The Meade Pyramid’s Shifting Sands

By Jacob Ross ‘15

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.

In his essay, “The Politics of Memory: Black Emancipation and the Civil War Monument,” Kirk Savage describes a phenomenon in which the plastic arts of memory can re-appropriate blocks of bronze and stone meant to convey a certain message about the Civil War and change their meaning entirely. There is no better materialization of this theory than the Meade Pyramid located on the Fredericksburg Battlefield. The 400-ton granite structure constructed near Prospect Hill had the original intent of marking the location of General “Stonewall” Jackson’s headquarters; however, in time the purpose of the monument shifted to denote the location of a small, but unique, Union success on the Fredericksburg Battlefield – General Meade’s breakthrough of the Confederate lines. It is this monument’s new purpose which provides its modern namesake.

The pyramid was built in 1898 by a partnership between the Confederate Memorial Literary Society (CMLS) and the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad. The intent of the monument’s purpose was clear even in the initial stages of design. R.F.&P. Railroad employee John Rice was charged with visiting the mammoth Confederate memorial pyramid at Hollywood National Cemetery in Richmond in order to take measurements in an attempt to build a scaled-down duplicate by the tracks at Prospect Hill. From personal experience, the Hollywood Cemetery Pyramid sits in the epitome of “Moonlight & Magnolia” romanticism, but its location is isolated in a tucked away small portion of the vast cemetery. The Meade Pyramid, however was placed right beside the railroad tracks with the primary goal of serving as a landmark-memorial to the most geographically diverse audience Fredericksburg regularly experienced – those travelers passing through town by rail. If nothing else, it is safe to say that the pyramid embodied romantic Confederate memory and placed it at a location of highest public exposure. Continue reading “The Meade Pyramid’s Shifting Sands”

Gettysburg College campus purchased by preservation society

By Kevin Lavery ’16

Please click on each of the images below to read articles at full size and resolution.

The above articles are satirical pieces meant to imagine the danger of a paradigm of preservation lacking in strategy and judgment. Preservation is a wonderful cause, but like any cause it must be approached with purposeful intent and not simply for its own sake. It is an excellent tool of meaningful historical engagement when done properly; when mishandled, it can do the surrounding region harm without accomplishing anything of value.

Photos courtesy of the author and Wikimedia Commons, respectively.

Point/Counterpoint: Questions of Historical Preservation


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”

Striking the Balance: Bringing Peace to the Battlefield of Preservation

By Matt LaRoche ’17

Most Gettysburg residents took note this past winter when the Appalachian Brewing Company’s branch restaurant near the Lutheran Seminary closed. The Civil War Trust bought the land for its historical value; the structure and an adjacent hotel surround the Mary Thompson House, General Lee’s Headquarters during the battle. From the moment of purchase, the plan had been to demolish the buildings, sow grass, and transfer the four-acre lot to the National Park Service as a prized addition to the park. Most onlookers probably think that the tale is told as soon as the land is bought, cleared, and promised to the park. However, that thinking only pans out in a vacuum. In reality, the results of this purchase—as with any large purchase of land in a community—cannot be foreseen. Too many different actors are involved in and affected by something as simple as the demolition of a couple of businesses and the placing of a conservation easement on a property. And for those who stand to be affected by this purchase, controversy is pervasive and understandable.

A modern photograph of Lee's Headquarters at Gettysburg (l) with the Appalachian Brewing Company and a glimpse of The Quality Inn to its right. Appalachian Brewing Company.
A modern photograph of Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg (l) with the Appalachian Brewing Company and a glimpse of The Quality Inn to its right. Appalachian Brewing Company.

Continue reading “Striking the Balance: Bringing Peace to the Battlefield of Preservation”

On the Fields of Glory: A Student’s Reflections on Gettysburg, the Western Front, and Normandy

By Kevin Lavery ’16

I’m very fortunate to have had no shortage of opportunities to get out into the field and put my classroom learning into practice. I am especially lucky to have twice had the opportunity to travel to Europe. Two years ago, I went with my first-year seminar to explore the Western Front of World War I in France and Belgium. This year, I traveled with The Eisenhower Institute to tour the towns and beaches of Normandy where the Allies launched their invasion of Hitler’s Europe during World War II. Having experienced these notable sites of military history, and having taken a number of strolls through the battlefield in my backyard here in Gettysburg, I thought that it might be nice to reflect on each of these special places in a blog post.

