Revisiting Fredericksburg: Using Provocation to Explore New Questions

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series. 

To Freeman Tilden, provocation was an essential ingredient to effective interpretation, and I tend to agree with that idea. Both my walking tour at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center and the interpretive exhibits at Chatham Manor utilize provocation in different forms, with different challenges and opportunities. Overall, the atmosphere of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is one that supports and encourages provocative thinking by visitors.

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The Emblem of the XXV:  A USCT Corps from Petersburg to Appomattox

By Jonathan Tracey ‘19

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

25th Corps. Corps badges. These pins were worn by members of an all-black unit formed late in the war which had the distinction of being the first to enter Richmond. Corps badges like these were used to easily identify units on the battlefield. Each corps had a unique design, and each division a different color—red for the first, white for the second, blue for the third, and sometimes green for the fourth.

Pictured here are three corps badges for the Union XXV Corps. Beginning in 1863, most corps in the Union Army adopted symbols so it would be easier to distinguish different commands from each other during the height of battle. In addition to the symbol distinguishing what corps a soldier belonged to, badges were also color-coded to denote divisions. Generally, red would mark the first division, white the second, and blue the third. The XXV Corps adopted this shape, sometimes worn as a square, although usually seen pinned on as a diamond.

Continue reading “The Emblem of the XXV:  A USCT Corps from Petersburg to Appomattox”

Preservation or National Necessity? Gettysburg National Military Park During the World Wars

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

The great battle in 1863 was not the only time that soldiers occupied Gettysburg. As a National Military Park, the land was administered by the War Department for decades before becoming part of the National Park Service in 1933. As such, the department could use the land for whatever purpose was deemed necessary. During both World Wars the government made use of the historic landscape where Pickett’s Charge took place, and mandated the registration of monuments for potential removal as scrap metal for the war effort. The government saw the threats posed by 20th century warfare to outweigh the value of a preserved landscape.

A Renault tank cresting a dirt hill near the Bliss Farm in 1918. Courtesy of Eisenhower National Historic Site.

In 1917, the fields briefly hosted a mass mobilization camp, but that was short lived. The more major encampment came in 1918. The fields of Pickett’s Charge had become home to Camp Colt, a training camp for the newly formed Tank Corps. Soldiers under the command of Dwight D. Eisenhower ensured that the sounds of war again echoed through Gettysburg. Infantry carried out drill, and trucks with machine guns and 3 inch naval guns used the Round Tops for target practice. Once tanks arrived, drivers honed their skills on the battlefield, accidentally plowing through dirt as they maneuvered over historic landscapes, including the remnants of the Bliss family’s farm. After the war, the buildings were demolished, but the camp still left a physical mark on the landscape. Years later, William Redding, a farmer who had leased his farm from the government prior to the war, filed a complaint that, despite the fact the government had promised to return the land to the original condition, “sewers, water courses, trenches, and other excavations” remained in the fields.

In 1944, enemy soldiers again arrived in Gettysburg. Instead of invading Confederates, these new soldiers were German prisoners of war, mostly captured in North Africa. Chosen for the isolated location, local labor deficiencies, and remaining infrastructure, the former grounds of Camp Colt became home to an unnamed POW camp. Many Gettysburgians were angered by this, but not necessarily because of the use of the battlefield. Instead, their complaints primarily focused on fears of violent German escapees or anger that jobs vacated by their loved ones in the armed forces would be filled by the enemies the former workers had gone off to fight. These prisoners worked in businesses around Gettysburg, filling American soldiers’ vacant jobs by cutting wood, picking apples, and working in canning plants. Interestingly, many of the work crews also helped clear brush from the battlefield, helping to restore the historic landscape that their camp was intruding upon.

The tents that comprised the WWII prisoner of war camp on the fields of Pickett’s Charge in 1944. Courtesy of Gettysburg National Military Park.

During the Second World War, Gettysburg’s landscape also paid a price during the scrap drives. Fences, markers, and even parts of monuments were split into categories based off “importance.” These categories would determine at what pace they would be removed if the situation became so desperate that the government absolutely needed the metal. Luckily, the situation never became so desperate to call for the removal of monuments, but Gettysburg did sacrifice “750 spherical shells, 14 iron guns, 1 bronze gun, 8 bronze howitzers, 26 bronze siege guns, and 38 bronze guns.” These were of post-Civil War manufacture, and deemed expendable. Modern visitors can still see the places where the spherical shells were once placed, such as the concrete foundations next to Cushing’s Battery at the Angle.

Ultimately, Gettysburg sacrificed parts of the historic and commemorative landscape during the World Wars. Fields were occupied by soldiers, weapons were discharged towards the Round Tops, military vehicles drove over previously preserved fields, and commemorative objects were removed for scrap drives. Were these sacrifices worth it? Should the government have found different places for military camps and different sources of metal, or was the integrity of Gettysburg’s landscape worth partially sacrificing in order to achieve military success? Imagine if modern prisoners from the War on Terror were brought to live on the fields of Pickett’s Charge today. During the World Wars, Gettysburg and the historical community were willing to consent to sacrifices for the war effort, but it is far less likely that these sacrifices would be accepted today.

The fields near Emmitsburg Road as they appear today, having mostly recovered from military occupation. Photo by author, 2017.

Sources:

“Camp Colt Damages.” Gettysburg Compiler, May 1, 1926.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967.

Hartwig, D. Scott. “Scrap Drive 1942.”

