Sherman Visits Gettysburg
One of my favorites places in the world is Gettysburg. I feel very comfortable there, and I don’t just mean the battlefield. I’ve come to terms with many things that bother others, and take some things as they are. I also try to observe a balance between my interest in the place as a historian, as a visitor, and as someone who (at least at present) doesn’t live there (although that possibility has occurred to me a few times).
These identities sometimes clash, and at other times they reinforce each other. Certainly that is the case when it comes to the two pivotal issues of the last several years … the construction of a new Visitor Center and the restoration of the field (when possible) to its June 1863 state. Those two enterprises converge when it comes to the destruction of the past visitor center and the previous visitor center (the Cyclorama building, which was the visitor center when I first came to Gettysburg in 1967).
When possible, I support battlefield restoration/rehabilitation (there is a difference, as the Gettysburg NPS folks are quick to point out). Moreover, to my mind, rehabilitation is a more realistic goal: you simply can’t quite “restore” the battlefield to its 1863 condition (bye bye park road net; bye bye monuments). So I support what I guess I’d call “rehabilitation in the spirit of pragmatic restoration.” But that doesn’t mean that I don’t retain an attachment to what was there and no longer is. Am I glad as a historian that the woods west of the Sedgwick monument have been cleared to give us a much better understanding of the terrain that Daniel Sickles saw on July 2, 1863? Sure. But I liked those woods. Same thing goes for the clearing along Oak Hill. The changes along the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, and southwest of Little Round Top are really important … I don’t miss the terrain changes there. Same with clearing the area where the 1st Minnesota charged on July 2.
But I’m also aware that something has been lost for people who love the Gettysburg area, and in other areas we’ve had some unsightly construction (a new hotel near Cemetery Hill comes to mind). Do I think the Electric Map was outdated? Yes. Do I think that there had to be a new museum? Yes. But I feel a painful twitch over the visitor center’s demise. Heck, I remember when the Electric Map and the past visitor center were in private hands, and going into it was like exploring Grandma’s attic (the Cyclorama visitor center was not much, save for the Cyclorama). Heck, I love eating at the Dobbin House, but I really loved the diorama it once housed. So change makes things different, not always better, especially when studying the battle clashes with my memories of past visits.
Change became a painful reality today when I saw the picture put up on Gettysburg Daily, which document the destruction of the center (the Cyclorama building’s fate is in limbo). To see the entrance to the visitor center levelled takes some getting used to. Take a look. BTW, I love this website.