The Empire at War > Historical Games

Civil War Battlefields under threat?

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Karl Schimmelfennig:
So far today, I've been quite busy. After an early start at Falmouth, I've driven a fair ways, and drove and walked over the most blood-soaked ground in the entirety of the United States. Today I've been through Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania.  Yesterday I roamed over Manassas.

And now, sitting in a motel room at Culpeper, I find myself both exhilarated at having finally witnessed the holy land I've dreamed of, and yet troubled about the threat it faces.

Let's take Manassas. I found myself almost shaking, standing as I was on the ground that the immortal Stonewall stood fast and won his immortal nickname. Henry House was a scant 300 yards distant, and in my mind I could see the cannonballs whirring through the air, gouging great chunks of earth and soil out of the protective emplacements as they landed. I could picture Barnard E Bee rallying his troops, pointing at Jackson and demanding that they rally on the Virginians.

Let's take Fredericksburg. I stood behind an original section of the famous sunken wall, and pictured the poor Federals slugging their way up the slope, being blasted by cruel artillery fire from Marye's Heights, and four ranks of Confederate soldiers pouring volley after volley down the slope. I saw the Federals stagger, halt, and retreat, as they failed to achieve the impossible. I could see Longstreet gaze approvingly from the crown of the heights, and his sage nod as Lee remarked "It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it."

Let's take Chancellorsville. I saw the memorial, marking the place where Stonewall Jackson fell with the wound that would kill him, as panicked North Carolinians blasted him from his saddle with a volley of smoothbore musketry. I saw the ruins of the Chancellorsville Inn, and the clearing where Jackson and Lee held their famous conference, seated on boxes of hardtack. I saw where Howard's men panicked and ran as 25,000 confederates came pouring down the Orange Plank road, bayonets fixed and the rebel yell echoing for miles.

And yet, this visage is irredeemably marred. In the background of Manassas, not more than 300 yards from the Henry House, a dual carriageway intersection is full of cars. Trucks thunder past mere yards from where Stonewall Jackson fell. The slope below the sunken road at Fredericksburg is almost impossible to see, as housing estates extend up to within 20 metres of the south face of the stone wall on the road. The spires of the churches mark the boundary of the old town of Fredericksburg, but the Rappahannock is hidden, even from the highest point on Marye's Heights. E Porter Alexander may well have said "a chicken couldn't live on that field" to Longstreet, but time and developers have certainly proven that 10000 civilians can accomplish it with relative ease.

What I worry about is that future generations of Americans, and indeed, people of the world, will not be able to experience the true sense of the battlefields of the Civil War. I worry that someday that some of the great scenes of American conflict and tragedy will be like the sunken road at Fredericksburg - a tiny oasis of greenery and valour, surrounded by Taco Bell, a motorbike repair shop, suburban housing and gas stations. I saw Salem Church today, scene of a famous action at Chancellorsville. Surrounded by shops, it seemed almost as if the developer had grudgingly agreed to let it remain, a blot on the landscape in the midst of a shimmering wall of steel.

I've experienced Shiloh, Vicksburg and Chickamauga. These battlefields, far from the developers eye, are massive, and preserved almost entirely intact. Shiloh in particular is a fantastic effort on the part of the National Park service. But battlefields, particularly those in industrialised areas, I think are in far greater danger. I saw a story on the news the other night of a developer who was fined $70000 for destroying 100 yards of Confederate earthworks at the Wilderness. But the matter almost didn't become public, as the developer had a powerful friend in Congress. This is what worries me. That America's cultural heritage, and battlefields   representing the new birth of freedom that the Republic endured will be sacrificed on the altar of development and industrialisation.

By all means develop and expand the country. But some areas are sacred land. I found it almost soul destroying to see Fredericksburg today. I've read about Fredericksburg more times than I can count. I pictured the green sloping field, leading away from the stone wall and the sunken road. I pictured the view from Marye's Heights, down to the outskirts of the town, and the green hill that the gallant Federals so bravely charged.

