Tag Archives: Civil War Preservation Trust

Gettysburg and Battlefield Preservation: Another Perspective

The following is a guest post by Professor Mark Snell of Shepherd University.  Professor Snell is the director of The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War

I will not attempt to debate Professor Cebula, nor try to address most of his points. This debate actually can be traced back to 1863—how much of the battlefield should be set aside to honor the men who fought, bled and died there—and it has been going on ever since. For anyone interested in that history, they should read Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine (Princeton Univ. Press, 2003), by the late Jim Weeks.

Let’s get right to the crux of the matter: Is the site of the proposed casino—the Eisenhower Inn and Conference Center, its adjacent sports complex and Devonshire Village condominiums—a place where Union and Confederate soldiers met in combat? The answer is no. We do know, however, that it was a staging area for Wesley Merritt’s cavalry brigade prior to its fight against the right flank of the Army of Northern Virginia on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. Is that, in itself, worth saving? The question and its answer are irrelevant, since the area has been developed for more than four decades.

Directly across the Emmitsburg Road (US Business Route 15) from the proposed casino are the relic remains of a failed commercial venture known as “Slippy Slide,” a water park which incorporated a blockhouse from “Fort Defiance,” another extinct tourist trap that formerly sat on the Taneytown Road near “Fantasyland,” itself a 1950s-era theme park where the current USNPS visitors’ center now sits. All of these commercial enterprises, and many more, were built in Cumberland Township with the explicit approval of the township’s supervisors, the political predecessors of the ones who recently approved the proposed casino.

For the record, I am not morally offended by a casino that could be located about 1 ½ miles from my farm. My libertarian views tell me that if people want to gamble their money away, so be it. But again, part of me wants to say, “Hey Atlantic City! How are those casinos working out for you now!”

The real issue here is not the casino itself, but the ancillary commercial development that, based on the Cumberland Township supervisors’ past record, is sure to blossom along the Emmitsburg Road. Many years ago, I was a member of the Cumberland Township Planning Commission. I eventually resigned because I believed that the supervisors seemed all too eager to yield to development pressure at the expense of historic preservation, the historic landscape and the historic viewshed.

The area in the immediate vicinity of the proposed casino is zoned “mixed use,” which, according to the Cumberland Township Zoning Ordinance, would include motels (a few older ones and two star establishments already exist there), restaurants/bars, gas stations, convenience stores, automobile/motorcycle dealers and the like. Any number of national and regional franchises could easily install a ready-made business in a very short period of time in order to take advantage of the casino’s clientele. Based on past trends of commercial development that had been approved by the township supervisors, I am deeply concerned that this tendency will continue, this time within a half mile of the South Cavalry battlefield, part of Gettysburg National Military Park. Will the presumed tax revenues—at the expense of the historic viewshed so close to the battlefield—offset the longer-term costs to local government? Ask the good people of Atlantic City, New Jersey, how it has worked out for them. And don’t forget to factor the increased bus and car traffic along the already congested Emmitsburg Road. Will that require widening of the road and perhaps traffic lights?

My main worry, as a taxpayer within Cumberland Township and Adams County, is not with rising taxes. I have witnessed rapid commercial development in the past twenty years, yet my property and school taxes have continued to rise, despite promises that business development would lower my taxes. My greatest concern—the reason that I chose to move to Gettysburg after retiring from the US Army—is the maintenance of the rural and historical environment of the area. Anyone who has visited Harpers Ferry National Historical Park can attest to the burgeoning commercial development between there and Charles Town after a casino was added to Charles Town Races. The landscape along US Route 340 between those two towns only recently—in the past two decades—had been pastoral and rural, too. It no longer looks that way.

To Americans who understand the battle, Gettysburg also is defined by the roads leading there—the military “avenues of approach” that are as much a part of the battlefield landscape as the area currently protected by Gettysburg National Military Park. But those roads, laid out in the 18th and 19th centuries, are fast losing their rural character, as anyone traveling along US Route 30 East or West of the town will see. Can we afford to continue that trend?

