Point/Counterpoint: The Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon

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By Jeff Lauck ’18 and Matt LaRoche ’17

Jeff: On November 6, the small town of Gettysburg will be swarmed by runners during the first ever Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon. The event has provoked heated discussion from many in the Civil War community, bringing up many questions regarding the use of our most hallowed grounds for recreational use. In this post, Matt and I will engage in a back and forth conversation about the concerns and advantages of the race. I’d like to begin by noting that the views that we each express in this piece may not necessarily be our own and that we may merely be bringing them up to contribute to the conversation surrounding the marathon.

My first concern about the marathon is an obvious one. The Gettysburg battlefield was the site of unspeakable horror and suffering. Is it appropriate that this sacred space be used for “fun” activities like a marathon? Runners will cross areas whose names have been immortalized for pain, agony, and death: McPherson’s Ridge, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, the Angle. Few would view a marathon through the hallowed ground at Arlington National Cemetery as appropriate. Indeed, the Gettysburg marathon itself avoids the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. However, the Gettysburg battlefield is likely still a final resting place for hundreds of soldiers, so in reality, a marathon running through the battlefield is itself a marathon running in a massive cemetery. The battlefield was preserved as a memorial to those who fell. It should not now be trampled on by hundreds of runners in a spectacle marathon.

Matt: Well, Jeff, your point about the space’s sacredness is certainly well taken. However, I think the underlying question here may be what kinds of history we choose to preserve and commemorate, and why. No one can deny the world is an old and embattled place. Recognizing this begs serious questions of our traditional efforts at memorializing loss and sacrifice. First, what metrics determine what sufferings are legitimately worth remembering? For example, people the world over clearly feel a duty to remember their soldiers, but what about the civilian dead? Wars almost always cost more civilian than combatant lives, but the public’s imagination almost always centers on soldiers. Indeed, the ongoing scholarly debate as to the specific ratio is a testament to not just how overwhelming the reality of civilian deaths is, but also how little we like to think about this particularly senseless aspect of human conflict. Bringing civilians into the mix robs war of what glory it had, as one man’s honorable sacrifice is undone by a child’s meaningless slaughter. It becomes a story few really want to hear, and a serious problem for historical interpretation. And yet this is a key part of war’s story. Continue reading “Point/Counterpoint: The Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon”

Beyond the Battlefield: The Park That Once Was Stevens’s Furnace

By Kevin Lavery ’16

If you’re a frequent reader of the Compiler, it comes as no news to you that the Gettysburg area is historic for more than just its battlefield. From a pre-war African American community to the World War I tank camp commanded by a young Dwight Eisenhower, Gettysburg has a rich and vibrant history that the time-frozen battlefield, however majestic in its own right, all too often obscures. One of my favorite places in the region, however, is a state park located just fourteen miles west of town. Nestled amidst the ridges of South Mountain, Caledonia State Park stands on land once part of the Caledonia Furnace complex owned by the famed congressman Thaddeus Stevens.

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Evidence abounds of Caledonia’s industrial origins. Photograph by the author.

In the last two years, I have tried whenever possible to get out to the park, which serves as a gateway to some of my favorite hiking trails. The Appalachian Trail runs right through Caledonia, and just north of the park there is a vast network of trails that wind their way through the neighboring Michaux State Forest. Not only is it an excellent park for recreation, but it has a long and storied past that I’ve had the opportunity to explore for the Compiler, redoubling my appreciation for the scenic place. Continue reading “Beyond the Battlefield: The Park That Once Was Stevens’s Furnace”

Historical Preservation: The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Property

By Amanda Thibault ‘17

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

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton property presents a number of preservation and interpretive challenges. The NPS is currently considering launching a landscape restoration project. Photo courtesy Amanda Thibault.
The Elizabeth Cady Stanton property presents a number of preservation and interpretive challenges. The NPS is currently considering launching a landscape restoration project. Photo courtesy Amanda Thibault.

Historical preservation has always been a problematic issue for the National Park Service. Park officials must find a balance between preserving and exploiting historical landscapes. At battlefields such as Antietam, the National Park Service has issued a policy of landscape freezing to help visitors understand the historical significance of the park. Landscape freezing refers to preserving the landscape of a particular historical period in time. Antietam has issued a policy of restoring the landscape to the eve of the battle to the maximum extent possible. However, there are many problems facing this plan, like removing the roads that allow visitors to travel through the battlefield and form an emotional connection to the site.