When I saw the reality today, I almost cried.

cisse:
Well, I certainly know what you mean. I live in Belgium, and have been a few times to Ypres and the surrounding area, visiting what remains of the trenches of the firs World War and the numerous war cemeteries.

While the war cemeteries are so far untouched (allthough roads do creep ever closer), it's increasingly difficult to get the funds to maintain those trenches and bunkers. This was a war on a greater scale, and not as long ago as the American Civil War, so I can certainly understand that the same thing is happening over there. On the other hand, the American Civil War has probably been more idealized, no?

Now, it's certainly understandable that this is happening - as you say, it's natural for a country to keep developing, and that means that the outlook of the land will change. Flanders is a very densely populated region, so it's unavoidable that roads and buildings will arise on areas of Land that were before untouched. But there has to be left something standing... Visiting those trenches does something to you (and I'm not talking the usual school trips here, where you're visiting a replica and play hide and seek in it).

Ah well. There's now a museum in Ypres, "In Flanders' Fields", that's quite good actually. I suppose that should count for something...

So yes, I understand your pain. Maybe try and look out for societies and organizations that are defending those battlefields, I'm sure there are more people who have experienced what you have or who are just not willing to give up part of their heritage to advancing industrialization.

Rufas the Eccentric:
I have been enjoying your blog and hope to tour Gettysburg and Antietam with you next week.  The development that marred the main battlefield at Fredericksburg is mostly of early 20th century origin.   However, there is more development on the outskirts of the town that is far uglier.  There are organizations working valiantly to stem the tide of development on the remaining sacred ground.  I would suggest for the American's on this site to consider a donation to the Civil War Preservation Trust Fund:

www.civilwar.org

There has been progress made, but the task is far more difficult given the soaring real estate values in the DC metropolitan area. 

Once you cross north of the Potomac, Antietam is fairly pristine.  There is progress being made at Gettysburg.  A hotel that stood on the southern end of town on part of the land used in Pickett's Charge was purchased and torn down by the National Park Service, a huge ugly observation tower that dominated the cemetery was taken down by explosives on Fourth of July a few years back, and the Park Service has plans to demolish the visitors center on the main battlefield and replace it with a new visitors center behind the line of battle.

Thank you Paul for pointing out the desperate need to preseve this sacred soil while it is still there to preserve.  If every American on this site and others could send the cost of one GW regimental box set to the CWPT, it would help.

Sir_Nicolae:
I agree wholeheartedly about the preservation of historical sites, battlefields or otherwise, I haven't had a chance to visit any battlefields of significant meaning yet (I live in southwest Missouri and we have a minor Civil War Battlefield, but it's in pretty poor condition), but would certainly like to, and I find it sad that the next generation will be able to see even less than I will be able to. Maintaining historical sites is certainly an admirable and worthy cause, glad to see several others here think so as well.

Mystic Force:
I visietd the Alamo in San Antonio its really wierd to see this place depicted in the movies as remote and surronded by nothing in the middle of a city.  The US doesnt have the length of (recorded) history in buildings and places that Europe has so it seems such a same that those places that it does come under threat.  The civil war battle fields represent a defining moment in american history, along with the Alamo and buildings in Philadephia associated with the founding fathers they are the most important thing we can preserve.  I know we can do without another Walmart, but i am not sure we can do without the past.  Historical places are always appreciated the further back in time and the more mythical they are.  It seems a real shame that we are prepared to give that up so cheaply.  How will we look to are following generations if we let this happen.  The USA is HUGE, I think we can afford to keep away from some bits of it.  I live in Iowa and there doesnt seem much of historical intrest to visit here compared to when I lived in England, and I miss that.  Its an amazing thing to stand in the room that King Edward I slept or visit the spot where Anne Bowlin was executed.  Or stand looking at a wall built by the Romans and reused by subsequent people and that its been there for 2000 years.  2000 years!  Thats amazing we wont live that long unless we are exceptionally famous no one will remember us, but they might see our deeds, and wonder who we were.  The civil war is close enough in time that its importance can be overlooked.  But what will people think of us in another 100 years if we dont do something.  Its amazing what people will do for a buck but there are somethings we shouldnt do.

Thank you for your attention

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