First In the Nation’s History: Gettysburg From Battlefield Memorial Association to National Park

By Hannah Christensen ’17

Just over a month after the Battle of Gettysburg turned the town on its head, local attorney David McConaughy sent a letter to several prominent citizens suggesting that “there could be no more fitting and expressive memorial of the heroic valor and signal triumphs of our army…than the battle-field itself.” He had already purchased some of the ground, and in order to keep the effort going, he suggested trying to get Pennsylvania citizens to contribute money to purchase and preserve more. In order to manage this fund and the battlefield, McConaughy proposed the formation of a preservation association and made a plan to seek its formal incorporation by the State Legislature. The idea went over well with the local citizens, and on September 5, 1863, they and McConaughy met to consider the matter of battlefield preservation. What they established was Gettysburg’s first preservation organization and the nation’s earliest attempt to preserve a Civil War battlefield.

The beginnings of battlefield preservation went hand in hand with another post-battle development: the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. David Wills and McConaughy presented competing solutions to the problem of where to put thousands of Union dead, and Wills’ plan won out. McConaughy’s plan was designed to benefit the local Evergreen Cemetery, while Wills had planned for an entirely separate cemetery. McConaughy then turned his attention to battlefield preservation: he and the group of citizens that met on September 5th created the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMA), which created a fund for preservation purposes to be supported by voluntary subscriptions at $10 per share. They also appointed a provisional committee from which an executive committee would be elected; they would also appoint local committees across Pennsylvania.

When the fund was large enough, the subscribers were supposed to elect trustees, meet at Gettysburg, and organize. The officers on Gettysburg’s preliminary committee consisted of Joseph R. Ingersoll (chair), Dr. Samuel S. Schmucker and Rev. J. Ziegler (vice chairs), T. D. Carson (treasurer), and David McConaughy (secretary). The executive committee consisted entirely of Gettysburg residents and included J. B. Danner, J. L. Schich, D. A. Buehler, David McConaughy, R. G. McCreary, George Arnold, and T. D. Carson.

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View of woods near the location where General John Reynolds was killed c. July 1863. This area was one of the first parts of the battlefield purchased on behalf of the GBMA. Photo via Library of Congress.

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George Leo Frankenstein’s View of East Cemetery Hill

This 1866 painting by George Frankenstein depicts a good portion of the so-called ???fish hook??? of the Union line during the Battle of Gettysburg. The scene that Frankenstein depicted is largely unchanged from what it looked like on the night of Jul…

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This 1866 painting by George Frankenstein depicts a good portion of the so-called “fish hook” of the Union line during the Battle of Gettysburg. The scene that Frankenstein depicted is largely unchanged from what it looked like on the night of July 2, 1863 when the hardest fighting occurred at this spot. The furrows on the bottom right are particularly eye-catching. They are most likely fortifications constructed by the Union soldiers defending East Cemetery Hill.  What do these fortifications suggest about the fighting on East Cemetery Hill? Why are they featured in a painting completed three years after they were last used?

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