By Bryan Caswell ’15 and Heather Clancy ’15 Bryan: Events of the past year here in Gettysburg have been momentous for historical preservation. On July 1, 2014 the Civil War Trust announced that it plans to purchase a four-acre plot of land opposite the Lutheran Seminary. On this land sits the original building that housed Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters during the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee’s Headquarters does not sit alone, however, sharing the property with a Quality Inn and an extremely popular local restaurant, the Appalachian Brewing Company. The Civil War Trust plans on removing these modern buildings and placing a conservation easement on the property in order to ensure its protection and return the landscape to a more nineteenth-century vista. The importance of such an event seems to be self-evident to many historians and so-called ‘Civil War buffs,’ but reactions in Gettysburg itself have been rather varied. This debate has intrigued me, leading me to reconsider notions of historical preservation and ask a question that may seem heretical: what is the value of further preservation?
Heather: For this particular site, preservation and the return to an approximation of its 1863 appearance is easily defensible. Lee’s Headquarters was the location of some of the key tactical planning moments of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was here that the Confederate general and his officers triggered many of the actions that would decide the fate of this small town and the armies that had gathered on its rolling hills and fields. By acquiring the land on which the structure stands, the Civil War Trust has enabled the transition of Lee’s Headquarters to the National Park Service for maintenance and interpretation. Once under NPS supervision, the headquarters will be able to be incorporated into the existing interpretive framework of Gettysburg National Military Park, enriching the experiences of thousands of visitors who come to the park to hear the story of one of our nation’s countless military turning points. Continue reading “Point/Counterpoint: Questions of Historical Preservation”
When alternative band Quiet Hounds released Megaphona in 2012, they presented an album peppered with an impressive range of styles, from folksy ballads to pseudo-manic hipster club tunes. The album’s most unexpected choice, though, came in the form of its closing song, “Beacon Sun.” In it, the band’s lead singer carries a mournful melody. A hypnotizing rhythm runs through the track, underscored by the tattoo of a lethargic tambourine. Indeed, the track is more akin to a jazzed-up hymn than anything else, an impression that is not surprising to listeners once they heave themselves out of the indie haze long enough to catch the song’s lyrics.
As Gettysburg College’s winter break continues, we encourage you to keep an eye out for new posts from our student writers here at the Gettysburg Compiler. And on behalf of all of us at the Civil War Institute, I’d like to wish each and every one of our readers a happy, warm, and safe holiday season.
Bryan: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 saw citizens and students of Gettysburg crowd into the Majestic Theater for the fifty-third annual Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture. The audience listened attentively as Dr. Nina Silber, a renowned historian of the American Civil War, explored the nuanced application of the memory of Abraham Lincoln during the 1930s and ‘40s, especially as associated with the figure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A fascinating study of the evolution and utility of the public conception of an historical figure, Dr. Silber’s talk made manifest the common adage that each generation is possessed of their own Lincoln. Yet as I sat there in the Majestic pondering the implications of the lecture, I noticed a curious phenomenon. While Lincoln was every bit the pivotal character in Dr. Silber’s narrative, nowhere in her discussion could the historical Lincoln be found. The objective of the lecture was of course not to define the historical Lincoln but to explain the Lincoln of the New Deal era, so this absence could be understandable. Even with this concession, however, Silber’s strictly tangential references to the historical inspiration for memory continued to give me pause.
Heather: Silber’s more peripheral use of Civil War history in her exploration of the popular 1930s memory of Lincoln also sparked an initial uncertainty for me. In this particular case, though, I was ultimately reassured by the potential that a tangential discussion of history offers in the ongoing effort to make Civil War memory—and indeed perhaps all historical memory—more widely relevant beyond the confines of an otherwise very specialized subfield. In an area of academic study already so frequently criticized for what many perceive as a lack of pragmatic applications, the opportunity for a more general and interdisciplinary examination of historical memory is crucial.
