Report From the Field: Interpreting Civil War Battlefields

Last night I returned from five days of battlefield stomping with thirteen wonderful students. I was hoping to write a few more blog posts, but I simply didn’t have enough time between the driving, walking and just trying to enjoy those few moments of downtime. All in all the trip reminded me of why I love working with high school students and teaching Civil War history. It goes without saying that there is no better way to convey the richness of this history than by doing it on site.

Thanks to Garry Adelman of the Civil War Trust and Peter Carmichael of Gettysburg College’s Civil War Institute for spending time with my students. I didn’t anticipate this, but watching these two fine historians and battlefield interpreters reminded me of the ways that we approach these sites. This was something that I discussed with the group during one of our final reflections. Continue reading “Report From the Field: Interpreting Civil War Battlefields”

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. Continue reading “Why Do We Preserve So Much Civil War Battlefield Land?”

“The Second Battle of Gettysburg”

My first visit to Gettysburg came after the destruction of the National Tower on July 3, 2000. I was reminded of it earlier today while reading Jen Murray’s, On a Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933-2012. Jen does a fabulous job of exploring the controversy surrounding the construction of the tower and more recent interpretive and preservation challenges on the battlefield. Continue reading ““The Second Battle of Gettysburg””

Gettysburg 150 (from someone all but certain to love it)

Garry Adelman
Photo courtesy of National Park Service

What follows is a guest post from my good friend, Garry Adelman, who shares his thoughts about last week’s Gettysburg commemoration.

I had been looking forward to the Gettysburg 150th commemoration for years. I knew—all Civil War people knew–it would be a big deal. Some could not wait to go; some treated it like the plague. That is Gettysburg. Fascination with the place, and resentment about its status as the Civil War Mecca of sorts, date back to the war itself as Gettysburg increasingly took its place as the war’s best-known battlefield.

Being obsessed with Gettysburg, I try my best to take a historian’s look at the place I love—I don’t call it the most important battle in, or the turning point of, the Civil War. Pickett’s Charge was not the biggest, bloodiest, or most consequential attack of the war.  But nonetheless, almost like a cliché, the Gettysburg Battlefield remains my favorite place—and not just among battlefields. It is my favorite place of any sort. So, I was all but certain to have a great week. And I did. Thing is, it was much, much more enjoyable, meaningful, cool and enlightening than I ever expected. In an adult life full of great Civil War experiences across the country, the Gettysburg 150 week topped them all. I am giddy as I write about it. Continue reading “Gettysburg 150 (from someone all but certain to love it)”

RIP Gettysburg Cyclorama Building

gettysburg

Word came today that the National Park Service will begin demolition of the old Cyclorama building at Gettysburg.  It was just a matter of time.  I never had a real problem with it being there, though I admit it was sort of an eyesore.  I also have no problem with removing it for that reason, but what I have little patience for is that in doing so we are returning the battlefield to its 1863 appearance.  That is little more than a comforting fiction.  If that were the case we would remove all the monuments as well.