The thousands of monuments, markers, and memorials continue to bear witness to the experiences of individuals associated with the battle of Gettysburg and are a testament to how the battlefield has become a stage for the reconciliation of a once-divided nation, national commemoration of the Civil War, and a place of personal connection for Civil War veterans, their families, and visitors who continue to be drawn to this landscape.
Recently we received a question via this blog about why we are planning to rebuild the Hancock Avenue gate, a feature that is commemorative and did not exist on the field at the time of the battle of Gettysburg. It’s worth taking some time to answer.
The management of historic landscapes is often complex and multi-layered. On the landscapes of Gettysburg National Military Park are features related to the 1863 battle, such as farm houses, rock walls, and fence lines, as well as commemorative features that have been placed on the field, such as monuments, markers, memorials, and historic avenues. In addition, Gettysburg includes a specific, designed landscape within the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
Commemorative features on the Gettysburg battlefield are nationally significant and their preservation is a vital part of the mission of Gettysburg National Military Park which is:
Gettysburg National Military Park preserves, protects, and interprets for this and future generations, the resources associated with the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, and their commemorations.
The Battle of Gettysburg was quickly recognized as a defining event in the nation’s history, which led to early and ongoing efforts to preserve the battlefield landscape, including its topography and terrain.
Commemoration of the events of the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a landscape of monuments, memorials, and markers which record the history and emotions of Civil War veterans and others who wanted to leave this legacy for future generations.
The momentous nature of what occurred at the battle of Gettysburg along with the high level of preservation and accurate marking of the battlefield landscape continues to draw people to Gettysburg National Military Park, a place of national consciousness where individuals can consider the far-reaching implications of the battle, the Gettysburg Address, and the American Civil War itself.
Commemorative Landscapes and Features:
From 1863 to 1927, veterans and survivors of the battle preserved the grounds of Gettysburg and created commemorative features that still define the park today. Most monuments and other commemorative features were constructed during this period. During the early part of this era, the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association focused almost exclusively on commemorating Union positions.
The 1895 law establishing Gettysburg National Military Park expanded upon the 1893 Commission Act, authorizing the federal government to preserve for the American people the “important topographic features of the battlefield” and to preserve and mark the battle positions. The law gave the Gettysburg National Park Commission (GNPC), which was run by veterans of the Civil War, the tools to protect the historic and natural resources that comprised the battle setting in 1863.
The Commission’s preservation and memorial activities included creating tablets to the regular army of the United States, as well as designing and building commemorative features such as the park’s historic avenues, observation towers, and more. These features had a permanent impact upon this landscape, resulting in a commemorative landscape on the original battlefield landscape.
Many, but not all, of these structures on the battlefield still exist. Commemorative features preserved today include more than 1,300 monuments, markers and tablets; steel observation towers at Culp’s Hill, Warfield Ridge, and Oak Ridge; the avenue system with its numerous culverts and bridges; and repaired/rebuilt stone walls and fences on the battlefield.
The National Park Service allowed fewer monuments to be built during its management period from 1933 onward, with the exceptions of commemorative monuments to Confederate States erected during the 1960s. In 1999, the National Park Service placed a moratorium on new monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park.
The park is currently developing a strategy for how to preserve commemorative features and which ones we would potentially bring back in the future, like the Hancock Avenue gate. This document, called the Commemorative Era Treatment Philosophy, will include a concise historical overview of the development of the commemorative landscape; identify typical landscape characteristics and features associated with the commemorative landscape, including issues pertaining to existing physical condition and historical integrity; and provide general treatment principles to guide future landscape rehabilitation, including reasons for reestablishing commemorative landscapes or individual features that have been lost or obscured.
The draft plan will be available for public comment in 2017.
Thanks to Winona Peterson, Gettysburg National Military Park, for assistance with this article and for the images.
Katie Lawhon, May 26, 2016