Murray, Jennifer. On A Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933-2013. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2014).

Adams County in the Great War

2017 marks the hundred-year anniversary of the US joining the First World War. This post will be part of a series examining the Great War in scope and in memory.

By Jonathan Tracey ‘19 

The First World War has generally faded from American memory, and is generally considered to have not cost the United States much. Although the country did not experience the total destruction that Europe endured, even small towns such as Gettysburg paid a cost, and the sacrifices made one hundred years ago should not be forgotten. First off is a brief summary of Adams County in the war, sourced primarily from Paul Foulk and Percy Eichelberger’s “Adams County in the World War.” Foulk and Eichelberger were students of Gettysburg College (then Pennsylvania College) and returned from service in the war and wrote the book to chronicle the county’s involvement. Consisting primarily of statistics and lists of soldiers from each town in the county, the book concludes with accounts written by soldiers about their overseas experiences.

WWI Liberty Bonds
Many residents of Adams County supported the war effort by buying war bonds. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

 

Adams County responded with great vigor to the news that the United States would be joining the war. The initial draft registration of men included only those between the ages of 21 and 31, but was eventually broadened to all men ages 18 to 45. By the end of the war, 6,376 county men were registered and divided into several “classes” based on exemptions such as dependents or certain occupations. Of these, 548 were called to service and only two delinquencies were reported. The small number of delinquencies indicates a general acceptance of being drafted among county inhabitants. Additionally, 330 past, current, or future students of Gettysburg College enlisted, ranging from the Class of 1873 all the way to the Class of 1923. Naturally, the vast majority came from the Class of 1914 to the Class of 1920.

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Appomattox: 152 Years Later

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

Just over a week ago was the 152nd anniversary of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.  Although that number may not be as big a deal as the 150th anniversary a few years ago, there was something else special about this year. For only the seventh time since 1865, April 9th fell on Palm Sunday, just as it did on the day that Grant and Lee met in the McLean House. Not only was I lucky enough to attend this commemoration, but I was able to revisit the job I held over the summer by volunteering that weekend. Arriving on Friday, I donned a volunteer uniform, attached my nametag from the summer, and walked out into the surprisingly cold air.

Names on Bags)
A small section of the 4,600 paper bags with the names of slaves emancipated in Appomattox County that lined the roads throughout the park. Photo courtesy of the author.

Luckily the weather was vastly improved on Saturday and Sunday, as hundreds of visitors flocked to the small village far out of the way of most tourists. Volunteers greeted visitors at the parking lot and helped to answer questions across the site. All weekend, interpretative programs were delivered on topics including Union General Philip Sheridan’s 1865 Central Virginia campaign, the United States Colored Troops at Appomattox, and the surrender proceedings themselves. Reenactors, both Union and Confederate, camped within the park, carrying out firing demonstrations to represent the fighting within and around the village and recreating the stacking of Confederate arms. Continue reading “Appomattox: 152 Years Later”

A Soldier and His Many Hats: The Evolution of American Military Headgear

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

Military headgear is a fascinating topic. It exists on a spectrum from the gaudy to the protective, but how did headgear evolve with the military? Interestingly, changes from the decorative to the practical can be examined through this blog’s favorite topic, the 1800s and the American Civil War. By tracing key changes in American military headgear in the 1800s, ideas about the nature of war, as well as how the United States was distancing itself from Europe, become clear.

Initially, military headgear served a very decorative purpose. Of course, at the beginning of American history, the early military defaulted to the use of British uniform tradition. This means that the military adopted the use of the Chapeau hat. Chapeaus came in two styles, either the stereotypical tricorn hat or the bicorn, which is familiar to those who have seen paintings of Napoleon Bonaparte. Although these hats once began life as a civilian covering, gradual changes made them less practical and more decorative. By the time bicorn headgear became standard, it was clear that the hats, offering little coverage from the sun or rain but providing a great, colorful decoration of rank or branch of service, had become more ceremonial than practical.

The Chapeau was dropped from uniform regulations by 1805, and although the foot artillery wore them until 1812, infantrymen found themselves in different headgear during the War of 1812. Instead, one would find soldiers wearing either dramatic dragoon helmets with horsehair, feathers, cockades, and eagles or the new infantry cap. The new infantry cap followed British designs, being a “shako of felt, still cylindrical but with the body shortened and a false front added to give the ilusion[sic] of height.” These hats served inadequately as weather protection, and the addition of the false front indicates just how important appearance was to designers. Continue reading “A Soldier and His Many Hats: The Evolution of American Military Headgear”

Becoming a Better Historian

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Jon Tracey ’19

I’ve had an absolutely incredible summer at Appomattox. I will be leaving the National Historical Park with tons of knowledge and wonderful memories, as well as valuable experience. I’ve learned so much over the course of the summer, both about the Civil War as well as about myself. I’ve become a better historian, learned how to complete more advanced research, and discovered new ways to help teach the public about history. Of course, the summer had plenty of ups as well as downs. Losing power and air conditioning on a hot Virginia night while trying to do research was certainly frustrating! I also had some experiences with visitors that were less than perfect. While delivering first person living history programs, I had to stay within the context of what that particular soldier would have known in the summer of 1865. Sometimes visitors wouldn’t understand that, and once I was shouted at for being unable to answer the question of “What’s original inside the general store?” Luckily, that interaction was the exception rather than the rule, as most of my internship was filled with high points.

Tracey
McLean House, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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