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




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Later Evolution of the National Military Park Idea





Gettysburg National Park

With completion of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, there commenced the work of preserving and marking key locations on the battlefield. For this purpose, the State of Pennsylvania had chartered the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association on April 30, 1864, headed by the Governor and composed of public spirited citizens of Pennsylvania, to commemorate "the great deeds of valor...and the signal events which render these battlegrounds illustrious." Founded while the Civil War was still in progress, this Association was one of the earliest historic preservation organizations in the country. [37]

For several years after 1864, the energies of the Association's members were absorbed by duties connected with the national cemetery. By 1887, however, Pennsylvania had begun to appropriate State funds to make possible the first purchases of lands on Gettysburg Battlefield. Important locations on Little Round Top, Culps Hill, and East Cemetery Hill were chosen as the first land holdings. By 1883, the Association found it desirable to enlist support beyond Pennsylvania and directors were elected representing almost every Northern State. The Grand Army of the Republic also took an active interest and helped focus wide attention on the preservation and marking of Gettysburg Battlefield.

By 1890, with the help of many Northern States, the Association had acquired several hundred acres of land on the battlefield including areas in the vicinity of Spangler's Spring, the Wheatfield, Little Round Top, Wolf Hill, and the Peach Orchard, as well as the small white frame house General Meade had used as his headquarters. [38] The Association had also opened nearly twenty miles of roads along the Union lines of battle, and supervised the erection, by States and regiments, of more than three hundred monuments. Nearly one million dollars was expended in this varied work -- New York alone having appropriated $300,000 and Pennsylvania $200,000. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota had each, as Congressman Cutcheon reported to Congress in 1890, "contributed liberally to illustrate and adorn this great battlefield of the Republic." [39]

To be done properly, however, the work of land acquisition, preservation, marking, and commemoration had to be based on serious historical research. In retrospect it seems truly remarkable that an able and extraordinarily dedicated student of the battle of Gettysburg was available from the very beginning to help insure the historical accuracy of all these varied efforts.

This man was John B. Bachelder of Massachusetts. His unusual historical talents were described in detail by Senator Wade Hampton of South Carolina on March 17, 1880, in a report to the Senate from its Military Affairs Committee. The fact that only fifteen years after Appomattox a Southern senator and former Confederate general submitted this highly favorable official report is an exceptional tribute to Bachelder's impartiality. Senator Hampton grew up at "Millwood," his father's plantation near Columbia and took his place naturally among the planter aristocracy. A tall and powerful man who loved to ride and hunt, and a State senator, he entered the Confederate forces promptly at the outbreak of the war, soon becoming a brigadier general in the cavalry. Wounded at 1st Manassas and at Seven Pines, he suffered a third wound at Gettysburg. Following the withdrawal of Federal forces from South Carolina in 1876, he was elected Governor, and he entered the United States Senate in 1878. [40] His report to the Senate on Bachelder's studies of the battlefield of Gettysburg makes interesting reading.

It appears that Mr. Bachelder, having the advantage of a military education, and love of history, went to the front early in 1862, more than a year before the battle of Gettysburg, to be in a position to collect data when the most important battle of the War was fought. After working up the details of several engagements, he reached the battlefield of Gettysburg before the dead were buried, remaining for eighty-four days, making plans of the field, visiting the wounded in hospital, and by permission taking the convalescent officers over the field, by whom their positions and movements were pointed out and established. During this period books full of notes from these actors were secured within a few weeks of the battle. With this information and sketches thus secured, he visited the Army of the Potomac, spending the winter of 1863-64 in consultation with the officers of every regiment and battery, whose conversations and explanations were carefully noted and preserved. At the close of the war, Mr. Bachelder issued an invitation to the many officers whose acquaintance he had made to visit Gettysburg with him for historical purposes, which was accepted by over one thousand; forty-nine of them generals commanding. From the acquaintance thus secured has resulted, during the past sixteen years, a most valuable correspondence regarding the battle of Gettysburg. [41]

