam was thus not that difficult. But Gettysburg would be a little bit harder, for the 48th Pennsylvania—and the entire 9th Corps for that matter—was simply not there, not present during the battle. I would thus have to dig just a little deeper to find those personal connections.

Of course, by the time I began working with the NPS at Gettysburg, the place was already very—very—familiar to me. As a young kid, growing up only two hours away, I came to the fields of Gettysburg countless times on family vacations or on simple day-trips, and in 2004, my wife and I moved here, years before my first season began in the Gray and Green at Gettysburg. So, there has always been a connection for me to Gettysburg—but it was a deeper connection I was seeking and, during my first season here, I found it. I found it while developing an interpretative program on the National Cemetery when I came across the name—and the story—of William Beaumont and his brothers.

The story of the Beaumont brothers really struck a chord with me because of its connection to my native Schuylkill County and its connection to my own family’s history. As alluded to previously, it was not until the early 1900s before any of my own ancestors arrived on America’s shores, with the hopes of carving out a new life for themselves and for their families. On both my paternal and maternal sides, it was my great-grandparents who made the journey, settling ultimately in Schuylkill County where my great-grandfathers immediately went to work in the coal mines. It would be an occupation followed by their sons as well, including my maternal grandfather—my mom’s dad—Nicholas Mitsock.  

Nick Mitsock was born in Schuylkill County in April 1927 and raised in a coal patch near Minersville. He went to the local schools before service called him away to Europe. He served in Germany during the waning days of World War II, a truck mechanic, or so I have been told. Following his discharge from the army, Nick Mitsock returned to Schuylkill County and once more took up the pick and shovel of the coal miner. He met my grandmother. Soon after they were married and five children followed as a result. Their first—my mom—was born in 1951 and was thus only six years of age when her dad—my grandfather—left home one late May morning in 1957 and never came back. Nick Mitsock was only thirty-years old when he was killed in a mine collapse, leaving my grandmother a widow, my mom fatherless and forcing her to help raise her four young siblings. After several days, his body was recovered and his remains laid to rest in the town of St. Clair.


Nick Mitsock, grandfather of the author.

So, what, then, does this have to do with the Battle of Gettysburg and the story of the Beaumont brothers?

Some eighty or so years before my great-grandparents immigrated to America and found a home in Schuylkill County, a Mr. William Beaumont arrived. Born in England in 1811, William Beaumont immigrated to America, presumably in the late 1820s or early 1830s. He found a home in St. Clair and went immediately to work in the coal mines.  He met a young lady named Mary and the couple had six children. Their eldest son, George, was born in 1834. Their second son, William, arrived six years later. In 1842, John was born and their youngest son, Charles, was born two years after John, in 1844. As the boys got older, they followed in their father’s footsteps, finding work in the coal mines near St. Clair. Then the war began, and all four sons made the decision to leave their picks and shovels behind and take up the weapons of a soldier, fighting in defense of their father’s adopted country.

George, William, and John Beaumont volunteered their services first, soon after the outbreak of hostilities, when all three enlisted into the ranks of Company A, 88th Pennsylvania Infantry. As the youngest of the Beaumont boys, Charles was only 17 when the war began and thus could not officially enlist until the following year. He did so, joining up first with the 129th Pennsylvania Infantry in the summer of 1862 and later with the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, seeing considerable service in the war’s Western Theater before returning safely home in 1865.

Having offered their services, it was not long before George, William, and John Beaumont became good soldiers. Fighting side-by-side, the three brothers made it unscathed through the Seven Days’ Battles, 2nd Manassas, and Antietam, where the 88th sustained heavy losses in the infamous Cornfield. By the summer of 1863, they were battle-hardened, experienced soldiers fighting in a well-seasoned, veteran regiment, which, by the onset of the Gettysburg Campaign, had been whittled down to fewer than 300 soldiers remaining in its ranks.

