Why Do We Preserve So Much Civil War Battlefield Land?
In a couple of days I head out with thirteen students to follow the 20th Massachusetts Infantry from Antietam to Gettysburg. It’s going to be an incredible experience for my kids. We have a great deal of ground to cover both literally and figuratively. I want my students to grapple with the central questions that frame our civil war, including why men fought and endured, the importance of Union and the unraveling of slavery.
My trip also has a “social action” component. As we travel from site to site I am going to ask my students to think about why and whether we should preserve Civil War battlefields. Garry Adelman of the Civil War Trust is going to help us with this when he accompanies the group at Antietam.
This past weekend I caught John Hennessy’s presentation at Longwood College’s annual Civil War symposium on C-SPAN. It’s a wonderful talk and I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety. At the 16:00 minute mark John shares what I find to be a fascinating observation. The United States likely preserves more Civil War battlefield land than all other nations combined and “covering all wars ever fought.”
John goes on to explain the role that the veterans themselves played in establishing the first Civil War parks, but we can also inquire as to why we continue to maintain these sites after all these years. Why so much battlefield land? More specifically, why do we push to have existing parks expanded and even establish new parks? I am going to push my students hard to think hard about what this tells us about our national identity.