Preservation or National Necessity? Gettysburg National Military Park During the World Wars

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

The great battle in 1863 was not the only time that soldiers occupied Gettysburg. As a National Military Park, the land was administered by the War Department for decades before becoming part of the National Park Service in 1933. As such, the department could use the land for whatever purpose was deemed necessary. During both World Wars the government made use of the historic landscape where Pickett’s Charge took place, and mandated the registration of monuments for potential removal as scrap metal for the war effort. The government saw the threats posed by 20th century warfare to outweigh the value of a preserved landscape.

A Renault tank cresting a dirt hill near the Bliss Farm in 1918. Courtesy of Eisenhower National Historic Site.

In 1917, the fields briefly hosted a mass mobilization camp, but that was short lived. The more major encampment came in 1918. The fields of Pickett’s Charge had become home to Camp Colt, a training camp for the newly formed Tank Corps. Soldiers under the command of Dwight D. Eisenhower ensured that the sounds of war again echoed through Gettysburg. Infantry carried out drill, and trucks with machine guns and 3 inch naval guns used the Round Tops for target practice. Once tanks arrived, drivers honed their skills on the battlefield, accidentally plowing through dirt as they maneuvered over historic landscapes, including the remnants of the Bliss family’s farm. After the war, the buildings were demolished, but the camp still left a physical mark on the landscape. Years later, William Redding, a farmer who had leased his farm from the government prior to the war, filed a complaint that, despite the fact the government had promised to return the land to the original condition, “sewers, water courses, trenches, and other excavations” remained in the fields.

In 1944, enemy soldiers again arrived in Gettysburg. Instead of invading Confederates, these new soldiers were German prisoners of war, mostly captured in North Africa. Chosen for the isolated location, local labor deficiencies, and remaining infrastructure, the former grounds of Camp Colt became home to an unnamed POW camp. Many Gettysburgians were angered by this, but not necessarily because of the use of the battlefield. Instead, their complaints primarily focused on fears of violent German escapees or anger that jobs vacated by their loved ones in the armed forces would be filled by the enemies the former workers had gone off to fight. These prisoners worked in businesses around Gettysburg, filling American soldiers’ vacant jobs by cutting wood, picking apples, and working in canning plants. Interestingly, many of the work crews also helped clear brush from the battlefield, helping to restore the historic landscape that their camp was intruding upon.

The tents that comprised the WWII prisoner of war camp on the fields of Pickett’s Charge in 1944. Courtesy of Gettysburg National Military Park.

During the Second World War, Gettysburg’s landscape also paid a price during the scrap drives. Fences, markers, and even parts of monuments were split into categories based off “importance.” These categories would determine at what pace they would be removed if the situation became so desperate that the government absolutely needed the metal. Luckily, the situation never became so desperate to call for the removal of monuments, but Gettysburg did sacrifice “750 spherical shells, 14 iron guns, 1 bronze gun, 8 bronze howitzers, 26 bronze siege guns, and 38 bronze guns.” These were of post-Civil War manufacture, and deemed expendable. Modern visitors can still see the places where the spherical shells were once placed, such as the concrete foundations next to Cushing’s Battery at the Angle.

Ultimately, Gettysburg sacrificed parts of the historic and commemorative landscape during the World Wars. Fields were occupied by soldiers, weapons were discharged towards the Round Tops, military vehicles drove over previously preserved fields, and commemorative objects were removed for scrap drives. Were these sacrifices worth it? Should the government have found different places for military camps and different sources of metal, or was the integrity of Gettysburg’s landscape worth partially sacrificing in order to achieve military success? Imagine if modern prisoners from the War on Terror were brought to live on the fields of Pickett’s Charge today. During the World Wars, Gettysburg and the historical community were willing to consent to sacrifices for the war effort, but it is far less likely that these sacrifices would be accepted today.

The fields near Emmitsburg Road as they appear today, having mostly recovered from military occupation. Photo by author, 2017.


“Camp Colt Damages.” Gettysburg Compiler, May 1, 1926.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967.

Hartwig, D. Scott. “Scrap Drive 1942.”

Murray, Jennifer. On A Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933-2013. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2014).

Adams County in the Great War

2017 marks the hundred-year anniversary of the US joining the First World War. This post will be part of a series examining the Great War in scope and in memory.

By Jonathan Tracey ‘19 

The First World War has generally faded from American memory, and is generally considered to have not cost the United States much. Although the country did not experience the total destruction that Europe endured, even small towns such as Gettysburg paid a cost, and the sacrifices made one hundred years ago should not be forgotten. First off is a brief summary of Adams County in the war, sourced primarily from Paul Foulk and Percy Eichelberger’s “Adams County in the World War.” Foulk and Eichelberger were students of Gettysburg College (then Pennsylvania College) and returned from service in the war and wrote the book to chronicle the county’s involvement. Consisting primarily of statistics and lists of soldiers from each town in the county, the book concludes with accounts written by soldiers about their overseas experiences.