At Gettysburg, the 88th Pennsylvania formed part of General Henry Baxter’s Brigade of General John Robinson’s Second Division, First Corps. The regiment arrived on the field sometime before noon on July 1, 1861 and was initially assigned to a reserve position near the Lutheran Seminary. As a defensive measure, the men, including the Beaumont brothers, immediately began throwing up fence rails, erecting make-shift barricades. But when Robert Rodes’s Confederate division arrived on Oak Hill, further to the north, General Abner Doubleday—who had taken command of the First Corps following the death of John Reynolds—needed troops to meet this new and developing threat. Robinson got the nod and Robinson, in turn, called upon Baxter and sometime after noon, Baxter’s men—the 88th included—raced their way northward along Seminary Ridge, across the railroad cut to Oak Ridge, where they settled into position behind a stone wall. It would not be long before they became heavily engaged. After helping to turn back several Confederate attacks, the soldiers of the 88th Pennsylvania ran low on ammunition and their spot on the front would be taken up by soldiers of Robinson’s Second Brigade under Gabriel Paul. Relentless pressure from Rodes’s Division, however, simply became too much for Robinson’s men to bear and sometimes around 4:00 p.m. orders from Doubleday arrived to retreat. Driven from the field and back through the labyrinthine streets of Gettysburg, Robinson’s men ultimately rallied on Cemetery Hill.


                                                           88th Pennsylvania Monument, Oak Ridge

In its action that day, the 88th Pennsylvania lost more than a third of its men, killed, wounded, captured, and missing. Panting, exhausted, George Beaumont made it safely back to Cemetery Hill. As he looked around through the wreckage—through what was left of the 88th—he could not locate his two younger brothers, for both William and John Beaumont were among the regiment’s casualties that bloody Wednesday. At some point during the battle on Oak Ridge, William was shot through the neck, while John was captured in the streets of town. Carried south with the Army of Northern Virginia in the aftermath of the battle, John Beaumont remained in captivity for just three weeks before being exchanged. He would return to the ranks of Company A, 88th PA, but brother William would not be so fortunate. His wound proved mortal, and he passed away on July 13. Later that year, William Beaumont’s remains were interred in the newly-established Soldiers’ National Cemetery, in the Pennsylvania plot, Row B, Grave #73.


                                     The grave of William Beaumont, Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

It is not known whether William Beaumont’s grave had been dug by the time Lincoln arrived in mid-November to deliver his “few appropriate remarks” but his words, when they heard or read them, surely resonated with brothers George and John, still in the ranks of the 88th PA. Lincoln admonished the people of the nation—including those on the home front and those on the battle front—to rededicate themselves to the great task remaining before them, to see the war through to its conclusion, for there was still hard work ahead. In the winter of 1863-1864, both Beaumont brothers still in the 88th decided to reenlist for another three-year term of service and in a February 1864 letter to the editor of Schuylkill County’s leading newspaper best summarized the reason why when he wrote: “I have been in the service of my country two years and six months, but I am not tired of it. . . .I entered the service when the rebellion first began, and I am determined to see it ended.”

Sadly, John Beaumont would not live to see the end of the war. On June 18, 1864, four months after writing this letter, John was killed in action at Petersburg.

Next year, the war, at last, came to an end. George Beaumont was the only one of the three brothers who served in the 88th Pennsylvania to make it back home. He returned to St. Clair and to his family. He was married by then and may have had at least one child. He also returned to the mines. He sought, as best he could, to return to normal. But tragedy still hovered over the Beaumont brothers and on November 30, 1868—just three-and-a-half years after Appomattox—George Beaumont was at work in the mines when a large lump of coal fell down a 500-foot shaft that George just happened to be standing under. The coal struck George and he was instantly killed. A few days later, George Beaumont’s remains were laid to rest in St. Clair.


The grave of George Beaumont, St. Clair, PA.

Some four score and nine years later, in 1957, my grandfather—Nicholas Mitsock—who like George Beaumont had been killed in a coal mine accident shortly after returning from war, leaving a widow and a young family behind—was also laid to rest, in St. Clair, very near the grave of George Beaumont.

It is important for all of us to find our connections—physical, emotional, or both—to the past and to its places, such as Gettysburg.  You can find them if you look hard enough, even if you believe there are none to be found. Many visitors to Gettysburg have a direct, ancestral connection to the battlefields here; many do not. None of my ancestors fought at Gettysburg; indeed, none even served in the war.  But there are still strong connections. I am reminded of this every time I walk past the grave of William Beaumont in the Pennsylvania section of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Seeing his name inscribed upon his granite footstone, immediately makes me think his brother George and of my mom’s dad—my grandfather—Nicholas Mitsock whom I never had the privilege of knowing; who, in fact, died long before I was even born.  

