Graffiti vandals taunt Gettysburg park officials

Early in January, vandals left a sobering message on the venerable Peace Light Memorial at Gettysburg: “u can’t get us.”

And, as of press time, police hadn’t gotten them. But park officials and law enforcement remain determined to apprehend whoever was responsible for defacing the monument with obscene profanity.

After the damage was discovered on January 8, park officials quickly boarded up parts of the memorial to conceal the most offensive graffiti. But some of the markings were still visible. The park planned to use power-washing equipment to remove them this spring.

Vandals have damaged monuments at Gettysburg in the past, including three 19th-century monuments knocked over and damaged in 2006 and the theft of a cannonball from a Culp’s Hill monument in 2008. In 1913, the park suffered its worst case of vandalism when nine monuments were damaged.

“It’s a difficult challenge,” Gettysburg NMP spokesperson Katie Lawhon says. “We do have law enforcement patrols in the park, although the park does not have the funding to patrol 24 hours a day. We have a volunteer program called Park Watch, in which we have a whole corps of volunteers to help us by patrolling the park.”

“There needs to be a fulltime position whose primary duty is to coordinate the Park Watch program,” observed Bobby Housch, who runs the Web site Gettysburg Daily. “There are dozens of people who wish to volunteer to patrol Gettysburg National Military Park, but the NPS doesn’t have the time or resources to coordinate their schedules, conduct background checks and provide them with the equipment they would need. It’s a wonderful program, and it needs to be better utilized.”

Lawhon acknowledges that vandalism at Gettysburg is “very upsetting to many, many people.” But with more than 6,000 acres and more than 1.5 million visitors a year, she adds, “I would venture to say that vandalism is a fairly rare problem given everything we’re caring for here.”

The Peace Light Memorial was dedicated in July 1938, on the 75th anniversary of the battle. The granite and limestone memorial features an eternal flame, symbolizing peace in the United States and unity between North and South.

—Kim A. O’Connell

American Civil War Museum of Ohio seeks new location

In January, only 26 months after opening, the American Civil War Museum of Ohio closed its doors. Within weeks, however, the museum’s president was fielding offers from municipalities around the state hoping to relocate the museum to their communities.

Ohio played a significant role in the Civil War, ranking only behind New York and Pennsylvania in the number of troops provided to the Union cause, and the cramped 4,000-squarefoot facility in Bowling Green was not large enough to adequately display exhibits and an extensive gift shop, according to president Mark Young. The overhead was high and the location did not promote visitation, Young says. Once the economy tanked, he decided to close.

Young was quickly approached by 11 municipalities interested in reopening the museum. That field has since been whittled to serious offers from the towns of Tiffin, Port Clinton, Wauseon and Lima, as well as Crawford County. Young hopes to settle on a site that is 6,000-7,000 square feet (large enough to hold, among other things, the museum’s collection of Civil War books) by summer.

“We’ve got to be in a location where we’re going to draw a lot of people,” Young says. “I’m confident we’ll be reopening soon.”

—Kim A. O’Connell

War anniversary has some politicians running scared

A number of states are launching the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War this year, which marks the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Many states, however, have decided not to establish formal commissions, and as yet no federal entity has been charged with overseeing such efforts.

“Some elected officials are scared to death of the Civil War,” says one official involved in mid-Atlantic heritage tourism, who also noted that because of the bitter history of slavery and fears over “Lost Cause” mythologizing, “It’s a subject some politicians just don’t want to touch.”

At press time, Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia had all established formal state advisory commissions or committees devoted to the sesquicentennial. Other states, such as Georgia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, have considered legislation or other statewide initiatives to organize sesquicentennial activities.

Yet some prominent states—such as Maryland, site of the war’s bloodiest single day, and New York, which endured the 1863 draft riots— have not established formal sesquicentennial organizations, although work may be done through various historical societies and tourism boards. (Maryland, however, has established a commission to commemorate the upcoming bicentennial of the War of 1812.) On the national level, a bill to establish a federal sesquicentennial entity has languished in Congress since 2007.