WWI Liberty Bonds
Many residents of Adams County supported the war effort by buying war bonds. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.


Adams County responded with great vigor to the news that the United States would be joining the war. The initial draft registration of men included only those between the ages of 21 and 31, but was eventually broadened to all men ages 18 to 45. By the end of the war, 6,376 county men were registered and divided into several “classes” based on exemptions such as dependents or certain occupations. Of these, 548 were called to service and only two delinquencies were reported. The small number of delinquencies indicates a general acceptance of being drafted among county inhabitants. Additionally, 330 past, current, or future students of Gettysburg College enlisted, ranging from the Class of 1873 all the way to the Class of 1923. Naturally, the vast majority came from the Class of 1914 to the Class of 1920.

Continue reading “Adams County in the Great War”

The Conflicting Conflict: Memorialization and Memory of the Great War

2017 marks the hundred-year anniversary of the US joining the First World War. This post will be part of a series examining the Great War in scope and in memory.

By Danielle Jones ’18

July 1st through 3rd, 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. There were an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 visitors to the national park, including as many as 10,000 reenactors. The Civil War sesquicentennial was commemorated from the very beginning, and ended with a reenactment in Appomattox that saw over 6,000 people visit to re-live the end of the American Civil War. On April 9th, bells across the nation, including at Gettysburg College, tolled for 4 minutes to honor the four years the war raged on. Plans were started for the anniversary almost a decade in advance and millions of Americans in commemorating of the war that cost 600,000 Americans their lives. A collective narrative of the war began forming  before the surrender was even signed, and while each side had a different memory directly after Appomattox, the settled upon collective narrative still exists today.

WWI ffed the fighter
While the Great War had a massive impact on the American home front, the war itself has largely faded from public memory. Image courtesy of Gettysburg College Special Collections.

As I write this, I think of a different time, a different war, and a different April. On April 6th, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, joining France, Great Britain, and Russia to fight in the World War I. The United States’ entry into the war was controversial; President Woodrow Wilson had asked Congress for a declaration of war on April 2nd, and after four days of debate the Senate passed the declaration 82-6 and the House of Representative passed it 373-50. During the war, 116,516 American Servicemen lost their lives to battle deaths and disease. The Great War, as it came to be known, had a significant impact on the United States domestically and internationally. Entrance to war marked a significant change in America’s traditionally isolationist policy. The end of the war brought an economic boom to the States and a role in international politics it had not seen before. A spot at the table at Versailles, the League of Nations, and an increasingly globalized economy illustrated that the United States was not just a nation across the Atlantic anymore. It had begun establishing itself as a world power whose presence continues to define international politics today. Continue reading “The Conflicting Conflict: Memorialization and Memory of the Great War”

Toward the Age of Peoples’ War: The Civil War to World War I

Image courtesy of the U.S. Army War College

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Michael Neiberg, the newly appointed, inaugural Chair of War Studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA.  An internationally recognized historian of World Wars I and II, Dr. Neiberg formerly served as the Henry L. Stinson Chair of History in the Department of National Security and Strategy at the U.S. Army War College.  His scholarship focuses on the American and French experiences in the two world wars and seeks to make the history of warfare and international relations relevant to policy makers and practitioners.  He is the author of numerous monographs, including Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I (Harvard University Press, 2011, named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top five best books ever written about the war) and Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe (Basic Books, 2015).  His most recent work, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

CWI:  How did warfare change (militarily, politically, and/or culturally) between the American Civil War and World War I?  What were the impacts of those changes on the respective home fronts?

NEIBERG:  The biggest change involved the industrialization of war, which enabled exponential expansion in the scale and scope of war. I think one of the biggest impacts of this slow, evolutionary change was that most people on the home front didn’t see it happening. Thus when the battles of 1914 produced exponentially higher casualties, home fronts were both stunned by the price of war and insistent that their governments achieve something worthy of that cost. Continue reading “Toward the Age of Peoples’ War: The Civil War to World War I”

Armistice Day

By Ian Isherwood ’00

Today is a day of remembrance that has its origins at the conclusion of the Great War.  On November 11, 1918 an Armistice was signed that ended the war on the western front between the allies and Imperial Germany.  Though peace would formally come the following summer with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the Armistice meant that, for the time being, the killing would stop.

For some, the Armistice signaled the end. British officer Hugh Peirs began a letter to his father plainly by writing ‘so that’s that’. The war was over and his life was spared. Others were less certain of what the day meant, but as the weeks went on, it became clear that this pause in the fighting really was peace, and that their home nations were forever altered by the war.