One last thing needs to be addressed, which was the starting point for Professor Cebula’s guest blog-posting. It’s obvious that he did not like the CWPT film. I found the film, for the most part, moving and heartfelt, but it is understandable why Dr. Cebula would question the use of “talking heads” such as Stephen Lang, Ken Burns, Matthew Broderick, Sam Waterston and Susan Eisenhower. They are not historians. They do, however, have a passionate interest in the Civil War and Gettysburg, either because they portrayed a Civil War personality on film, or produced an award-winning documentary on the subject or, in one case, spent her childhood weekends in Gettysburg. All donated their services to the Trust. All are recognizable by the American public. If CWPT just filmed egg-headed historians like Cebula and me—or even David Blight—who would want to watch it, and what impact would it have?

Will Gettysburg’s legacy be a landscape littered with crass development, or will we try to restore it to a place of national historic significance, including the areas that buffer the park? President Dwight David Eisenhower (grandfather of Susan) loved this area so much that he bought a historic farm adjacent to the battlefield and retired there. Thinking about his own “Gettysburg address,” he wrote, “When I die, I want to leave a piece of earth better than I found it.” That’s my goal, too.

Response Forthcoming

I want to first thank everyone for taking the time to comment on what is for many a very important and personal issue.  Once again you’ve demonstrated that it is possible to have a mature and intellectual Online discussion.  As a proud member of the Civil War Preservation Trust I would like to think that these types of discussions give us the opportunity to step back to assess and even strengthen the arguments we employ to convince the general public of the need to preserve our historic sites.  Historian and Adams County resident, Mark Snell, has agreed to write a response to Professor Cebula’s guest post, which I am hoping to have it posted by the end of the weekend.

At Gettysburg, Moral Panic Disguised as Historic Preservation

Update: Thanks to those of you who have already commented.  That is exactly the point of this post.  I’ve received a number of emails expressing curiosity and even disgust over my decision to feature this guest post.  Many of you know that I’ve strived to offer different perspectives on controversial issues in an attempt to get people to think “out of the box” or to try to steer a discussion down a different road.  I understand that emotions are strong, but we can have an intellectual discussion about this if we choose to do so.  Finally, please don’t assume that this guest post reflects my own view of the situation.  At the same time I do believe that Professor Cebula offers a perspective that deserves consideration.  Thanks

[Guest Post by Larry Cebula]

The Civil War Preservation Trust has just released a video decrying the proposed building of a casino near Gettysburg National Battlefield. I think the video is wretched and illustrates nearly everything that is wrong with how we remember and memorialize our history in this country.

Some background: A developer wants to open the “Mason-Dixon Resorts Casino” within an existing hotel and convention center a half-mile from the boundary of Gettysburg Park. Pennsylvania has allowed casino gambling since 2004, starting with slot machines and now including table games such as poker. A 2005 attempt to build a casino in Gettysburg was defeated. Now the developers are trying again, and the Civil War Preservation Trust and others are fighting back, in part with this video:

My objections to the video, and the cause, are as follows:

1. Why do we care what Sam Waterston and Matthew Broderick think about this? They are actors, people! They only pretended to have fought at Gettysburg. McCullough was the only real historian they used for the production. Show me David Blight and we’ll talk.

2. The battlefield as it currently exists is hardly pristine–whatever that might mean in such a context. You can hardly swing a dead cat without hitting one gigantic monument or another. Now these monuments, many erected by battle survivors in the years and decades after the fight, are interesting historical artifacts in their own right. But they represent a tremendous departure from the way the field of battle might have looked on July 1, 1863. Beyond the matter of the monuments, the landscape is different from what it would have been in 1863. The trees have grown in (though the National Park Service is currently working to restore the 1863 landscape), the open fields are full of grass instead of crops, jets fly overhead. The smell of powder and rotting flesh are gone… It is not as if the battlefield were immaculately preserved and about to be ruined.

