Scrapping Gettysburg’s Virginia Memorial

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.

9 comments… add one
  • Carl Sell Jun 16, 2017 @ 11:57

    Many, many people scoured the nation for discarded and scrap metal to help the war effort in the 1940s. I remember searching for abandoned tin foil as a kid. Everybody went to war back then in their own way. The Greatest Generation, both at home and on the battlefield! And, there were German WWII prisoners held in camps on the battlefield at Gettysburg. They also picked apples I Adams County. Gettysburg is sacred, for both sides.

  • Jen Murray Jun 28, 2014 @ 18:37

    Kevin: I would nearly classify the early NPS administration’s associations to the monuments as an intrusion to the scenic landscape (as evidence by McConaghie’s philosophy of minimizing their appearance). Compared to the War Department administrators, the early NPS administrators found little educational value in the monuments, markers, and itinerary tablets. Too, this reflected the changing visitor demographic and a understanding of the need for a more active, aggressive educational program that aptly substituted for the personal knowledge of the Civil War veterans. Keep reading…and see how the NPS deals with the duality of the Gettysburg landscape later in the 20th century. More surprises to come.

  • Dudley Bokoski Jun 27, 2014 @ 18:04

    Pardon the type….meant to say “conning tower”.

  • Dudley Bokoski Jun 27, 2014 @ 18:03

    The Battleship Oregon, which dated back to the Spanish-American war, was a museum ship maintained (and highly prized) by the state of Oregon in Portland. When the war came it was decided the Navy would take the ship back for scrap. In the end it wasn’t worth much as scrap and ended up as a munitions barge in Guam. After the war the rest of the hulk was finished off. There are also some drawings of part of the CSS Virginia’s conning toward (not a very large piece but distinctive) half buried in a garden in Richmond. Never found out what became of it, but I’ve often wondered if it, too, ended up going to a war drive. Glad they didn’t follow through in Gettysburg.

  • Jen Murray Jun 27, 2014 @ 12:55

    This is a very interesting era in the NPS administration of GNMP, as well as its other historic sites. The NPS plan to scrap and salvage features of the commemorative landscape was far-reaching. All of this detail did not make it into the book, but I authored a similar piece for “Civil War Times” in August 2011. Other Civil War sites donated to the war’s salvage drive, but none comparable to the volume in which GNMP offers.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 27, 2014 @ 13:13

      Hi Jen,

      Thanks for stopping by. I will check out the CWTs essay. Between the shrubs and the scrap metal drives how would you characterize the NPS’s relationship to the monuments? Obviously, the influence of the cultural turn in history is still some years away, but I would have guessed that the Lost Cause crowd identified closely with the monuments or am I wrong about that? It’s such a fascinating book.

  • Ryan Q. Jun 27, 2014 @ 8:32

    I think it is a very interesting topic and I think I would have supported it during WW2. In the end, supporting the landings at Normandy or Okinawa with covering fire would be more important than marking the place where say Wheaton’s brigade spent the night of July 2.

  • The staff Jun 27, 2014 @ 7:20

    At Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP, the iron fences that surrounded some of the monuments were donated to the effort. There wasn’t but one bronze statue. We don’t know if it was ever considered for the scrap drives.

    – Eric Mink

    • Kevin Levin Jun 27, 2014 @ 7:34

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for the additional information and the link. Great seeing you in Gettysburg this past week. It would be interesting to explore this moment in NPS history in a bit more detail.

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