Many of us have heard of the scrap drives during the Second World War. To build the enormous number of tanks, ships, planes, and other equipment with which the United States Military fought the war required massive amounts of metal of all kinds. Everyone was encouraged to turn in their scrap metal. Government agencies were required to do their part as well. Gettysburg National Military Park had a significant amount of metal, particularly bronze and iron – guns, tablets, monuments, fencing, and artillery shells. In 1942 the National Park Service considered what they could part with without sacrificing the integrity of the Military Park. As the letter from park superintendent J. Walter Coleman indicates, GNMP made a significant contribution to the war effort.
October 13, 1942
Memorandum for the Director, National Park Service
We are enclosing herewith a newspaper clipping and photographs pertaining to our contributions to the salvage drive. This was handled by sale to the highest bidder because of the difficulty and expense which would have been involved if we had transported it ourselves.
A portion of this metal was sold on September 11 and consisted of 18 tons of miscellaneous metal, obsolete signs, iron fence, and worn out equipment. At the same time, and in addition to the 18 tons, we sold a pick-up truck, one motorcycle, one tar heater, one sedan, and one panel-body truck.
Having later received clearance for the disposition of the ornamental cannon balls removed from the field about eight years ago, we awarded a contract for this metal on October 7. This metal weighed approximately 38 tons. The cannon balls were almost entirely of a type larger than any used at Gettysburg, were cast after the Civil War, and were placed on stone pedestals along the Park roads.
We have continued our survey of metal that might be contributed and we have decided that a portion of the pyramidal piles of round and cylindrical shells placed beside each cannon the field can be removed without serious interference with the visitor’s understanding of the battle. Most of our cannon on the field occur in pairs or larger groups and it is our intention to remove half the shell pyramids. The survey indicates that 194 piles, weighing a total of approximately 60,000 pounds can be obtained.
The metal markers on this field indicate definite troop positions and are not primarily interpretive or story telling. Most of them are bronze markers on granite pedestals and we do not believe that they should be disturbed if this action can be avoided. There are, however, 19 Union and Confederate bronze itinerary tablets which could be replaced with a simple painted sign and map. If the shortage of bronze becomes more acute, these tablets may be turned in. If you wish us to do this at once, please do advise.
According to present indications, our total contributions should be in excess of 200,000 pounds of metal.
J. Walter Coleman,
Fortunately for the park the pyramidal piles of artillery shells and itinerary tablets were not lost to the scrap drive. But the shells stones, a design by the War Department to prevent people from driving off the road, were sacrificed along with quite a bit of other metal that Superintendent Coleman itemized in another memo. Among the items that went to the war effort were 750 spherical shells, 14 iron guns, 1 bronze gun, 8 bronze howitzers, 26 bronze siege guns, and 38 bronze guns. The guns were all of post-Civil War manufacture. Such was the demand for metal however, that the director of the National Park Service was asked in the fall of 1942 to submit an estimate of the amount of non-ferrous metal “that might be obtained by scrapping statues, historic cannon, and war mementoes.” As part of this estimate the staff at Gettysburg NMP had to provide estimates for the metal in all the monuments, guns, etc., that remained on the field. The Virginia Memorial, for example, had 8,000 pounds of metal in Robert E. Lee’s equestrian statue and 14,000 pounds in the bronze group on the front of the monument.
The tonnage of non-ferrous metal the NPS could provide the war effort was itemized in Director Newton B. Drury’s February 10, 1943 response to the War Production Board, but Drury added an important caution. Historic cannon of the Civil War period and before and monuments of artistic excellence “are irreplaceable” and should “not be salvaged until the national stock pile of useless metals has been exhausted.” Drury continued; “As guardians of an important portion of our national heritage in historic and artistic objects, it is our duty to be sure that no part of that heritage is sacrificed until the need to do so is fully justified. Each war memorial in the parks represents the last possible debt payment of the Nation to some soldier or group of soldiers in our national past. It would be little comfort to the soldiers of the present day if such evidence of the Nation’s gratitude should come to [be] lightly regarded.”
In the end the Nation did not demand these priceless objects of its past history. Even the bronze itinerary tablets Superintendent Coleman mentioned could be contributed were saved from being scrapped. It is easy today to forget the impact World War II had upon Gettysburg NMP and the dramatic effect it might have had if the war had lasted longer.
D. Scott Hartwig