 John Hoptak, Park Ranger


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A new future for Gettysburg’s Armory

The Armory on West Confederate Avenue with the Round Tops visible in the background

The Pennsylvania National Guard Armory on West Confederate Avenue with the Round Tops visible in the background

A few years ago, the 1938 Pennsylvania National Guard Armory along West Confederate Avenue within Gettysburg National Military Park was declared excess property by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its significance as an early armory of the Pennsylvania National Guard.  In January 2014, the Commonwealth donated the 3.67 acre property to the park’s non-profit partner, the Gettysburg Foundation.   It includes the historic art deco armory building plus a three bay garage and a storage shed.

A vew if the armoryfrom the south west with Hills' artillery reserve.

A view if the armory from the southwest with Hills’ artillery reserve.

The Gettysburg Foundation has agreed to fund and manage the rehabilitation and fit-out of the three-bay garage for a new cannon carriage and monument preservation shop for the park and rehab the main building for park offices. Once the facility’s rehab is complete, the Foundation will donate it to the park.


The art deco design of this main doorway was popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

The art deco design of this main doorway was popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Foundation’s fundraising is continuing for the project which will be completed in phases. The first phase will be the rehab of the garage as a monument and cannon carriage restoration shop. Since 1998, the Foundation has rented a warehouse in downtown Gettysburg to serve as the park’s cannon carriage shop. Use of the armory’s garage would allow the Foundation to dedicate this funding (currently $30,000 per year) to other

The main floor

The main floor

preservation and education projects for the mutual benefit of the Foundation and the park.

Rehab of the main armory building will follow in a later phase. Using the armory for park offices would meet a long standing need for consolidation of office spaces from five locations throughout

The lower level has office space and other features likes this storage safe.

The lower level has office space and other features likes this storage safe.

Gettysburg NMP, including administration, law enforcement and resource management.

National Park Service (NPS) ownership of the armory would meet the shared goals of the park and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to preserve the National Register property and would improve operational efficiencies in the park. Long term operational efficiencies and benefits to the park far outweigh the cost of the rehab project for the historic structure.

This view of the south side of the armory shows the three bay garage that will become the park's cannon carriage restoration shop and a smaller building that we may eventually use as a paint shop.

This view of the south side of the armory shows the three bay garage that will become the park’s monument and cannon carriage restoration shop and a smaller building that we may eventually use as a paint shop.

If the armory had been sold to a private-sector owner or developer, its new uses would have been unlikely to achieve the park’s preservation goals. The property’s mixed use/residential zoning allows for uses that had the potential to significantly detract from the park’s efforts to maintain the historic character of the site and its context in the nationally significant battlefield landscape.  

Incidentally, the armory has a unique association with at least one aspect of Gettysburg battlefield history, the housing of World War II prisoners of war (POWs). In 1944, 50 prisoners were housed temporarily in the armory while they constructed the POW compound along Emmitsburg Road on the fields of Pickett’s Charge. The POWs eventually housed on the battlefield provided labor in the apple orchards and the fruit processing plants in Adams County. For more information, check out this link on the Gettysburg Discussion Group.


Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 4/3/14


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Barksdale Remembered: A Georgia “High Private” Reflects on Gettysburg

From primary sources such as letters, diaries, and memoirs, to a volume of secondary studies on almost every aspect of the field, Gettysburg is possibly the most widely documented battle in the Civil War.  Barring a miracle, our understanding of the “big picture” is not going to change.  This leaves to Gettysburg buffs those small kernels of new information that do not change our knowledge of the battle, but simply adds more color to what we already know -such is the case with William Barksdale and his Mississippi brigade.


William Barksdale, a politician turned soldier, led a brigade of 1,600 Mississippians against the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg, July 2nd, 1863.

