On February 11, 1895, federal legislation created Gettysburg National Military Park. Yes, the park was created before there even was a “National Park Service”(created 21 years later in 1916). In fact one of the reasons I think the Gettysburg battlefield boasts so many monuments and markers is that, as the generation of Civil war veterans passed into their golden years and thought long and hard about how the battle and the war would be remembered, they wanted monuments to tell the story through the ages. They never could have imagined the concept of a National Park Ranger, whose primary job is to tell the story of the Battle of Gettysburg!
A few years ago Kathy Georg Harrison, a former historian of Gettysburg National Military Park, shared these historic photos and detailed captions with me for a project we were working on. One further note: it may be useful here to note the administrators of the Gettysburg battlefield through different eras. They are: the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMA) 1864-1895; Gettysburg National Park Commission 1893-1922; U.S. War Department 1922-1933; and the National Park Service 1933-present.
Let’s celebrate the establishment of Gettysburg National Military Park 121 years today by taking this pictorial walk down memory lane…
Taneytown Road at Meade’s Headquarters – This is a portion of an Alexander Gardner photograph taken a few days after the battle, looking from a point south of the Leister house in the direction of Cemetery Hill. The orchard is visible at the left of the picture. The dead horses probably belonged to Meade’s staff and men in the Signal Corps that were killed during the cannonade on July 3. Sidenote: The widow Leister, who lived in what became Meade’s headquarters, had lots of the dead horses piled up on her property, to keep until they rotted so she could use their bones as fertilizer.
Powers Hill and Cemetery Hill – This is part of an Edwin Forbes painting based on drawings he made here during the battle. Forbes was travelling with the Union army as a reporter/illustrator. This painting depicts ambulances on the Granite School Road, reserves sitting on the hill to the south of the road and Union forces marching to the battlefield along the Baltimore Pike. The lower slope of Powers Hill appears in the middle ground and Cemetery Hill appears in the distance above it. When we removed nonhistoric trees from Powers Hill in 2012, we retained a grove of trees at the base of Powers Hill just as depicted in this painting. FYI—the grove was Meade’s Headquarters after he was forced out of the Leister House until sometime late on the 4th of July when he moved closer to Cemetery Hill.
Soldiers’ National Cemetery c. 1890 – This is a view towards the Soldiers’ National Monument from one of the original internal drives through the Civil War interment sections. On the right of the photo are the curbing headstones of the Maine section; on the left is one of the large sections of the unknown dead with their marble posts. Much foliage in this photograph belongs to planting that was added by the War Department after they acquired and incorporated the cemetery into administration by the Quartermaster General (1872). This planting within the burial section undermined the design intent of the William Saunders plan. The heads of the Norway Maple tree allee of the original Saunders design appears at the extreme left of the photo.
Notice the cannon carriage near the monument. A number of carriages were placed in the national cemetery at varying locations near the Soldiers’ National Monument and near the Reynolds statue to signify the military presence but not as site-specific markers. The storage building (the current maintenance building in the cemetery) was constructed to house these carriages during the winter. Cannon carriages became standard components of the newly created national cemetery system. Once the Gettysburg National Park Commission placed artillery position markers in the cemetery these movable carriages were moved there.
First Style of Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMA) Monumentation – GBMA contracted for the painting of wooden signboards to mark the positions of the various units of the Union army, started during the 1870s. This one, to the 150th PA, was located along Hancock Avenue. The view is in the direction of Taneytown Road near the Biggs House. Today, a small granite monument to the 150th PA marks this same spot.
Commemoration of Battery Positions c. 1880 – Cannon from the Civil War era, condemned by the War Department, were donated to the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association by Act of Congress for the battlefield. Most of the artillery sent to Gettysburg did not reflect the type or caliber of the guns used there in 1863 but were mounted anyway to designate artillery positions on property owned by the Association. This photo shows mounted guns on East Cemetery Hill. The ones in the foreground, mounted on blocks of rustic granite, were the first commemorative devices to monument the battlefield—similar structures were erected on the summit of Little Round Top. These particular guns are in the lunettes of Stewart’s Battery B 4th U.S. Artillery. The ones in the lunettes in the background are mounted on wooden carriages, several of which were purchased by the Association to replace the granite mounts. The wooden carriages proved to be too expensive and were short-lived which led to the park Commission deciding to purchase iron carriages. Click here for more about early cannon carriages at Gettysburg.
Model of Pennsylvania Monument – This photograph shows the winning design entry in 1908 for the Pennsylvania State monument, erected and dedicated in 1910. The design was made by architect W. Liance Cottrell, with help from Samuel Murray who sculpted the relief panels and the statue of Victory. This monument brought to a climax the money expended, the size to which these structures had attained, and the desire to personally acknowledge every soldier who performed his duty at Gettysburg. We had come a long way from the painted handboards.
Paving Gutters United States Avenue – One of the first tasks assigned to the Commission was the opening of avenues along the Union and Confederate positions and inventing a systematic way to visit and understand the battlefield. Although the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association had an avenue system, it was rutted, bumpy, poorly graded, hardly maintained and existed only on the Union side of battlefields. The Commission laid out avenues that were the envy of urban areas all along the east coast; engineers and supervisors of towns and cities visited the park solely for the purpose of finding a way to mimic the perfection and beauty of the park’s avenue system. This photograph shows one of the improvements to one of the first avenues laid out by the Commission—United States Avenue. The avenue had been graded and constructed along the Telford system and was enclosed with a pipe rail fence. Later, to improve drainage many of the avenues had stone gutters laid on their edges. This photograph shows two park employees—the highest paid were the pavers—systematically putting the puzzle together and laying them. You can see from the photograph that the Commission was very light-handed when it came to development. The route of the gutters was hand dug and limited only to the exact dimensions where the gutter would be installed. The man with the horse owned the horse, which was rented from the owner. The horse would be paid, the man who apparently just stood around when not hauling and dumping, was not paid. Who knows how much bran and oats that horse went out and bought on the way home from work! The house in the background is the Trostle House. The large tree to the right of the house and just inside the pipe fence is the “Sickles Headquarters Tree” that still stands there today.
All credit is due to Kathy Georg Harrison, retired historian at Gettysburg National Military Park, for this blog post, originally prepared as a power point presentation. Any errors are likely the result of my editing. Also, thanks to Winona Peterson, the park’s Cultural Resource Program Manager for her assistance on this post. On this, the 121st birthday of Gettysburg National Military Park, I am honored to share some of this amazing history with each of you.
Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 2/11/2016