Reconstruction 7.2 (2007)


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Addressing the Nature of Gettysburg: "Addition and Detraction" in Preserving an American Shrine / Brian Black [1]

 

Abstract: As Gettysburg's sacred meaning extends beyond its 140th year, the site's nature has become a primary source of contest or debate. With the acceptance of new National Park Service policies at the end of the twentieth century, the ecology of the Gettysburg battlefield became both aid and bane to the effort to preserve history. By making this ethical choice, the ecology of the battlefield became part of another historic altercation on this hallowed ground. The debate asks Americans to make severe judgments on basic values that concern the act of preservation. In short, this debate confronts difficult questions including: Is a locale's nature as important as its cultural significance? At sites such as national parks, should natural ecology be openly manipulated in order to spur visitation? Is ecology a reason for preservation or a tool for accomplishing it? Thus far, the decisions at the Gettysburg Battlefield have attempted to construct a clear hierarchy that will likely be used to organize the priorities of this place as well as other parks. This essay explores the Gettysburg story in hopes of better understanding the impulse of preservation and the role that the natural environment plays in the formation and maintenance of icons of American cultural memory.

 

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

 We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting-place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

 It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

 But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or to detract.

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here....

President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 19, 1863 [2]

 

<1> The figure banks left and right, dashes fifty more yards and then freezes under the cover of a shrub of Japanese barberry. The concealment is nearly complete; only vapor rises above the leafy branches as the exhaled breath meets the cool morning air. A trained sniper, of course, could use the vapor as a guide to pierce the greenery from a hundred yards and to drop the figure - even with the muzzle-loaded rifles of the Civil War era.

 

This view from Devil's Den looking toward the Peach Orchard and Seminary Ridge was taken in 2004 (Courtesy of the author).

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<2> On this morning, however, the vapor rises from a white-tailed deer to join with the calm early morning battlefield to provide evidence of more than just occupancy: the deer is one of many symbols of regeneration and enduring peace on the Gettysburg battlefield. But it also serves as one of many flashpoints for the difficulty of managing the various perspectives that compose Gettysburg's sacred meaning. Most tourists will never see the battlefield's largest charismatic terrestrial occupant. At the time of day that finds me trudging the field, most tourists remain bunked in the Holiday Inn and even tour guides are home with their families. At such a moment, the battlefield appears in its most intimate, raw form - its natural or organic state.

<3> During each visit to the battlefield over the past year, I have had a simple goal in addition to my archival work. No, I don't search for spent cartridges, specific regimental monuments, or even visitation patterns of tourists. My simple goal is to locate some of the remaining white-tailed deer on the battlefield. I have consistently accomplished my goal. But I won't tell you where I most consistently find them. If the rangers ask me, I may keep the information from them as well--although I suspect most of them also know where to find the deer. Consider this my own, small ripple in the culture of preservation at Gettysburg. [3]

<4> I came to know the battlefield before it became a life-size diorama. I got to know the nature of this place, and I can't simply give it back. As a college student nearby, I found a secluded nook among the monuments where I could almost always find privacy. From my overlook, I treasured the quiet repose that could be found nestled among the fifty-year old oaks that had blasphemed the sacred of Gettysburg. From my perch, I looked down on the tourist ritual and marveled at the busses, automobiles, and Civil War-era-dressed visitors who systematically passed through the landscape. While others came to pay homage and to learn of the battle, I came for the escape into nature that in another place one might achieve in a local park or forest. My natural oasis just happened to possess recognized historical significance. It happened to be sacred land.

<5> In those days, I watched the wildlife and the migratory birds. I cherished the tall stands of oak that had filled in the open spaces of the battlefield. Forested areas such as Culp's Hill, in particular, that had unfolded into old-growth forest during the last century embodied some of southern Pennsylvania's most beautiful natural landscapes. And when I witnessed the urgent charge across the Wheat Field on these crisp mornings, it was carried out not by re-enactors but by herds of twenty or more graceful, white-tailed deer. Their collective form majestically cut through the early morning fog and in unison rose to clear the wooden, slatted worm fences.

<6> From this same overlook more than twenty years in the future, today I watch one and then another pair of deer make its dash across historic ground and disappear suddenly a few hundred yards ahead of me towards Little Round Top. They follow some of the same natural contours that had concealed forward-lying Union artillery from General Robert E. Lee as he ordered a fateful charge on July 3, 1863 and from the ground-level gaze of Confederate Generals Armistead and Pickett as they carried out the maneuver only to come face-to-face with approximately 7,000 Union troops laying in wait. Today, as in the past, the stunning beauty of mornings on the battlefield inevitably moves me to contemplate the beauty of the preservation idea of Gettysburg: where nature's recovery might serve as a real symbol of eternal peace.

 

This view shows Confederate Avenue, which runs along Seminary Ridge (Courtesy of the author).

 

<7> In recent years, though, we have all come to face the reality that this pastoral beauty is entirely inauthentic. The deer did not witness the battle; they knew to stay away from the field of battle in early July 1863. But the noise of battle did not necessarily scare the deer away. Over-hunting and deforestation made white-tailed deer an endangered species in Pennsylvania, with an estimated population of less than one million by the late 1800s. A century later they had returned en masse to become a nuisance to farmers', late-night drivers, and park administrators. In Gettysburg, though, the graceful creature now hiding behind the barberry shrub spent much of the 1990s as the focus of the latest debate over what this site means and how it can best be preserved. The debate echoed through the halls of the federal agencies empowered to manage this site and the history it presents. While supporters of the deer could claim that any slaughter violated animal rights, they could not claim the deer's importance for any effort to restore history. The deer were not witnesses to the violent days of July 1863. Without this claim, in the late 1990s the deer became a weed upon the historic landscape.