Hailing from Tennessee, William Barksdale attended the University of Nashville, later becoming a lawyer in Columbus, Mississippi.  He branched off into journalism and became the editor of the Columbus Democrat.  In 1852, Barksdale gained election to the United States House of Representatives and ardently advanced the South’s constitutional rights.   In 1861, he became colonel of the 13th Mississippi, assumed brigade command a year later and led his men at Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. On the afternoon of July 2nd, James Longstreet’s First Corps attacked the Union left flank.  Barksdale’s brigade was one of the last units to enter the fight, but the first to achieve a significant breakthrough.  The gallant Barksdale, leading his men onward on horseback, pierced the Union line at the Peach Orchard, wheeled his brigade to the left and proceeded to roll up the rest of the Union position along the Emmitsburg Road.  These facts are well known. Every once in awhile, a new source emerges in the most unlikely of places.  In the early 1900’s, E. H. Sutton penned a short but interesting memoir titled Grandpa’s War Stories.  His narrative is in the same style as Sam Watkin’s Co. Aytch with witty tales of camp life, foraging, and close calls. E. H. Sutton enlisted on June 30, 1862, in the 24th Georgia, a “high” private from the rocky hills of Batesville, Georgia.  Sutton arrived in Virginia in time for the Battle of Second Manassas.  He remembered many of the boys were barefoot during the campaign.  “A shoemaker would cut moccasins from beef hides and the raw hides would be stitched together on the foot of the poor fellows,” Sutton recalled later.  “They saved their feet and did very well till it rained, then they stretched and got out of shape and were soon discarded.”


E. H. Sutton served as a Private in Co. K, 24th Georgia. On July 2nd he was a member of W. T. Wofford’s brigade.

On the subsequent march into Maryland, Sutton recalled that many soldiers were afflicted with chronic diarrhea, including him.  As a result, he struggled to keep up with his unit and barely made the trek to South Mountain as the battle commenced.  After a load of “buck and ball” passed between his legs, grazing his inner thigh, Sutton decided that was all he wanted and “ignominiously fled to the rear, and realizing that we were defeated I kept going.” Due to his dysentery, Sutton made his way back to Virginia, missing the Battle of Sharpsburg.  He was back in fighting form though for the Battle of Fredericksburg three months later and again at Chancellorsville in May, 1863.  In a bid to end the war, Lee turned his columns north toward Pennsylvania and E. H. Sutton marched along with his comrades in W. T. Wofford’s brigade. On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Wofford deployed his men into line behind Barksdale.  A simple twist of fate now brought the two men together in Pennsylvania; the well educated lawyer, editor, and politician next to the home spun “high” private.  Sutton recalled the moment: “There was a field just in advance of us, and Barksdale’s Mississippians were in the edge of the woods some forty paces to our front.  I got leave of my Captain to go forward to the edge of the field and reconnoiter, promising to return at once if the line was formed.  When I reached the edge of the wood, Barksdale’s men had formed line in the edge of the field, preparing to charge.  General Barksdale came back to near where I stood, hidden  by the undergrowth, and stepping behind a large white oak tree, uncovered his head, and with his right hand and face lifted up, began his silent prayer.  I could see his lips move, but heard no sound.  Before his devotions were ended a courier came with an order.  One of his aides went to him and touched him and gave him the message.  He replaced his cap, walked rapidly to his horse, mounted, and gave the order….”


Barksdale galloped to the front of his brigade and personally led the charge from the front.  He finally fell from multiple wounds along with 46% of his 1600 man brigade.  During the evening of July 2nd, Union stretcher bearers removed the General from the field.  Barksdale’s last words addressed his love for his family, “God ever watch over and care for my dear wife and my boys may God be a father to them, tell them to be good men and brave and always defend the right.” We will never know what Barksdale uttered in his prayer or the thoughts that crossed his mind as he prepared for the charge.   The prayer scene recorded by Sutton helps to transform a fearless warrior into a mortal man – a man worried about the future. Sutton, captured by a “burly Irishman” at the close of the fighting, would spend the next twenty-one months in such notorious Union prisons as Fort McHenry, Fort Delaware, and Point Lookout. Upon his exchange in February, 1865, he eventually made it back all the way to Batesville, Georgia to share his tale. In this case, history was not written by the gallant general, but by the “high” private. A story that Sutton did not think overly important at the time now provides us another window into the narrative of Barksdale’s charge at Gettysburg. His small book lending its own layer to the story we know so well.

Matt Atkinson, Park Ranger

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Fire Management Plan at Gettysburg

My recent posts have been about Gettysburg NMP’s 2014 goals.  We have already looked at: addressing challenges at Little Round Top; the rehabilitation of North Cemetery Ridge; and a cultural landscape report for the first day’s battlefield.   This week we’ll look at the fourth and final goal:  a fire management plan for the park.

Test fire October 2013.  Gettysburg Foundation photo by Ray Matlock.

Test fire at the Snyder farm, Gettysburg National Military Park,  October 2013. Gettysburg Foundation photo by Ray Matlock.

