Teaching Battlefield Preservation

Perhaps the best way to pass on the value of historic preservation among the younger generation is to bring them to these places.  Every year I bring my Civil War classes to at least one battlefield as well as other important sites.  Although we don’t explicitly discuss issues of preservation I know for a fact that many of my students take away important lessons that can only be shared at the actual site.  I have very little sense of whether an inclination to see these landscapes preserved is instilled as a result.  To be completely honest, I’ve never seen it as my responsibility as a teacher to steer them to this position, but I am now wondering how I might go about teaching the history of Civil War battlefield preservation as a form of historical memory.  I am not even sure what it would mean to teach battlefield preservation.

What would a reading list look like for such a course unit?  Joan Zenzen’s study of Manassas comes to mind, but what else?  Remember, I am teaching high school students.  In the end I am much more interested in producing thoughtful students, who can appreciate the bigger picture than I am in a class of preservation advocates.

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15 comments… add one
  • Dr. Walter L. Powell Sep 17, 2010 @ 8:21

    As someone who has (and is currently) teaching Battlefield Preservation at Shepherd University, I’d like to offer some ideas. We can’t forget that teaching such a topic cannot be done in a preservation or historic vacuum, and many students have just a limited understanding of the preservation movement in the United States, much less the issues related to the Civil War. Therefore, I find William Murtagh’s book “Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America” very useful, with chapters that consider the “Language of Preservation,” “Preservation Before World War II,’ “The Preservation Movement and the National Trust,” “Government and Preservation,” “Preservation Since World War Ii,” “Historic Districts,” and much more. The book also includes a useful preservation chronology, bibliography, and the full texts of such key legislation as the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
    Of course, examining the evolution of the preservation ethic in the US inevitably leads to a discussion of the CW Parks in the 1890s, and, most importantly, the Gettysburg Electric Railway case of the 1890’s, and the all important Supreme Court decision of 1896. It is then possible to utilize books such as Timothy Smith’s “The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation” and Edward Linenthal’s “Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields.” But it is also important to remember, despite the focus of this website, that battlefield preservation as a topic must be broad enough to include all American conflicts, here and abroad–indeed the American Battlefield Protection Program has expanded its purview considerably since that program was first created. As an example, my class just visited Fort Ligonier, a reconstructed fort first built in 1758 during the Forbes Campaign–one of the most important military campaigns of the 18th century in North America–and the related resources of the Forbes Road. To that end, I have asked the class to read Louis Waddell and Bruce Bomberger’s “The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania, 1753-1763: Fortification and Struggle During the War for Empire.” This book is not only a survey of the conflict in Pennsylvania, but an historic sites inventory with recommendations for preservation action.
    In future classes, we will be exploring specific issues such as battlefield archaeology, battlefield preservation outside the US (using the example of English Heritage in England), the American Battle Monuments Commission (WWI and WWII), and the Flight 93 Memorial. Of course, one can easily devote an entire course to just “Civil War Battlefield Preservation,” but that, too, needs to be done in the broader context I’ve noted above. We can no longer take for granted that our students have much American history background, much less an understanding of how the preservation idea has taken root. I’ve found that to be true even among many upperclassmen, many who have already taken several history courses.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 17, 2010 @ 8:22

      Thanks for the comments, Walt and for these suggestions. Great stuff.

    • Margaret D. Blough Sep 17, 2010 @ 16:20

      Walt-I’ve long advised people interested in historic preservation in general, battlefield history in particular, and Gettysburg battfield to read the Electric Railway decision which can be found at http://laws.findlaw.com/us/160/668.html . Mr. Justice Peckham wrote a magnficent, eloquent opinion for the Supreme Court. The case was decided in 1896 when quite a few Civil War veterans were not only alive but very active in government and other activities.

      In your visit to Ft. Ligonier, you were in my neck of the woods. Taking Route 30 there (pretty much the primary route to this day), if you passed through Jennerstown on your way to Ligonier, if you hung a right at the Jennerstown stop light and kept going for for a bit you’d drive right by where I grew up.