Senator Hampton went on to point out that when the War Department found the official reports of the battle so incomplete and conflicting that the positions of troops could not be located from them with the accuracy required for official maps, Mr. Bachelder was employed to do the work. In due course maps were completed representing six phases of the battle and were approved by the Secretary of War. Immediately upon their distribution requests came to the Chief of Engineers from all sections of the country and from leading generals on both sides, urging the importance of compiling in text from the knowledge embodied in the troop position maps. Senator Hampton stated that there were over one hundred and fifty letters from "military men, college professors, directors of historical societies, public libraries, and other literary institutions urging the importance to the history of the country that the maps be accompanied by a text description, and the knowledge which they embody be placed within reach of the public." [42]

With his report, Senator Hampton introduced S. 1490, authorizing the appropriation of $50,000 to complete the survey of Gettysburg Battlefield and related historical studies, "the whole to be done by or under the direction of Mr. John B. Bachelder." [43] The Senate and House soon passed the measure, and it was approved by President Garfield on June 6, 1880. John B. Bachelder's virtues as an historian, though perhaps exaggerated in these generous encomiums, were considerable. He may be thought of as the first park historian. He set a high standard, of a specialized type, for the collection of combat history and for the accurate marking and mapping of troop positions on a heavily contested battlefield. The historical standards and style he helped to set at Gettysburg influenced the marking of other military parks and affected the kind of interpretation presented to visitors, which for many years strongly emphasized professional military study until that kind of history went out of fashion. Work of somewhat comparable character was performed for Chickamauga-Chattanooga by General H.V.N. Boynton, and for Shiloh by Colonel Cornelius Cable and Major D.W. Reed, [44] and for Vicksburg by Capt. W.T. Rigby.

Despite the close attention accorded Gettysburg from 1863 onward, two conspicuous omissions in the work of preservation and marking still remained as veterans from both sides prepared for reunion on the battlefield on the twenty-fifth anniversary in 1888. The work of the Memorial Association had been largely directed toward acquiring key tracts of land occupied by the various State units along the Union lines and arranging for access to them and for monuments and markers. This work was largely financed by appropriations from the various States. Funds were simply not available to acquire and mark locations occupied by the commands of the regular Army engaged at Gettysburg. Further, none of the Southern States had participated in the work of the Memorial Association, and therefore all that part of the battlefield on which the Army of Northern Virginia had formed its lines was still in private hands and unmarked. For eight years, from 1887 to 1895, Congress undertook to correct these deficiencies.

The first step was to arrange for proper marking of the position of each of the commands of the regular Army that fought at Gettysburg. A beginning was made by including in the Sundry Civil Act of March 3, 1887, an appropriation of fifteen thousand dollars for this purpose, barely in time for the great reunion of the following year. To acquire and mark the positions occupied by the Army of Northern Virginia was a much larger problem, however. Out of the effort to solve it grew a comprehensive plan for a Gettysburg National Park embracing all the principal areas of the battlefield.

Representative Byron M. Cutcheon of Michigan, a lawyer who had served in the Army of the Potomac with distinction throughout the Civil War, made the first major effort in 1890 to get a bill through Congress to create Gettysburg National Park. [45] Reporting to the House on August 27 for the Military Affairs Committee, he described all that had been accomplished by the Memorial Association and by others to mark the battlefield. "It has been," he said, "a work of love and grateful pride to the loyal States. But there is something due to history as well as to patriotism. There were two armies at Gettysburgh." [46] He then described the general plan for a park that would include the positions of both armies and that would be guided by a commission of three members, "each of whom shall have been participants in the battle of Gettysburgh, and one of whom shall have been an Officer of the Army of Northern Virginia." He recommended the enactment of H.R. 1868 and concluded with this significant statement:

If this work is to be done, it must be done by the Government. It is equally impracticable for either the Northern or the Southern States to undertake it, and it is too great a work for the memorial association to undertake, and foreign to the object of its organization. It must be done by the National Government or remain undone. [47]

Although legislation to authorize the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park had passed Congress and been signed by the President only a few days before, Congressman Cutcheon's pleas did not meet with a ready and favorable response. It is likely that a major unresolved problem was the relationship of the park project to the several hundred acres of land already in the possession of the Memorial Association. A crisis soon developed which hastened the resolution of these difficulties -- the proposed construction of an electric street railway across a major portion of the unprotected land, already planned in 1892 and actually begun the following spring. At this point Representative Oscar Lapham of Rhode Island, who had served in the Civil War as Captain of the Twelfth Rhode Island Volunteers, made another urgent attempt on behalf of the Military Affairs Committee to get a bill through the House. He advised his colleagues that "much of the ground occupied by the Army of Northern Virginia is in the hands of an association to be devoted to building lots, electric railroad is to encircle the whole."[48] Nevertheless, this attempt, too, failed on the floor of the House.