The park has identified the use of prescribed fire as a viable management technique to help maintain historically open fields of the Gettysburg battlefield landscapes, an important goal of our General Management Plan.  In May the park will gather public comments for an environmental assessment for a fire management plan for Gettysburg NMP and Eisenhower National Historic

Site.  As one step in the planning process, the first prescribed fire ever at Gettysburg NMP took place October 30, 2013.  NPS fire specialists burned 13 acres of fields on the historic Snyder farm, in the southern portion of the battlefield.

Gettysburg National Military Park Biologist Sara Koenig at the site on March 20, 2014 with a cedar in the burn site.  Monitoring continues but it looks like the majority of the cedars in the burn site are dead.

Gettysburg National Military Park Biologist Sara Koenig at the site on March 20, 2014 with a cedar in the burn site. Monitoring continues but it looks like the majority of the cedars in the burn site are dead.

Bunchgrass, a native , warm season grass is just greening up in the burn site.

Bunchgrass, a native , warm season grass is just greening up in the burn site on March 20, 2014.

The overall objectives for using prescribed fire are:

  • to maintain the conditions of the battlefield as experienced by the soldiers who fought here;
  • perpetuate the open space character of the landscape; maintain wildlife habitat;
  • control invasive exotic species;
  • reduce shrub and woody species components;
  • provide for public and employee safety.
The Snyder field looking east before the test fire.

The Snyder field looking east before the test fire.

We completed the fire test last fall, immediately before shrub and woody species move into dormancy, in order to reduce the plants’ energy reserves and diminish vigor and growth potential for the following spring.

Spring has only just arrived at Gettysburg – barely!  Snow was falling just a few days ago.  NPS specialists will soon be checking the test fire site to determine the effects of the fire on woody vegetation in

The same area immediately after the test fire.

The same area immediately after the test fire.

the open fields.

Use of prescribed fires would reduce herbicide use and impacts in the park.  Success factors include ease of implementation, effectiveness towards meeting resource objectives, degree of impact on visitation, and cost effectiveness.

The 2001 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy  directs agencies to continue to “implement ecosystem based fire management programs to accomplish resource or landscape management objectives when consistent with land management objectives.”

On April 3 at the Gettysburg NMP Advisory Commission meeting one of the updates will be about the fire management plan.  When the plan is available for review in May it will be online at:



Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, March 20, 2014

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An “Invincible Repugnance” – The Other Battles of General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys, commander of the Third Corps’ Second Division at Gettysburg, was a curious mixture of precision and conceit.  On the very late evening hours of July 1st, 1863, with his men maneuvering towards the battlefield, his forces nearly collided with the Confederates in the vicinity of Black Horse Tavern, southwest of town, as they approached.  As Humphreys later chose to describe the situation in his report:

“He was not aware of my presence, and I might have attacked him at daylight with the certainty of temporary success; but I was 3 miles distant from the remainder of the army, and I believed such a course would have been inconsistent with the general plan of operations of the commanding general.  I therefore retraced my steps…” (Emphasis added)


Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys

This may well be read as a subtle swipe at his corps commander, General Daniel E. Sickles, who the next day famously induced the Third Corps to vulnerable battle without providing proper supports on either flank.  Supports, of course, are often critical to the soundness of any position, and Sickles was no engineer.  Humphreys’ command suffered terribly as a result; of the 5,000 men present for duty in the Second Division, casualties numbered some 2,088.    

Engineering, careful and meticulous, by contrast, seemed born into the bloodstream of Andrew A. Humphreys.  As the grandson of the designer of the USS Constitution, and the son of the Chief Naval Constructor in Philadelphia, his future appeared cast for him.  Indeed, his father secured the sixteen-year old a West Point appointment, partly to instill in him the sense of order and discipline a future engineer would require.  In this effort, however, he would prove only partially successful. Upon graduation in 1831, with a class standing of 13 out of 33, the young Andrew began his career; yet he retained his uncompromising attitudes.  An early posting was the small locale of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Humphreys found “[M]y labor a dull, uninteresting task, and I go to it with disgust.”

His arrogance, however, did not preclude his innate skill – over the next thirty years Humphreys spent many years associated with numerous projects of ever-expanding national significance.  In 1851, he was appointed by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to head the Pacific Railroad Survey Office, reviewing the engineering of the three possible routes west – northern, central, or southern.  It was a complex project, heavy both in engineering and in political imbroglio, and it consumed six years of Humphreys’ attention. Therefore, he would, however, be inescapably interrupted by the Railroad Survey requirements; he would not return to the River Survey office until 1857.      