The problems of historical preservation are pronounced here at Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, NY, especially at the Elizabeth Cady Stanton property. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the primary figure behind the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. During tours of the property where Elizabeth Cady Stanton, her husband Henry Stanton, and her seven children lived from 1847 to 1862 only ten people are allowed in the house at once because of its small size. If there is a larger tour, the remaining visitors have to wait outside. Today, the only remnants of the Stanton property are the horse chestnut tree in front of the property and fruit trees located in the northeast corner of property. The orchard, flower and vegetable gardens, the circular driveway, the outdoor playground for the children, the barn and other outbuildings no longer exist. I believe the National Park Service should recreate as much of the original landscape as possible so visitors can roam around while waiting to go inside the house. Continue reading “Historical Preservation: The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Property”

Opportunities for Interpretation

By Jesse Campana ‘18

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

The premier and most illustrious Founding Father George Washington has gone down in history as a great American hero. From sparking the French and Indian War to being the Commander and Chief of all Continental Forces in the American Revolution and eventually the first President of the United States, the man truly was inspiring. Although George Washington has the esteemed honor of having hundreds of biographies written about even just the smallest sections of his life, several key details continue to elude 21st century readers. Nobody actually knows exactly what his birthplace home looked like, and for generations the location itself was unknown. This convoluted history of George Washington’s Birthplace has not only stumped historians, but also locals, family members, and government officials for the past 200 years. Continue reading “Opportunities for Interpretation”

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”

A Usable Past: First World War Training Camps on Civil War Battlefields

By Sarah Johnson ’15

When visitors flock to America’s National Parks, the battlefields from the American Civil War are perennially popular. Every summer, thousands come to walk over the serene fields and forests where men suffered unimaginable carnage. These sites have become sacred in the American psyche, places to remember and honor the dead, educate the public, or engage in quiet personal reflection. The rolling plains, dense forests and impressive mountains of Civil War battlefields inspire awe and reverence for what author Robert Penn Warren tagged America’s only “felt history.”

Such attitudes towards our Civil War battlefields did not always exist. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most of the battlefields were owned by the United States War Department. The War Department’s attitude toward the land was entirely pragmatic. Much of the land over which Civil War armies fought was tactically important terrain, hence the reason why generals chose to fight there. Studying historic battles has always been an important part of military instruction, and the War Department took a hands-on approach to training America’s future fighters, literally creating a usable past by recreating, drilling, and practicing tactics on Civil War battlefields. During World War One, battlefields became training grounds. Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and Petersburg, huge sites in the Civil War world, also played a role in the First World War. Gettysburg became home to Regular Infantry in the summer of 1917 and was named Camp Colt to train the newly formed Tank Corps in 1918. Camp Greenleaf, located in the heart of the Chickamauga battlefield, housed the Army Medical Corps. Camp Lee, near Petersburg, trained infantry.

Medical Officer's Training Corps at Camp Greenleaf in 1917. Library of Congress.
Medical Officer’s Training Corps at Camp Greenleaf in 1917. (click image for full view)
Library of Congress.

Continue reading “A Usable Past: First World War Training Camps on Civil War Battlefields”

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”

Samuel McCreary House

On August 10, 1863, The Compiler announced that the Tyson brothers were preparing to release their first group of battlefield photos. Many of the Tyson negatives have been lost over the years, but perhaps some of the most important survivors are t…

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The Tyson Brothers of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and their apprentice and eventual successor, William H. Tipton, immortalized the Samuel McCreary house through their photography in the years following the Battle of Gettysburg. Charles J. and Isaac G. Tyson were the first local cameramen to have recorded scenes on the battlefield during the summer of 1863. When they initially opened their gallery after their move from Philadelphia on August 16, 1859, they concerned themselves with portraiture rather than outdoor scenes and landscapes. Their first views of the Battle of Gettysburg were not taken until weeks after the battle was over, in part because they needed to obtain the equipment to accommodate outdoor views. Their gallery, located at present day 9 York St, remained open during the first day of the battle, before the townspeople were advised to evacuate the premises in anticipation of Confederate occupation.  In response to the sudden vacancy of the town, Charles Tyson asked a fellow citizen: “What does this mean?” to which the man replied: “It means that all citizens are requested to retire into their houses as quietly and as quickly as possible.” Fortunately for the Tyson brothers, their house and gallery were left untouched, although a cannonball lodged itself into the edifice of their studio. It was never removed and can still be seen today. Continue reading “Samuel McCreary House”