Point/Counterpoint: The Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon

Heather.Bryan.PTCOUNTERPT.reenacting.image

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”

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”

Point/Counterpoint: An Insidious Cycle

 

By Bryan Caswell ’15 and Heather Clancy ’15

Heather.Bryan.PTCOUNTERPT.reenacting.imageHeather: 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”

Point/Counterpoint: Blanks Fired

 

By Bryan Caswell ’15 and Heather Clancy ’15

Heather.Bryan.PTCOUNTERPT.reenacting.image

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.

Continue reading “Point/Counterpoint: Blanks Fired”