Charles S. Ellet

A year prior to the railroad appointment, however, had come to him the task that would mark the remainder of his life for six years: that of controlling the Mississippi River. In the fall of 1850, Congress appropriated funds for a river survey of the lower Mississippi, seeking to understand the source of its habitual floods, and the ritual appearance of sandbars at the mouth of the river that shut down commerce there for months at a time.  It was an important and high-profile assignment, and upon his assignment to the River Survey Office, Humphreys was disheartened to learn that he would share this responsibility with a civilian, albeit a highly prominent one, for the job.  Charles S. Ellet Jr., immediately got to work, observing much more than he researched, collecting very little serious hard information for his survey. The Ellet report was completed in less than a year.    

Humphreys, on the other hand, threw everything he had he had into this effort. He was determined to demonstrate, completely and finally, the superiority of military engineers over civilians in large-scale projects of this sort. The 500 page document he ultimately produced, Report on the Physics and Hydraulics of the Mississippi River, was exceedingly impressive, and was not completed until 1867. 

Humphreys achieved another notable record of a completely different sort – one of exemplary service as an engineer and commander with the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War.  At the outbreak of the conflict, Humphreys was promoted to Major and Chief Engineer of McClellan’s army; although some were wary of Humphreys, given his work on the Railroad Survey with Jefferson Davis, and the fact that his brother Joshua was serving in the Confederate Navy.

Though almost totally bereft in combat experience, the newly-minted Major Humphreys initially put his engineering skills to work fortifying the defenses of Washington. As the armies were assembled, more promotions followed, yet Humphreys longed to do more than build or make maps.  He applied for combat, but the wheels of bureaucracy ground slowly.  Finally, on August 30th, 1862, he was granted command of the 3rd Division of Porter’s V Corp. Consisting of new units, Humphreys found himself flourishing in his new role. However, this “engineer trained to precision” initially displayed something of a taskmaster’s personality when dealing with fresh troops, as he tended to be a strict disciplinarian. Charles A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, noted him as a man of “distinguished and brilliant profanity.” In turn, the men of his command, gauging the fifty-plus year old Humphreys, marked for “continually washing himself and putting on paper dickeys,” and considered him old.  They dubbed Humphreys “Old Goggle Eyes,” due to his spectacles.

Perhaps it was his seeming combination of intensity and organization that later produced “the gallant Humphreys” noted on occasion.  In a Reserve role during the Battle of Antietam, his men marched an impressive twenty-three miles in a single day attempting to close that distance. It would be at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, however, that Humphreys’ particular drive and leadership truly shown forth.


Humphreys Statue, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Photo courtesy of Civil War Trust

At Fredericksburg, his division gained the furthest ground against the intense Rebel fire from Marye’s Heights. Belatedly committed to battle on the afternoon of December 13th, Humphreys’ division crossed the Rappahannock on the upper pontoon bridge, fixed bayonets, and pressed forward. Halted by blasts of the Rebels double canister, the division defiantly sang through its retreat in the growing darkness.


A disheveled looking Humphreys, photographed during the 1864 Overland Campaign

Recalling the attack, a member of Humphreys’ staff recalled his direct leadership style – “Young gentlemen, I intend to lead this assault; I presume, of course, you will wish to ride with me?”  This sort of blunt challenge proved irresistible to his officers, who cheered on “their old man,” as the General himself doffed his cap in response.  Riding ahead of the men, five of the seven officers were knocked off of their horses by the intensity of Confederate fire.  The General himself suffered numerous “close calls:” his hat was shot away, his uniform bore evidence of projectiles, and two horses had been killed under him, with a third, badly wounded.  Appearing later on a small gray horse of a “contrary and rearing disposition,” Humphreys remarked that he had had three valuable horses killed under him, and now he would get only cheap ones.”

General Daniel Butterfield, commanding the V Corps, reported, “General Humphreys personally led his division in the most gallant manner. His attack was spirited, and worthy of veterans.  Made as it was by raw troops, the value of the example set by the division commander can hardly be estimated.” 