“So that’s that.” – Jack Peirs, November 11, 1918

Continue reading “Armistice Day”

Memory on Parade: The Gallipoli Centenary and Anzac Day Commemoration

By Kevin Lavery ’16

On April 25, 2015, record crowds were drawn from across Australia and New Zealand to the annual Anzac Day celebrations. This year’s commemoration was extra special, for it marked the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War’s Gallipoli campaign. Several of my primary news sources reported heavily on the festivities and it all got me thinking again about how people rally around these patriotic, semi-historical holidays even if the holidays are often distorted reflections of the historic events that they are meant to commemorate.

The United States does not have a perfect parallel to Anzac Day, but the way in which our own national identity is constructed around certain annual holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July–and around certain locations such as Gettysburg and Washington, DC–does present us with some loose parallels that we can work with to discuss some of the issues at play. I realize that comparisons can be problematic tools when dealing with history, but I also think that understanding such commemorations as a global phenomenon is essential to recognizing the scale and spread of the issues involved. Continue reading “Memory on Parade: The Gallipoli Centenary and Anzac Day Commemoration”

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”

“Two Wars and the Long Twentieth Century:” A Response

By Bryan Caswell ’15 and Sarah Johnson ’15

Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University and renowned historian of the American Civil War, authored an article in the New Yorker recently entitled “Two Wars and the Long Twentieth Century.” Taken primarily from her remarks in the Rede Lecture delivered at the University of Cambridge earlier in 2015, Faust’s article takes advantage of the proximity of the anniversaries of the First World War and the American Civil War to advocate for a dialogue of greater continuity between the two conflicts. Faust cites the apparently similar roles of industry, suffering, national mobilization, and memory in both wars as evidence for a ‘long twentieth century’ similar to the ‘long nineteenth century’ so often used by historians to denote the period between the French Revolution and the end of the First World War. Faust argues that “A case can be made that the American Civil War anticipated, in important ways, the transformations that have so often been attributed to the years between 1914 and 1918.” This statement is highly problematic, and requires viewing the two conflicts as if in self-contained historical vacuums. As Dr. Faust’s expressed wish was to place the American Civil War in historical context, however, we have resolved to do just that.

Perhaps the most emphasized point of Faust’s article is the untold carnage of the American Civil War and the First World War. Among other things, Faust points to the unexpected nature of that carnage in both wars and the role of industry in their harvests of death. Claims of similarity based on these factors are rather disingenuous. The industrial slaughter of the First World War had never been approached by any previous conflict and truly heralded a new age in warfare. The mortal cost of the American Civil War, although high for a budding nation only seventy-six years old at the time, should not be understood as anything out of the ordinary. The last major wars in Europe, those involving Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, inflicted massive numbers of casualties. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia alone incurred more casualties than the entire Civil War solely among French forces. The high number of American casualties in the Civil War is also a misleading figure, as it is reflective of the nature of civil war in which both armies were made up of Americans. Such widespread devastation has largely been attributed to another of Faust’s points for the importance of the American Civil War, namely the mass mobilization of people along nationalist lines and the participation of all citizens, civilian and soldier, in the waging of war. The French Revolution, not the American Civil War, is the origin of this phenomenon in the modern period, and indeed the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15 was largely an effort to stuff the genie of nationalism, with all its dire implications, back into its bottle. Continue reading ““Two Wars and the Long Twentieth Century:” A Response”

Days Gone By, Days to Come: Monuments and the Politics of Peace

By Matt LaRoche ’17

Monuments may or may not represent the facts of a battle. They are, after all, post-facto by design. They may or may not have anything to do with the specifics of a conflict or its combatants. Many make a statement focusing not on an aspect of the suffering of a past war, but on an aspect of the peace that the survivors and their descendants hope to foster. They are not just memorial—born out of memory—but also political. Just as the future is fully malleable, so too is what we tell ourselves about the past. The images and ideas that a monument invokes are often designed, and how they are designed can reveal much about the builders and their aspirations.

Monument le Mort-Homme, erected at one of the most hotly contested sectors during the 1916 Battle of Verdun.
Monument le Mort-Homme, erected at one of the most hotly contested sectors during the 1916 Battle of Verdun.

For example, I once wrote a piece on the 90th Pennsylvania Volunteers’ monument here at Gettysburg. Rather than reiterate, let it suffice to say that it caught my eye because it was unusual. A granite tree for a monument? Even one shattered by shellfire is unorthodox. Embossed with a metal dove and a nest full of lively chicks seems even odder. I would argue that in building that unorthodox monument, the regiment’s survivors hoped to make a statement. They hoped not just to draw attention to themselves—not just to claim fame with a physical mark. They wanted to tie their toil and tribulation to something positive rather than negative. Rather than dwell on the bloody math of men lost and yards won, they attached redemptive imagery to their physical mark on Earth. Continue reading “Days Gone By, Days to Come: Monuments and the Politics of Peace”

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”