Despite the concerns over the perception of the Civil War, many states are launching multiyear commemorations that begin with John Brown and end with Appomattox or Reconstruction. Virginia’s sesquicentennial commission held an April conference in Richmond focused on “America on the Eve of the Civil War,” and is cosponsoring a national kick-off event on June 25 at Harpers Ferry, along with the West Virginia commission and tourism officials from Frederick County, Md.

—Kim A. O’Connell

Battlefield preservation legislation passes Senate

In January, the U.S. Senate passed the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act of 2009 as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, a massive bill dealing with parks, public lands and heritage areas. The legislation authorizes the National Park Service’s Civil War Battlefield Protection Program for another five years. The program protects Civil War battlefields through partnerships with state and local governments, the private sector and nonprofit organizations.

“The preservation of our nation’s Civil War battlefields has held a special place in my life for many years,” said Senator James Webb (D-Va.), who sponsored the legislation. “We must preserve these sites so that future generations might see where so many sacrifices were made.” The measure was awaiting deliberation by the House of Representatives at press time.

—Kim A. O’Connell

Shepherdstown: Not quiet on the Potomac

Once again, a group of preservationists is racing against the clock to save a Civil War battlefield from development. This time, the battlefield in question is in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and the development is a proposed 152-unit housing development known as Far Away Farms.

As the last conflict of Robert E. Lee’s Antietam Campaign, the Battle of Shepherdstown was fought September 19-20, 1862, in an approximately square-mile area near the Potomac River. About 9,000 troops participated in the battle, which resulted in nearly 700 casualties divided almost evenly between the two sides. Unlike nearby Harpers Ferry or Antietam, however, the Shepherdstown battlefield is not federally protected and has been vulnerable to encroaching development.

In recent years, the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association has worked with local property owners to protect as much of the battlefield as possible—particularly about 300 acres of the most historically significant land—through conservation easements and other measures. Already, SBPA has saved 84 acres through easements, and the group is now working with the Save Historic Antietam Foundation to purchase 13 acres along the Potomac, according to SBPA president Edward Dunleavy.

Graduate students at West Virginia University are also working to nominate the battlefield to the National Register of Historic Places and promote the site through a podcast and tour.

The effort received a boost in January when a bill to authorize a federal study of the battlefield was approved by the U.S. Senate. Sponsored by Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the bill would authorize a special resources study for the Shepherdstown site, the first step toward the battlefield’s possible inclusion in the National Park System as part of the Harpers Ferry or Antietam sites. Passed as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, the measure was awaiting action by the House at press time.

The SBPA experienced a recent setback, however, when it lost a court battle to prevent the housing development from proceeding. “Luckily for us, real estate development has basically stopped in this economy,” Dunleavy says. “We would love to save as much of this battlefield as possible.”

—Kim A. O’Connell

Cedar Creek plan looks ahead 20 years

While encroaching development is a concern for nearly all battlefields, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley may be one of the nation’s most beleaguered Civil War sites. Exploding commercial and residential development, the planned installation of a massive power line and proposed expansions to Interstate 81, and a nearby limestone quarry have all threatened the park’s historic integrity and vistas in recent years. To better prepare for these threats, the National Park Service is now engaged in a long-term planning effort for Cedar Creek.

Last fall, park officials released a draft General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the park, a massive document designed to guide park actions for the next 20 years. The park held three public hearings on the draft plan and accepted public comments until the end of February.

“The plan is multifaceted,” says Christopher J. Stubbs, the park’s community planner. “Our goal is for the park to be managed as an exemplary partnership, where the resources within the park are protected, where conversion of rural lands to developed uses is reduced, where visitors understand all the primary interpretive themes of the park and visitors can be oriented at a hub.”

Created in 2002, Cedar Creek is a partnership park in which the Park Service works closely with its primary partners— Belle Grove Inc., the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Shenandoah County and the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation—as well as other jurisdictions and agencies to plan for and manage properties and sites.

The draft GMP outlines four management alternatives ranging from a no-action alternative that basically continues operations as-is, to the preferred alternative, which would focus interpretation at a central hub rather than at various partner sites. This option prioritizes purchase from willing sellers or other means to protect both sites within the park boundaries and those scenic and historic resources outside the park.

Stubbs says the final GMP will respond to the key points raised in all of the 40 or so comments the park has received. The final plan will be released later this year.


Originally published in the July 2009 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here