Jen Murray’s new book, On a Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933-2012, is full of surprises. Yesterday I shared a paragraph from Jen’s book on a plan to hide some of the battlefield monuments with shrubs and other vegetation.
I think most of you will be even more surprised with the steps taken by the Park Service during the Second World War to contribute to the nation’s scarp metal drives.
While the nation prepared for further sacrifices, so, too, did the battlefield. In December 1942 park officials produced a report that grouped the battlefield’s markers and monuments in order of priority for the scrap drives. This report divided the markers into nine groupings, essentially presenting a plan for the dismantling and melting down of many of the memorials and monuments designed and dedicated by the veterans themselves. First priority for removal were the nineteen bronze itinerary tablets. Group two consisted of 197 Civil War cannons and artillery tubes, which marked the headquarters of the generals. Group three included 256 brigade, division, and corps explanatory tablets. Group four consisted of various decorative objects on 250 monuments. The report listed nineteen symbolic statues as the fifth priority for removal. Priority group six comprised 317 bronze inscriptive tablets of regimental or state markers. Reliefs depicting battle scenes or individuals were listed as the seventh priority for removal. The forty-three statues honoring individuals appeared further down on the priority list. This group included the Union corps commanders’ equestrian monuments, as well as the bust of President Lincoln on top of the speech memorial in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. The final group prioritized for scrap consisted of three monuments, listed for their “highly artistic merit.” Ironically, those monuments commemorated Confederate soldiers and included the Virginia Memorial, the North Carolina Memorial, and the Alabama Memorial. (p. 55)
Luckily such a sacrifice was unnecessary, but I assume many of you are just as surprised as I am that such a plan was even considered. These two posts suggest to me that the Park Service held very different attitudes regarding the importance of battlefield monuments. I wonder if this is something that deserves further exploration.