Following the blessings of a light engagement during the Chancellorsville campaign, Humphreys was reassigned to the 2nd Division of the III Corps on May 23.  Upon Gen. George Meade’s ascension to command the Army of the Potomac, Meade requested Humphreys become his Chief of Staff – which he declined to do.  This desire to keep a field command also insured the III Corps would retain at least one West Pointer between its corps and remaining division commanders, as both Daniel Sickles and David Birney were uniformed politicos.  This made Humphreys’ training, discipline, and experience all the more crucial for the fight that lay ahead.

Upon the general advance of Sickles’ III Corps, Humphreys found himself in a difficult circumstance – his right flank open and exposed, soon to be stripped of Col. George Burling’s 3rd Brigade, sent to bolster the left of the corps as the Confederate attack mounted.  This left only the remnants of the first two brigades, Brigadier General Joseph Carr’s and Colonel William Brewster’s, to deal with the convergence of three surging Confederate brigades, supported by artillery.       

Withdrawal from their exposed position in the face of such concentrated force proved to be a nearly impossible proposition, yet Humphreys managed to bring it about, by displaying “conspicuous courage and remarkable coolness.”  Writing his wife Rebecca afterwards, Humphreys recalled how it was done: “Twenty times did I bring my men to a halt and face about; myself and [son] Harry and others of my staff forcing the men to it.”  Such a leader made a prominent and irresistible target.  At one point, his horse, wounded six times, was hit by an artillery shell, throwing the general violently to the ground, yet he was remounted, and continued.  Again he noted to Rebecca, “[T]he fire that we went through was hotter in artillery, and as destructive as at Fredericksburg.” The retreat continued until the remnants of the Division reformed on Cemetery Ridge. 

On July 8th, shortly following Lee’s defeat, Humphreys was promoted to the rank of Major-General, to accept the position of Meade’s Chief of Staff.  Even with a promotion, and the recognition that he and the Commanding General worked well together, Humphreys still regretted the acquisition of a desk job in place of a field command.  He would get his wish, however, as Gen. Winfield S. Hancock proved physically incapable of sustained field service as a result of his Gettysburg wound.  Humphreys therefore commanded II Corps from November of 1864 through Appomattox. 

On March 13th, 1865, he was brevetted  brigadier general in the regular army, followed by another on May 26th  in which he was awarded brevet major-general for in the regular army for “gallant and meritorious service at the battle of Gettysburg,” as well as for the Battle of Sailor’s Creek during the Appomattox campaign.  

Peace, however, was not destined to return to Humphreys with the cessation of armed conflict.  In 1866, he was promoted to a full Brigadier General in the Regular Army, recognizing, once again, his “gallant and meritorious services at the Battle of Gettysburg.” At this time, and perhaps more importantly, he was also made the Chief of Engineers within the Army’s Corps of Engineers.

With the war over, Humphreys returned all of his energies to the Mississippi River assignment.  There, a new foe awaited him – James Buchanan Eads.  The two men clashed repeatedly, and with increasing bitterness, over two major projects concerning their visions concerning the waterway.


James B. Eads

Eads had grown up around St. Louis, Missouri, in a grinding workman’s contrast to the polished society of Philadelphia. A bright young man, he had made the most of the river and all that it offered.  At the age of 22, in 1842, observing the number of wrecked cargoes that could be claimed from the riverbed, he had conceived a salvage vessel and diving bell that would allow such operations. As a result, Eads became wealthy, and well-known.  His flat – boats, constructed during wartime as iron-clad gunboats to aid the Union cause during the western river campaigns, were later fondly recalled by President Ulysses S. Grant, and gave Eads hefty postwar political clout.

Ultimately, in this new railroad era, a new cross-Mississippi monument would be erected, with the collusion of Grant, Eads, and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.  Known as “the Eads Bridge,” located at St. Louis, it marks one battle Gen. Humphreys, as Chief of the Army’s Corps of Engineers, lost.  He felt sure it would silt up, be an obstacle to river traffic, channel development and flood control. 

Humphreys’ work on the river, Report on the Physics and Hydraulics of the Mississippi River, served to highlight his commitment to a cause, just as his presence on the battlefield had earlier. As the re-united, industrialized Union sought to expand further West, the determined vision of both men, Eads and Humphreys, over how to address the problems posed by the Mississippi River and its tributaries left lasting impacts. Humphreys would ultimately be proven correct – but he would not live to see it.  As on the battlefields, his service is much appreciated – but often overlooked.

Bert Barnett, Park Ranger




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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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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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

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