3. My strongest objection to the video is the fetishistic treatment of warfare as a sacred activity more meaningful than other human activity. We can’t have people gambling, for God’s sake, it cheapens the memory of three solid days of people slaughtering one another. Susan Eisenhower (whose expertise is helpfully captioned as “Grandaughter of President Eisenhower”) complains that the casino is an attempt to “exploit the brand that is Gettysburg.” But surely gambling is more wholesome than people lining up to blow one anothers’ limbs off?

I know, I know, Lincoln started it: “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract…” The Biblical idea of consecration by blood was very popular in the 19th century. The 19th century is where it belongs.

4. This is selective outrage. The proposed casino will be a half-mile from the boundaries of the park and in an already existing hotel complex. (I had to look that up, the Civil War Preservation Trust would have you believe they are ready to bulldoze Little Round Top to make way for the slots.) A quick Google Map search for “shops” shows dozens and dozens of commercial businesses roughly the same distance from the battlefield, including the Cannonball Olde Tyme Malt Shop and Dirty Billy’s Hats. Thr problem with this business, as the video makes clear around the half-way point, is that people will be gambling, and gambling is bad. I actually agree that gambling is a bad thing, but it is also legal in Pennsylvania, just like selling ice cream and hats.

5. My God, the over-the-top rhetoric in this video is terrible. It discredits not only the cause but the very idea of historic preservation. We are told that the casino will somehow “prostitute” the site. If this casino is built, we are assured, other casinos will pop up like toadstools at the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, Ground Zero, Lincoln Memorial, and presumably, your grandma’s grave.

6. Where does it end? There were perhaps 10,000 conflicts within the Civil War. This National Park Service page lists hundreds of them. And notice that the anti-casino forces are objecting to something that is not on the federally defined battlefield at all, but nearby. One calls for a “buffer zone” around the park–but how wide that buffer is supposed to be, and what commercial activities will be allowed within it, are mysteries.

The campaign to block the casino is not a legitimate effort of historic preservation. It is a moral panic being propagated by Puritan scolds. And it reminds me terribly of another current attempt to use history to block American citizens from exercising their rights to build a legal facility on their own land. Civil War Preservation Trust, meet Sarah Palin.

A Different Perspective on Battlefield Preservation

Let me be clear that I don’t want to see a casino built near the Gettysburg battlefield, but we’ve got to do better when it comes to making our case.  Enough with the sappy videos and the all-star cast of Hollywood movie stars and historians that no one has heard of.  And enough with the preserving the legacy of the men who fought here argument.  No one alive knows how the men who fought at Gettysburg might feel about a casino.  Finally, we need to move from a position that automatically assumes the moral high ground. We’ve hit a dead end.

Harry Smeltzer “thinks that there is no better lesson on how much of the general public views Civil War preservationists than how Civil War preservationists view those trying to save the Gettysburg Cyclorama building. It all comes down to priorities. This is a learning opportunity, if we treat it as such.” – Facebook update, 09/08 (blogger and battlefield preservation advocate)

Larry Cebula “This whole controversy boils down to some people’s moral objections to gambling. There are dozens of businesses equally close to the battlefield (thought the video makes it sound like they are going to bull doze Little Round Top for the facility). The Casino will be within an existing hotel.  This is a lot like (here I go!) the controversy over the mosque near ground zero. People are misusing history to cover their moral objections to legal activity.” -  Comment left at Civil War Memory

CWPT’s Teacher Institute (2010)

cwpt-20logo-20hi-20resYesterday I accepted a very kind offer to take part in the Civil War Preservation Trust’s Teacher Institute in July 2010.  I’ve been following their programs over the past few years and have to say that I am very impressed.  This year the institute will be held in Hagerstown, MD July 16 – 18th, 2010. The battlefield we will be touring on Saturday is Gettysburg, the tours will be led by the National Park Service (Scott Hartwig & team) and Garry Adelman (doing a then and now photography tour).  There is a limit of 200 teachers so you may want to register sooner than later.  This is a free professional development opportunity, teachers only cover their travel and lodging; however, there are scholarships to cover even those costs.  This sounds like a great deal and I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity to talk about something that is so important to me.  I will be taking part in a panel discussion during the Saturday evening banquet to discuss the teaching of the Civil War with Web2.0 technology.