Final preparations are underway for the prescribed fire at Gettysburg National Military Park that will take place Tuesday, October 7, weather permitting. National Park Service (NPS) fire specialists will burn 30 acres northwest of the intersection of United States Avenue and Hancock Avenue, not far from the Pennsylvania Memorial.
The west side of the project area is a large field that was owned by Conrad and Henry Neinstedt and produced wheat in 1863. The east side was George Weikert’s pasture in 1863. During the battle of Gettysburg, hundreds of soldiers, as well as many horses and artillery pieces, trampled these agricultural lands.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FIELDS: In the summer of 1863, the large field owned by Conrad and Henry Neinstedt that is today on the north side of United States Avenue was planted in wheat. It had grown tall and rich that summer. The Neinstedts lived in Gettysburg. Henry, who owned a thriving printing business, and Conrad, a laborer, used the parcel of land sandwiched between the Abraham Trostle and George Weikert farms to provide their families with wheat for flour, as well as a cash crop for sale to local residents. On the eastern border of the Neinstedt’s land was George Weikert’s orchard and pasture. This land was also in fine condition prior to the arrival of the two armies on what would be the battleground of Gettysburg. Union skirmishers deployed over the Neinstedt’s land overnight of July 1, and by the end of July 2, the Neinstedt’s wheat crop was gone; trampled near to dust by hundreds of soldiers as well as horses and artillery pieces rushing to the front. Near the center of the field, Battery I, 5th United States Artillery had made a desperate stand against the 21st Mississippi Infantry, only to be overrun and captured until Union reinforcements arrived to re-take the guns. This scene of intense fighting on July 2, 1863, has been preserved as farmland ever since. Its significance is partially overshadowed by events that took place nearby on July 3, 1863 – Pickett’s Charge.
Text on the Battery I, 5th US Artillery Monument (courtesy of the Stone Sentinels website)
Army of the Potomac
Fifth U.S. Artillery
Four 3 inch Rifles
Lieut. Malbone F. Watson commanding
July 2 About 4:30 p.m. arrived and took position north of Little Round Top 5:30 moved to the front at the Peach Orchard. On the advance of the Confederates driving back the infantry the Battery was retired across Plum Run near the Trostle House and fired shell and canister at the approaching Confederates until the Battery disabled by the loss of men and horses was captured by the 21st Mississippi Infantry. It was almost immediately recaptured with the assistance of the 39th New York Infantry and being unserviceable was taken to the Artillery Brigade.
Casualties: killed 1 man, wounded 1 officer and 18 men, missing 2 men
PROTECTING CULTURAL RESOURCES: The areas around the monument (Battery I, 5th US Artillery), as well as the monuments, artillery, and earthworks along Hancock Avenue, the fence line in the center of the project area, the orchard and the perimeter of the prescribed fire will be mowed prior to ignition. The mowed areas will be wetted with water. Additionally there will be a sprinkler line in place along the perimeter to keep the surrounding fields damp. Wind conditions and soil and vegetation moisture levels will dictate the exact time of ignition. If winds are too high or surrounding conditions are too dry the prescribed fire would be canceled and rescheduled for more favorable conditions.
Based on the park’s Fire Management Plan/Environmental Assessment published in July 2014, we are continuing to use prescribed fire as a viable management technique to help maintain historically open fields of the Gettysburg battlefield landscapes, an important goal of the park’s General Management Plan.
The date of the prescribed fire is dependent on conditions being within required weather parameters such as wind, temperature, and relative humidity; an alternative day may have to be selected. The prescribed fire will be conducted from approximately noon through the afternoon, followed by patrol and monitoring to ensure the fire is completely out. The park will issue a follow-up news release if an alternate date is selected.
The perimeter of the prescribed fire will be mowed prior to ignition. The mowed area will be wetted with water. Additionally there will be a sprinkler line in place along the perimeter to thoroughly wet down the control lines as needed before the fire. NPS staff will monitor air quality and smoke impacts as well as visibility on nearby roads. Short-term closures of Hancock Avenue or United States Avenue may be necessary to ensure visitor and firefighter safety.
Last October, the National Park Service conducted the first prescribed fire ever at Gettysburg NMP, , burning 13 acres of fields on the historic Snyder farm, in the southern portion of the battlefield. Use of prescribed fires reduces herbicide use and impacts in the park.
HOW DO PRESCRIBED FIRES DIFFER IN HISTORIC AREAS VERSUS NATURAL AREAS? In a natural area fire efforts may try to replicate natural fire cycles rather than accomplish a vegetative management goal. In a historic area like Gettysburg, potential archeological artifacts and features like fences and stones walls must be protected. We’ll be protecting and monitoring these features during the project.
OVERALL OBJECTIVES: The overall objectives 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; and reduce shrub and woody species components. By choosing a time just before shrub and woody species move into winter dormancy, the effects of the fire reduces the plants’ energy reserves and diminishes vigor and growth potential for the following spring.
FUNDING: The project is funded by the National Park Service Wildland Fire Management Program. Personnel from the PA Bureau of Forestry are planning to assist in the prescribed fire implementation.
By Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 10/2/14