It remained for one of the most picturesque and controversial figures of his day, Representative Daniel E. Sickles of New York, to sponsor the bill that was finally enacted to create the Gettysburg National Park. Born in 1825, Sickles had studied law and entered New York City and State politics. In 1825 he was an important figure in the successful effort to obtain Central Park for New York City. He served in Congress from 1857 to 1861 and during this period became notorious for having shot and killed Philip Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key, on Lafayette Square in Washington, D. C., because of Key's attention to Mrs. Sickles, the handsome daughter of an Italian music teacher Sickles had married in 1853 when she was 17. When the Civil War broke out, Sickles immediately volunteered and quickly became a colonel, a brigadier-general, and in 1863 a major-general commanding the Third Corps. He fought in the Peninsular and Chancellorsville campaigns and arrived at Gettysburg during the second day's fighting. Struck by a shell, he lost his right leg in a hasty amputation on the battlefield. Recovering by the end of the war, he served briefly as military governor of the Carolinas, and then as Minister to Spain from 1869 to 1873. For over a quarter of a century, from 1886 to 1912, he served as chairman of the New York State Monuments Commission which placed monuments on Civil War battlefields. It was during this period that he was elected to a final term in Congress, 1893-1895, at just the proper moment to sponsor legislation to create the Gettysburg National Park. Representative Sickles introduced his bill, H.R. 8096, on December 6, 1894. [49] The groundwork for the legislation had already been laid in previous years. With some amendments, the bill soon passed the House and Senate and was signed by President Cleveland on February 11, 1895.

The act establishing Gettysburg National Park began by authorizing the Secretary of War to accept from the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association a deed of conveyance to approximately eight hundred acres of land, with all improvements and rights of access. This conveyance had been recommended by a committee of the Association some months before. Since Secretary of War Lamont had already appointed a Gettysburg Park Commission of three members in 1893, the act recognized that the park should be placed in their charge. The Secretary was also authorized to acquire additional lands on the battlefield, not exceeding in area the parcels shown on a map prepared by General Sickles, which were occupied by the infantry, cavalry and artillery on the first, second, and third days of July 1863. Other sections covered such matters as opening additional roads, marking lines of battle, condemnation proceedings, regulations, and penalties for defacing or mutilating the property in the park. [50]

The Gettysburg National Park Commission, led by its able chairman, Colonel John P. Nicholson, immediately undertook to carry out the provisions of the new law and during the ensuing years made steady progress toward the completion of the park. It is worth noting that the Commission was guided by a policy of preserving and restoring features of the battlefield as they existed at the time of the battle. [51] To accomplish this, stone walls and fences were repaired and restored, forests were renewed where they had been cut away since the battle, leases were made to farmers to live in the old farm houses and cultivate the old fields, and great care was taken to avoid changing the natural grades of the ground when constructing avenues. Land acquisition was carried forward in accordance with the law, and markers and monuments placed on lines of battle. By 1904 Chairman Nicholson was able to report to the Secretary of War that "we think one more liberal appropriation by Congress, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1906, will enable the Commission to complete the Gettysburg National Park in a manner worthy of the Government and satisfactory to every section of the country...." [52]

The high and enduring place that Gettysburg occupies in the minds and hearts of the American people has been frequently reaffirmed ever since and never more eloquently than in recent years. The roster of distinguished visitors extends now to every country of the world. For the centennial in 1963, the eminent modern architect Richard Neutra designed for Gettysburg, under the MISSION 66 program, one of the handsomest and most functional visitor centers to be found in the entire National Park System. Carl Sandburg revisited the field during the centennial and in a memorable television program reinterpreted the persisting meaning of Gettysburg for millions of Americans. In 1950 General Dwight D. Eisenhower, soon to be elected President of the United States, chose for his home a farm on the edge of Gettysburg battlefield in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, filled with a century of the deepest kind of historical and patriotic associations which his presence and that of his family has further enriched. It is now the Eisenhower National Historic Site.

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