Sunday, January 13, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Battlefield Rehab

It may surprise you to know that when you visit an American Civil War battlefield, it may not look very much like how it did when the battle was fought.

Obviously, there were no monuments - a staple of many Civil War battlefields, monuments pay tribute to the fallen, or, generally, to the subdivisions of armies that fought there.

And, there were no cemetaries full of the casualties.

But, with the passage of time, other things happen.  Many battles were fought on farmland.  If the battlefield is not farmed, it starts to grow back into forest. Historians tell us that visitors can not fully understand the battle if the battlefield doesn't look like it did on the day of the battlefield.  Landmarks get obscured.  You don't see exactly what the soldiers saw on the day of battlefield.

There is now a movement, controversial to some, to "rehab" some important battlefields of the Civil War.  This is not the same thing as a restoration, and there is some confusion over the terminology used.

At least one battlefield, Gettysburg (the three day battle in southern Pennsylvania that represented the  maximum advance of Confederate troops, is being "rehabbed", using historical records from the 1863 period.

For example, the many monuments that have been erected at Gettysburg (you could probably spend an entire day just studying those, never mind the battlefield) would need to be removed in a true restoration.

As part of that rehab, a building long a landmark at the battlefield is being torn down.  That building is the Gettysburg Cyclorama Building, which contained an artistic rendering of Pickett's Charge.

Many people say "good riddance" to this building, considered by many an eyesore.  The painting, one of four versions, and of historical interest is still being exhibited.  It is just the building that used to house it which is being torn down.

I visited Gettysburg years ago, and decided I would rather spend my time at the battlefield.  I hope to be able to return this year (although, probably, not during the 150th anniversary commemoration).  I'm eager to see what the rehab of the battlefield has accomplished.


  1. I was surprised when we visited the battlefields and forts at Williamsburg that they were still fields. While to some it may seem like they are tearing down history to preserve history, I think it preferable to see the battlefields.

    One of the things on my list to photograph is the drum factory where many of the civil war drums were made, and are being recreated using the original forms. I have wanted to go back and take pictures ever since I saw it the first time.

  2. I too have visited Civil War battlefields, including Gettysburg and several along the great Mississippi. What I took away from the experience was a sense of awe that we have set aside these open lands to commemorate the great struggle for freedom we fought so bitterly over. So, for me, those lands are sanctified by the deaths of soldiers. I'm not exactly a purist when it comes to history. Letting these national parks include monuments to retell the history and revert to forestland does not bother me, for it seems a forest would foster more reflection and a sense of a connection to the history than a farmland would. It will be interesting to see what others think.

  3. Hi Alana,

    I love history because it always takes me back and allows me to imagine how things must of been during times like the civil war. History tells us where we've been and where we came from!

  4. My younger son and I went to Vicksburg and found it very worthwhile. Gettysburg is defitely on our short list.


Thank you for visiting! Your comments mean a lot to me, and I appreciate each one. These comments are moderated, so they may not post for several hours. If you are spam, you will find your comments in my compost heap, where they will finally serve a good purpose.