  • Marianne Davis Sep 11, 2010 @ 9:40

    May I vote as well for The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation. It is not at all too advanced for clever high school students. More than that, it introduces several fascinating aspects of the Gilded Age. Those politicians who made their names during the War were certainly eager to vote for battlefield preservation, but were they qualified to guide it? Does “balanced” battlefield preservation lead to “balanced” Reconciliationist Memory? Do we spend limited money on monuments or on land, facts and their interpretation? How do we weigh the claims of private land ownership against the claims of national patrimony?
    When I was in high school in the Coolidge administration, our history teacher had us stage a mock gun battle with those plastic rifles and bullets that have long since been outlawed. Then he had us spend the rest of the week trying to recreate the battle by mapping where all the red or white pellets had fallen. He was trying to teach us something about the archaeology of Little Big Horn, I think. All I remember is that the stuff left on the ground did not look like what I thought I remembered about our four minute skirmish. Have fun with your more concrete approach.

  • Tom Sep 10, 2010 @ 16:46

    “Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine” by Jim Weeks.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 10, 2010 @ 16:54

      Excellent book.

  • Margaret D. Blough Sep 10, 2010 @ 15:42

    I would also recommend, ” “This is Holy Ground: A history of the Gettysburg Battlefield” by Barbara L. Platt, whose a long-time member of the Park’s Advisory Council. It’s self-published but it’s still a very thoughtful and thorough history.with some fascinating photos. The ISBN number is 0-9712661-07

    • Kevin Levin Sep 10, 2010 @ 16:55

      I think I perused through it in the Gettysburg Visitor Center.

      • Margaret D. Blough Sep 10, 2010 @ 18:12

        That would probably be the best place to find it. I wouldn’t see it as a primary text for the kind of course that you’re describing. Your best bet on that is one or more of the Linenthal works. However, I think the Platt work does have some interesting stuff in it. In addition, she served on the Advisory Commission throughout the entire GMP process, at least from the time I started getting actively involved in early 1996.

        Another source is the NPS publication “Rally on the High Ground: The National Park Symposium on the Civil War-Ford’s Theater-May 8-9, 2000” edited by Robert K. Sutton. I attended the symposium. It was an amazing experience. Among the presentations reprinted in it are:the two papers from the section on “Healing, Heritage, and History”: David Blight’s “Healing and History:Battlefields and the Problem of Civil War Memory” and Linenthal’s “Heritage and History: the Dilemmas of Interpretation”.

        There’s also the National Park Services 2000 report to Congress on interpretation at Civil War sites (with Jim Epperson’s “Causes of the Civil War” website listed in the bibliography.

        I don’t think you can properly teach battlefield preservation without getting into the interpretation and memory. What we deem important and how we present it says volumes about it and even more about us. A prime example of that is how the subject of the Reconstruction era fighting at Liberty Place in New Orleans has been treated over the years.

  • Bob Pollock Sep 10, 2010 @ 13:31

    “Paving Over The Past: A History and Guide to Civil War Battlefield Preservation” by Georgie and Margie Holder Boge, Island Press, 1993.

    “Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields” by Edward Linenthal, University of Illinois Press, 1991.

    “The Origin and Evolution of the National Military Parl Idea” by Ronald Lee, 1973, which can be accessed at:

  • Kevin Levin Sep 10, 2010 @ 11:20

    Smith’s scholarship is definitely worth looking at and I forgot about Svenson. If I remember correctly, I believe that Civil War Times Illustrated devoted an issue to the Disney – Manassas controversy.

    • Terry Johnston Sep 10, 2010 @ 11:49

      I remember enjoying Svenson’s “Battlefield” very much. It’s been a while since I read it, but if memory serves, it shouldn’t be too advanced for your group. At least worth checking out.

  • Eric Mink Sep 10, 2010 @ 11:14

    Some selections from Timothy B. Smith’s titles might be good.

    The Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park (University of Tennessee Press, 2006)

    The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890’s and the Establishment of America’s First Five Military Parks (University of Tennessee Press, 2008)

    A Chickamauga Memorial: The Establishment of America’s First Civil War National Military Park (University of Tennessee Press, 2009)


  • JE Sep 10, 2010 @ 11:02

    Dollars & Sense – The Economic Benefit of Protecting Civil War Battlefields by Frances H. Kennedy….it’s a bit dated, but something to consider….

  • Timothy Orr Sep 10, 2010 @ 10:53

    I imagine that Timothy B. Smith’s “The Golden Age of Civil War Battlefield Preservation” and Peter Svenson’s “Battlefield: Farming a Civil War Battleground” might be useful. However, they could be too advanced for high school students. Just some suggestions.

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