The park has been fortunate to have a friend in Dr. Carol Reardon, who recently retired from her position in the Department of History at Penn State. With her guidance and the assistance others, the Division of Interpretation has sponsored a research internship during the summer months where college students can acquire on the job research and writing skills while searching for what are often elusive resources related to the Battle of Gettysburg and the story of its evolution as a park.
For eleven weeks this summer, Shane Billings (Penn State University), Joseph Tinsley (Allegheny College) and Arianna Sabatini (Allegheny College) took hold of their assignments and searched for textural and photographic resources in various depositories including the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress, Massachusetts Historical Society, and Vermont State Archives as well as a handful of historical societies and other libraries. The primary resource material gathered and cataloged by these interns will be used by park rangers and writers to provide factual information and sources for ranger programs, exhibits in the Museum and Visitor Center, and educational outreach programs the park will provide in the next couple of years.
And just how important is this newly gathered information to the mission of the National Park Service at Gettysburg? More than one may realize! The park’s interpretive staff base their ranger programs on historical content from many sources, both primary and secondary sources housed in the library. Finding new documents such as soldier letters, unpublished memoirs and accounts, enhances the general knowledge of our understanding of battle events and adds the human element- the words of the soldier or civilian who witnessed the battle- to the story our rangers pass on to our park visitors. And while the internet and on line resources have provided historians with smoother access to historic materials and archival holdings, the most reliable method is still a visit to the facility to look at the original material first hand. Likewise, the research trips and organizing of research material accomplished by Shane, Arianna and Joe can be applied by them in their studies in the new school year. The experience they have during the summer months is invaluable to them as students and future professionals.
A selection of the materials gathered and transcribed by Shane, Joe and Arianna this summer include papers of the honorable Edward Everett, (famous orator who spoke at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery on November 19, 1863), several letters related to Gettysburg written by soldiers after the battle, the medical case book of Dr. Henry Janes, chief surgeon in charge of Camp Letterman General Hospital at Gettysburg, individual Medal of Honor case files for a number of the soldiers given the award for exemplary actions at Gettysburg, and pension records for selected individual soldiers that will be used for ranger programs on Civil War medicine and post-battle treatment of the wounded. Overall, it was a very successful couple of weeks for our research interns and the park.
So, after all this time and with countless books, magazine articles, journal articles, and studies already published on the subject of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg National Cemetery, is there really more to be discovered about this great moment in our history?
We never stop learning. As the old saying goes, “What once was lost is now found,” and though some of the finds this summer may not upset the apple cart of battle history, the textural materials recovered by the research interns adds to the base of knowledge for Gettysburg’s rangers to further enhance the story of this great battle, it’s horrific aftermath, and provide further understanding of the American tragedy that was the Civil War. The National Park Service could not provide this story to our visitors without the hard work of our research interns and we certainly wish them good luck as they return to their college courses this fall, hopefully inspired by their experience this summer. The results of their hard work have certainly inspired us!
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park