Heather: In our last post, Bryan and I explored the unique challenges that the reenacting hobby poses to the interpretation and public understanding of the American Civil War. In it, we touched on just a few of the many motivations that inspire individuals to reenact. As we continue our Point/Counterpoint series below, we look to explore the relationship of the reenacting hobby with a particularly complex and problematic ideology–the Lost Cause.
Bryan: There are many breeding grounds for that despicable interpretation of the Civil War known as the Lost Cause. Perpetrated by Confederate veterans after the war, the Lost Cause teaches that the Civil War was neither caused by nor fought over the question of slavery, and that Confederates of all ranks, classes, and creeds were simply honest Americans nobly fighting for the doomed yet righteous cause of states’ rights. These claims are dubious at best; the importance of slavery in particular is universally agreed upon in academic circles due to the indisputable evidence for its centrality to the official Confederate justification for secession. One of the most interesting venues for the propagation of this questionable ideology is, I have noticed, that of reenacting. Continue reading “Point/Counterpoint: An Insidious Cycle”
The following post is part of a series meant to conduct and spark a friendly philosophical discussion of broadly visible themes. It is not our intent to single out any one group or person, and by no means should the points expressed herein be regarded as any kind of attack on either the reenacting community or academia.
As Managing Editor of the Civil War Institute’s student blog, The Gettysburg Compiler, I would like to welcome everyone to a new semester of exciting debate, original research, academic discourse, and on-site reporting on all things Civil War. This academic year, we look forward to expanding the range of both topics and perspectives explored on our blog as we welcome Matt LaRoche ’17, Megan McNish ‘16, Ryan Nadeau ‘16, Jacob Ross ’15, and Cassie Wells ‘16 to our team of fellows/writers.
Another Compiler post, another letter between brothers. This time we will turn to Alexander “Sandie” Murdoch, an Ordinance Sergeant in the 2nd North Carolina State Troops. Engaged in combat during the battle of Gettysburg, Murdoch faced his understandings of mortality perhaps even more immediately than did F.M. Stoke. On August 10, 1863, Murdoch wrote home to relay his reflections on the battle’s conduct. While several weeks had passed since his involvement in the fighting on the first week of July and although he rarely identifies them as such, Murdoch’s letter is full of references to death and his own mortality.
In the most explicit reference he makes to the very real possibility of his own death, Murdoch writes the following of laying in expectation of the order to attack:
There we lay looking around upon our comrades and wondering who would be the ones who would be taken from us and in full health with the life blood coursing joyously through our veins we stared death in the face.
On October 23, 1863, F.M. Stoke paused from his duties at the Gettysburg Hospital to write a letter to his brother. More than three months had passed since Union and Confederate troops had brought war to the rolling ground of rural Pennsylvania, but reminders of the recent conflict were everywhere. Stoke apologized for the span of time since his last letter home. He had been busy lately writing letters for the patients in the hospital and had found no time for even a brief note for his own loved ones. Things were going well enough at the hospital, he wrote.
The impromptu clinic was located about a mile east of town (about where Ewell formed his battle line, he added) and consisted of large tents set up over approximately eighty acres of land. The tents were organized in “streets,” much as in military camps, an outline that made the hospital look nearly like a city of its own. When he first arrived, there were already 5,000 sick and wounded convalescing in the tents and it was not uncommon for seventeen men to die in one day. Continue reading ““No More”: F.M. Stoke’s Letter Home”
As the Pohanka summer intern at the Andersonville National Historic Site I had the immense honor of taking part in Memorial Day at the Andersonville National Cemetery. Let me just tell you, there’s just something about 20,000 U.S. flags rustling in the breeze. The cemetery was ablaze with red, white, and blue this past weekend, both on flags and on visitors’ clothing, as our way of paying homage to our fallen troops. The cemetery was at its most jubilant and colorful as hundreds of citizens celebrated this holiday at the stone rostrum among green grass and blue skies. On Memorial Day weekend, the national cemetery becomes Andersonville’s crown jewel, but in addition to the cemetery, the five hundred acres that make-up the park also includes the ground upon which Camp Sumter Military Prison operated during the Civil War. Continue reading “Memorial Day at Andersonville”