Hat Tip to Dimitri for the Golf Digest article on “swinging” through the Civil War. While many no doubt read this article as another example of Civil War exploitation I see it as falling neatly in line with the history of the marketing of battlefields. I commented on this in a previous post. Some of you may know that the Crater battlefield was once the site of a golf course.
In 1918 the Crater site passed from the Griffith family – which had owned the land on which the battle took place and operated a small museum – and in 1925 was acquired by the Crater Battlefield Association, Inc., a commercial enterprise which erected a club house near the crater and an 18-hole golf course. In addition to the golf course, the Association continued to maintain the small building housing a museum, allowing visitors to tour what remained of the mine for a small fee. It is difficult to imagine golfers not being constantly reminded that their course was at one point a terrible bloodletting or that the largest sand trap once contained the mangled bodies of young men. “The golf links extend up to the site of the old fort,” reported one visitor and on an adjacent ridge “a visitor to the battlefield may observe the storms and changes of more than sixty years.” Owners of the golf course did acknowledge the importance of the site to Petersburg’s Civil War heritage and gave the federal government right of way to the Crater.
The Association provided visitors with a short brochure of the battle written by its President, Arthur W. James. His account highlighted themes that had become standard in histories of the battle, including the role Mahone and his Virginia brigade played in saving Lee’s army; not surprisingly, the presence of African-American soldiers was minimized. School teachers and others could write for information which was promptly mailed for a small fee. The last few paragraphs were reserved to promote relations between the corporation and the surrounding community, which may have been strained owing to the popular belief that the Crater should have been incorporated into the National Park. James described his “corporation as composed of Virginia people interested in its preservation and restoration . . . . As a labor of love and at large personal expense, the members of the corporation cleared the battlefield opened the Pleasant’s galleries, finding the greater part intact, built a road to the site, and opened the sacred spot to visitors.” The president hoped to convince visitors that the golf course was an appropriate addition to the battlefield and the result of cooperation with local, state, and national organizations. James closed with what he probably thought to be a moving tribute to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice on July 30, 1864:
The Crater, covered by giant pines and cedars, immortalizing the soldiers with whose bodies they have been enriched, perfumed with honeysuckle now spread over the reddened trenches, marked by numerous monuments placed by comrades and descendents, surrounded by green fairways and tees bearing the name of its heroes, is a beautiful shrine to the boys of the Blue and Gray who there made the supreme sacrifice.
It is difficult to imagine that James’s appeal to his company’s good intentions convinced interested parties that their preservation worries were misplaced. With little financial success the CBA folded in 1934 and the land was sold at auction in 1936 and bought by the federal government. The National Park Service promptly returned the landscape to as close to its original shape as possible and planned for an elaborate reenactment and celebration in 1937.