Book Cover "The Origin & Evolution of the National Military Park Idea" by Ronald F. Lee 1973




General Observations

Monuments for
American Revolution Battlefields

The First Battlefield Parks - pgs
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Later Evolution of the National Military Park Idea






The establishment of Gettysburg National Cemetery preceded the creation of Gettysburg National Park and offers a unique chapter in the annals of State and Federal efforts to preserve sites important in American history. The battle of Gettysburg was scarcely over when Governor Andrew G. Curtin hastened to the field to assist local residents in caring for the dead and dying. Some 6,000 soldiers had been killed in action and among the 21,000 casualties of both armies left behind, hundreds more died each day from mortal wounds. Many of the dead had been hastily interred in improvised graves on the battlefield. Prompt establishment of a permanent cemetery was an urgent necessity. Governor Curtin at once approved plans for a soldiers' cemetery, enlisted the cooperation of other Northern governors whose troops were represented on the field, and directed that a plot for a cemetery be purchased in the name of his State. Attorney David Wills of Gettysburg, acting as agent for the Governor, promptly selected and purchased seventeen acres of ground on the northwest slope of Cemetery Hill for the cemetery and wisely engaged William Saunders, eminent horticulturist and landscape gardener, to lay out the grounds. Meanwhile, fourteen Northern States made appropriations in amounts proportionate to their congressional representation to meet the costs of preparing the cemetery and making the many re-interments that were necessary. [25]

William Saunders' contribution to the character and plan of the Soldiers' National Cemetery was significant. Born in St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1822 and trained in horticulture there and at the University of Edinburgh, he had moved to America in 1848, settling first at New Haven, Connecticut. Here he began a series of contributions to the leading horticultural journals of his time that continued for forty years. After designing private estates and cemeteries for some years he was appointed in 1862 as superintendent of the experimental gardens of the newly created Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. It was from this position that he came to Gettysburg to design the national cemetery. Two years later at the suggestion of General Grant, he was chosen to select the site and design the grounds for the Lincoln Monument at Springfield, Illinois. He achieved many other distinctions in his special field during a long public career that carried on until the end of the century. [26]

Saunders' design for the Gettysburg cemetery, laid out on a gently sloping hillside, called for a sculptured central feature, a Soldiers' National Monument, around which the grave sites were laid out State by State, in great semi-circles. Massive stone walls and an iron fence enclosed the burial ground. "The prevailing expression of the cemetery," said Saunders, "should be that of simple grandeur. Simplicity is that element of beauty in a scene that leads gradually from one object to another, in easy harmony, avoiding abrupt contrasts and unexpected features. closely allied to solemnity." Saunders provided ample spaces for lawns, and cautioned against any further planting of trees and shrubs than his design called for. "As the trees spread and extend, the quiet beauty produced by these open spaces of lawn will yearly become more striking; designs of this character require time for their development, and their ultimate harmony should not be impaired or sacrificed to immediate or temporary interest." [27] These principles have in general been faithfully followed, and now, over a century later, Gettysburg National Cemetery conveys an impression of timeless dignity and beauty.

The Soldiers' National Cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863. Edward Everett, whose distinguished career included many addresses throughout the country to raise funds to help save Mount Vernon, was asked to deliver the principal address. There is no need here to repeat the story of President Lincoln's acceptance of an invitation to come and speak also, his journey to Gettysburg, his stay at Attorney David Wills' home, and his delivery of the Gettysburg Address at the ceremonies on the afternoon of November 19. The speaker's platform occupied the site within the cemetery enclosure which William Saunders had specified as the location for the sculptured Soldiers' National Monument, then awaiting future design. The presence of President Lincoln and his immortal words of dedication endowed this spot with profound historical and patriotic associations for the American people and made it one of the most intimate links in our national heritage.

The site of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, inseparably linked to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, was one of the first historic sites of national significance now part of the National Park System to come into the possession of the Nation from other hands. In 1868, their work accomplished, the Board of Commissioners recommended transfer of the cemetery to the Federal Government. Two years later President Grant signed congressional legislation authorizing its acceptance (with the Antietam cemetery), and the Secretary of War formally received title on behalf of the United States on May 1, 1872. [28] In 1872 Congress also authorized establishment of Yellowstone National Park. It is a remarkable coincidence that these first actions to preserve areas of superlative natural scenery and sites of national history -- places that in due course were brought together into one National Park System -- took place in the same year.

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The First Battlefield Parks - pgs
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