Bearing Witness – Gettysburg’s Commemorative Landscape


Commemorative era steps from Sykes Avenue to the summit of Little Round Top (tinted postcard, 1910). These steps no longer exist.  The monument is to the 91st Pennsylvania.

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.


Avenue fencing and the 74th Pennsylvania monument along Howard Avenue in 1900.  The Adams County “poor farm” buildings in the background are now gone.  “Pipe-rail” fencing defined the avenues and monuments, creating a designed corridor.



Cross sections of the avenues showing the hand-laid, Telford road base and gutters.


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:


Sickles Avenue had already been re-routed by 1914 to eliminate confusion and more closely follow the lines of battle.

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.


Today’s park maintenance complex is a sprawling non-historic intrusion on the landscape that the park would love to relocate someday with one exception: the historic roller building shown here in 1910.  It was built to house the steam roller for maintenance of the avenues and is a historic structure.  Discoloration from the steam engine’s exhaust is visible above the right door.

park maintenance bldg 2016

The maintenance complex today surrounds the historic roller building, which still shows black from the engine exhaust above the right door.

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.


The Smith Granite Company delivering the 1st Massachusetts monument, crated, 1886.  Taken on Emmitsburg Road, looking south.  The barn faintly visible in the background is part of the Rogers farm (demolished by the park in the 1930s).

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 First Shot marker on Chambersburg Road, 1900.  Note the commemorative era fencing which is the same design as depicted above with the 74th Pennsylvania monument.

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.


Rebuilt stone walls along West Confederate Avenue, 1905.  This design was used by the War Department in the 1890s when they repaired and rebuilt “stone fencing” along the battle lines.


Small sections of “stone fencing” still have the design created by the War Department when they rebuilt and repaired the walls.  This is along West Confederate Avenue near the McMillan Woods campground.

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

About Gettysburg National Military Park

Welcome to the official Wordpress page for Gettysburg National Military Park. This page is maintained by National Park Service employees at Gettysburg National Military Park.
This entry was posted in Commemorative features, Monuments at Gettysburg, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bearing Witness – Gettysburg’s Commemorative Landscape

  1. Lee Elder says:

    This is a very interesting update. The time for comment is another year in the future, but I very much appreciate this information. Our annual visit to Gettysburg is less than a month away and I am fired up!

  2. Tom Danninger says:

    Very interesting, especially the map showing the old roads in the Loop area Is this map part of a collection? I was aware of the intersection on the map and would be interested in knowing where the road that connections to the south goes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s