Rebuilding Stone Walls at Gettysburg

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Looking west from Taneytown Road toward Cemetery Ridge and the Copse of Trees. Pallets of stones will be used to rebuild missing walls.

Since 2000, Gettysburg National Military Park has undertaken numerous and significant projects to rehabilitate the battlefield to its 1863 appearance.  Projects have included removal of non-historic trees, planting of wooded areas that no longer had trees, health cuts to improve historic woodlots, re-planting historic orchards, building fences, removal of modern buildings, overhead utility lines, and more.

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Newly completed stone wall near Ziegler’s Grove (Wall B in the map below).  Note the more formal wall design which the War Department improved.

Now we’ve started rebuilding missing stone walls at Gettysburg at five sites along Cemetery Ridge and on the David McMillan farm near present day West Confederate Avenue.

These projects improve the visitor experience on the battlefield and overall understanding of the fighting of the battle. By seeing the open terrain, fences, fields and farm lands, visitors get a better sense of the opportunities and obstacles faced by the soldiers and their commanders.  In the Civil War, if you couldn’t see it, you couldn’t shoot it, so the long views we’re re-opened at Gettysburg help tell the story of sweeping infantry charges, and the artillery positions that dueled with each other and sent iron missiles into the infantry formations.

Orchards could provide cover and concealment.  Fences were often obstacles and stone walls could provide cover.  All of the elements affected the fighting of the battle and each one contributes in important ways to our visitors being able to see the battlefield through the soldiers’ eyes.

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The stone wall along the Leister Farm Lane is now under construction.  It will have an average height of about 30 inches (based on nearby walls) and will have a wooden rail (rider) fence on top of it.

Stone walls were originally created by farmers as they cleared their fields and pastures, placed as boundaries for fields and sometimes heightened with split rail “riders.” Using horses and rope slings, the largest rocks were dragged from nearby fields to the edge with medium-sized to smaller stones carefully stacked on top to add height.   Many of the original surviving stone walls in the southern end of the park still have look this way. The walls along Taneytown Road and adjacent to Culp’s Hill have boulders built into them too. By the mid-1850’s, years of farming and clearing fields yielded substantial walls throughout Adams County. Little did the farmers know, prior to 1863, that their well-constructed walls would be used by two armies during a major battle where in several cases these stone walls defined the Union and Confederate battle lines.

Soldiers alternately added to or tore down the walls in the path of the battle. Barricades and defensive works built during the battle were typically composed of medium-sized to small stones, easily picked up from the surrounding area or lifted from nearby walls.

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NPS crews working along the Leister Farm Lane – the Leister Barn is on the right.

But the soldiers knew that small stones only made their defensive work a hazard, since the small rocks could easily become projectiles if hit by a ball or shell fragment. It was backbreaking work, sometimes accomplished while under fire and the barricades built by soldiers of both armies still define the lines of battle today at Little Round Top and Culp’s Hill.

Many of Gettysburg’s historic stone walls disappeared over time. Our work to bring them back is based on research using historic maps, namely the Bachelder Isometric map (1863-1864), the G. K. Warren Map (1868), the U.S. War Department survey maps of 1893-1895, and rigorous research that has been completed by National Park Service (NPS) historians over the past three decades. Additionally, the photographic work of Alexander Gardner, Matthew Brady, Frederick Gutekunst and others guide this effort.

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Wall A and Wall B (on the map above) were both located on the property of David Ziegler. Ziegler owned a number of acres of meadow in 1863 just to the west of the Taneytown Road. According to the Warren Map a wall ran along the northern edge of the field, with another running north-south along its western boundary.  Just to the south was property owned by Peter Frey, and to the southwest the farm of Abraham Brian. William Kepler, of the 4th Ohio, recalled that his unit “marched forward into position between Woodruff’s Battery and the Taneytown road, on the brow of the hill in Zeigler’s Grove, with a rise of ground to the right toward the Cemetery.  From this point but little could be seen in any direction, whilst the occasional crack of a rifle could be heard, and whizzing of a ball through the air.  The men soon busied themselves getting their arms in the best possible order….The position of the brigade was soon changed by the left-flank, until it was clear of a ravine and in the rear of Woodruff’s Battery.”[i]