Since many of you are likely most familiar with Gettysburg, let’s use it as a point-of-reference for my descriptions of the battlefields in Europe. In many ways, Gettysburg is unique even among Civil War battlefields—in its scale, the ubiquity of its monuments, and the quality of its preservation. Nevertheless, Gettysburg is a site intimately linked with what battlefield tourism looks like to Americans. Continue reading “On the Fields of Glory: A Student’s Reflections on Gettysburg, the Western Front, and Normandy”

How to Delve Into the Dark: An Opinion on Interpreting the Harmon Farm

By Matt LaRoche ’17

A number of weeks ago, I put out a series of pieces focusing on some of the goals and hitches that come with the territory of historical preservation (see “A Vision for a Place: A Commentary on the Rehabilitation of the Harmon Farm” and “Stewarding Our Lands: Historical Preservation in Gettysburg”). To make these topics more bite-sized, I pared my focus down to the recently-preserved Harmon Farm property on Gettysburg’s outskirts. A commenter later asked for my thoughts on the matter of how to present what’s just been preserved in our backyard, so I will try to do that issue justice in this post.

Photo credit to Philip Pane ’17.
Harmon Farm lands, photo credit to Philip Pane ’17.

Firstly, the changes that Andrew L. Dalton, the Harmon Farm’s leading scholar, recommended must be made. Decades as a country club/golf course/resort hotel have altered the topography of the place, especially with the addition of that honking water feature. Whatever was brought in must be taken out. But beyond those obvious changes, the question of how to shape the site for presentation to the public becomes open to discussion. Often the debate over how to present a site falls along two distinct lines that can be summarized with the question, “Do you want more or less human intervention at the site?” For this particular site, I say more. I want to see the golf cart paths repurposed to lead people around a circuit of explanatory waysides and perhaps stone outlines to mark the foundations of the actual buildings of the farm, where applicable. Continue reading “How to Delve Into the Dark: An Opinion on Interpreting the Harmon Farm”

A Vision for a Place: A Commentary on the Rehabilitation of the Harmon Farm

By Matt LaRoche ’17

My last post, “Stewarding Our Lands: Historical Preservation in Gettysburg,” aimed at engendering a general awareness of the goals and challenges that historians face in preserving and presenting places of value. To bring the message home to Gettysburgians, I used the somewhat recently acquired Harmon Farm property as a focusing lens. To follow it up, I interviewed the young man who literally wrote the book on the Harmon Farm.

Photo credit to Philip Pane '17.
Photo credit to Philip Pane ’17.

Andrew L. Dalton has been a Gettysburg resident since the age of four and will be attending Gettysburg College next year. In his book Beyond the Run: The Emanuel Harmon Farm at Gettysburg, Dalton attaches stories and faces to the fameless ninety-five acres of the Harmon property. The terror and suffering borne by the soldiers who contested that ground, as well as the fear felt by sixteen-year-old Amelia Harmon and her family as their home was occupied and burned, have long ago hallowed that ground. Now their stories stand on the cusp of remembrance. But to remember these people properly, the property needs some renovation. 150 years of history has left its mark on what was once a simple Pennsylvania homestead. The industry of subsequent owners more than the battle has transformed the place into a fixer-upper in the best sense of the word. Hosting a hotel and a country club green has changed the landscape, but has also left a historical site full of potential – if a vision emerges to realize it. Continue reading “A Vision for a Place: A Commentary on the Rehabilitation of the Harmon Farm”

Stewarding Our Lands: Historical Preservation in Gettysburg

By Matt LaRoche ’17

Photo credit to Philip Pane ’17.

In recent decades, more and more time, energy, and resources have been put towards saving large tracts of our historical heritage. This surely appears self-evident to residents of a place like Gettysburg, which has seen the boundaries of the park grow exponentially thanks to the National Park Service, as well as to the actions of various private organizations and individuals.[1] However, the conservation is far from complete. Not every  “vision-place of souls”[2] has been saved. However, while every parcel of preserved land is a gift to the American people, much preserved land still waits to be properly rehabilitated and made a meaningful part of the national tapestry.

Continue reading “Stewarding Our Lands: Historical Preservation in Gettysburg”

Photography and Battlefield Preservation: William A. Frassanito’s Revolution

With the publication of William A. Frassanito???s Gettysburg: A Journey in Time in 1975 came a disappointing realization regarding Civil War battlefield preservation — despite the National Park Service???s efforts to maintain those battlefields, as t…

With the publication of William A. Frassanito’s Gettysburg: A Journey in Time in 1975 came a disappointing realization regarding Civil War battlefield preservation — despite the National Park Service’s efforts to maintain those  battlefields, as they would have appeared at the time of the war, areas of the park were so grossly overgrown that the sites were no longer recognizable. Historical accuracy — defined in this sense as how the fields appeared at the time of battle in the 1860s — is one of the National Military Park’s main goals, but how can they restore something that they do not know is inaccurate?

Continue reading “Photography and Battlefield Preservation: William A. Frassanito’s Revolution”