Leister Farm Lane (“C” on the map above) ran just to the south of Ziegler and Frey fields. Along the northern stretch of Lydia Leister’s property was a farm lane that allowed access from the Taneytown Road to her barn and western fields. It would have been used by many of the high-ranking officers of the Union Army, along with elements of the 2nd Corps, Artillery Reserve, Ambulance Corps and other regiments and batteries that needed to access Cemetery Ridge. A soldier in the 14th Connecticut recalled that his regiment moved into “a field opposite Meade’s headquarters on the Taneytown road.” He remembered that his regiment “….moved across the road, and passing over the wall at the low place below the cottage …advanced up the field and filing right past the barn to the field beyond the barn lane was placed in rear of the brigade on the slope at rear of the Brian premises….”[ii]

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Warren Map, Cemetery Ridge

The stonewall lining the Leister Farm lane is visible on the Warren Map, John Bachelder’s 1864 Isometric Map, and is barely visible in photographs of Meade’s Headquarters taken within days of the battle by Alexander Gardner. At the time of the battle this was most likely a low-stone wall with a wooden rider across the top. The original wall was removed in the early 1930’s by the War Department following the reconfiguration of Meade Avenue, which once connected the Taneytown Road with Hancock Avenue.

Like the Leister Farm Lane, the Peter Frey Farm Lane (“D”and “E” on the modern map above) provided access to the property from the Taneytown Road and would have been utilized by elements of the Army of the Potomac during their occupation of Cemetery Ridge. This wall is prominently visible in Bachelder’s Isometric Map, as well as the G. K. Warren Map.

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Frey and Leister Farm Lanes on the Isometric Map

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On Seminary Ridge the park will be adding 340 feet of stonewall on the David McMillan property (See map above). This wall, which in 1863 ran east to west along the southern boundary of the McMillan Orchard before transitioning into a Virginia worm fence, is clearly indicated on the Warren Map.

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The park is rebuilding the yellow section of this wall at the McMillan farm.

For most of these stone walls there is no photographic evidence of what they looked like, how high they were built, and whether they were stacked elegantly or thrown hastily together by the farmer clearing his fields. Few, if any, would have survived the battle unscathed. The walls being rebuilt are not meant to be a perfect recreation of what once existed, but rather a representation.  Their height, configuration, and proportions are modeled after similar walls photographed following the battle as well as those that have survived intact the ravages of time and progress.

img_6595The project is funded by the NPS.  The NPS Historic Preservation Training Center is doing the work, using 1200 tons of field stone which came from eight counties in Pennsylvania. The materials cost $198,000.  The work will continue for the next 1-2 months, depending on the winter weather.

-end-

Katie Lawhon and Christopher Gwinn, December 1, 2016

[i] William Kepler, History of the Three Months’ and Three Years’ Service…of the Fourth Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union (Cleveland: Leader Printing Company, 1886), 126-127.

[ii] Henry S. Stevens, Souvenir of Excursions to the Battlefields by the Society of the Fourteenth Connecticut Regiment and Reunion at Antietam September 1891 (Washington: Gibson Brothers, 1893), 11.

About The Staff

Staff of Gettysburg National Military Park
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6 Responses to Rebuilding Stone Walls at Gettysburg

  1. That is hard work — fulfilling, but hard

  2. Conrad Richter says:

    I think it is great. Next lets rebuild the McPherson farm house and out-buildings.

    • The Staff says:

      We can’t rebuild the McPherson farm house and outbuildings because of inadequate documentation. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards require good documentation before we could attempt to rebuild any structure. Good photos of one or two sides of a house or barn simply isn’t enough. – Katie Lawhon

  3. Rory Pasini says:

    Hey Guys..
    What about the stonewalls running from the inner angle area south to the copse of trees, or the east-west stonewall which seems to run through the copse, according to the map. Were those walls not present at the time of the battle? If they were, are there any plans to make the correct adjustment?

  4. Wet Plater says:

    I was concerned that the battlements on Culp’s Hill were going to be altered. When doing living history interpretation I point out that what is left of the stone wall is original.

  5. Todd Leiss says:

    Thank you for this great update. Do any of these maps show the BG Henry Baxter Defense Works that were planned to be restored and is there any plans to restore them to this part of the battlefield? My GGG-Grandfather was Sgt. Aaron Bright, Jr. 88th Pa Volunteer Infantry who would have helped to build those defense works

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