<8> The term "witness," of course, is a subjective one. The human eye-witnesses to the battle had been largely depleted by the reunion of the battle in 1913. This was the main reason for discontinuing the formal veteran reunions held every July [4]. But this was a limited search for witnesses; non-eye-witnesses, including arboreal witnesses, remain today. "Witness" is the term used by the NPS for trees that weathered the battle. Officials estimate that a few hundred witnesses line the fields of battle at Gettysburg National Military Park (GNMP). These natural relics represent a sacred continuum by now framing the landscape of peace. However, having born witness to the battle and survived the first century of tourism, these trees - similar to the deer population--have proven too successful. Their growth is a challenge to the preservation mandate. However, the real emphasis of current efforts are about the off-spring that witness trees have seeded all over the battlefield.

 

This photo from the 1860s shows bone fide witness trees. Many of these shell-shattered trunks were taken as mementos by visitors (Courtesy of GNMP Archives).

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<9> The close scrutiny now bestowed on the natural elements of the battlefield make Gettysburg one of the most uniquely "known" locales in the world. The GNMP is the nation's most visited historical site [5]. During 140 years of preservation and management, the battlefield has endured many instances of debate or "contest" between groups or individuals with differing ideas of preservation. As Gettysburg's sacred meaning extends into the twentieth century, the site's nature has become a primary source of contest. And it is likely to only intensify. James McPherson, Dean of American Civil War historians, writes: "More than any other place in the United States, this battlefield is indeed hallowed ground. Perhaps no word in the American language has greater historical resonance than Gettysburg." [6]

<10> Today, the battlefield is preserved as one of the nation's truly exceptional sites. Cultural anthropologists and geographers use the term "sacred" to refer to landscapes that are specifically tied to cultural significance, often religious, spiritual, or patriotic. The meaning of any sacred site, however, never remains static. When meaning reaches a culture-wide audience, unpredictable national shifts in ideas and preferences can create ripples of influence over such special sites. At times, such shifts take on monumental significance: for instance, when the Taliban destroyed the 2000-year-old Bamiyan Buddha statue in Afghanistan in 2001. Other changes to the definition and maintenance of the sacred are less dramatic and instantaneous: for instance, when a government creates new policies such as the Wilderness Act of 1964 that will ultimately trickle down to redefine sites nationwide. But changes do occur and help to situate separate eras in a site's "culture of preservation."

<11> Monitoring the debate over and maintenance of the sacred provides students of culture with a fascinating fore into grander changes in American society. For instance, when computing technology and popular media increased the amount of information available to consumers during the 1990s, the number of tourists and buffs coming to Gettysburg increased significantly. Many of these well-informed visitors had a level of knowledge not seen since veterans of the battle stopped returning. Armed with this knowledge, visitors also brought new ideas about maintaining the sacred. In the late 1990s, this intensified scrutiny of the battlefield contributed to the adoption of a new policy to guide preservation of the battlefield: the 1999 General Management Plan (GMP). In this document, the National Park Service (NPS) set out on a remarkable undertaking of historical preservation: it would manipulate the field's natural elements in order to re-create the landscape of 1863.

 

The Roots of Preservation at Gettysburg

<12> As I sit comfortably upon my witness rock, I wonder if I should wrap my arms around the tree against my back. Maybe I should climb it, like an Earth First! activist in a Giant Sequoia and refuse to leave for months. You see, my tree and I may be in danger at this moment. Lumber contractors remove stands of trees to my left and to my right. We could be next. Would a protest for this tree be similar to one for a Giant Redwood? Or would I be held a traitor against the U.S.? After all, this is not just any landscape. The patriotic significance of this battlefield and each of its natural components would, I fear, make any tree-sitting or hugging ripe with anti-American overtones. Ironically, at this moment, the chainsaw and chipper are tools of preservation. They are cogs in solidifying Gettysburg's meaning for Americans in the twentieth century.

<13> By it's very nature, preservation is a rather totalitarian act. But at locales such as Gettysburg, who is to say about what is the correct use of this place and its trees? Whether I agree with the cutting or not, at this moment, it is overwhelmingly clear that the meaning of this place changed when the culture of preservation included among its duties the elimination of the ecological confusion brought on by the battlefield's wondrous natural recovery. How could it happen that the beauty of natural recovery could become interpreted as antithetical to preservation? Although my research has made evident a distinct timeline of differing preservation ideals at Gettysburg, each stems from a single point of germination: President Abraham Lincoln's speech at the dedication of Gettysburg's Soldier's Cemetery, otherwise known as the "Gettysburg Address". [7] While all preservation efforts seem to agree that their initiative begins with the "Gettysburg Address," I have come to believe that we, as preservationists, may have misinterpreted the meaning of this moment of origination. Therefore, we need to begin our search for understanding with the text. [8]

 

The designer of the Soldier's National Cemetery, landscape architect William Saunders, created a series of radiating half-circles for the headstones in order to show none had special preference (Courtesy of the author).

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<14> Given in one of the nation's most precarious moments, Lincoln's words - particularly to those later reading them - immediately resonate to images of the battle and wounded. [9] Historian Gary Wills writes, Lincoln's speech "hovers far above the carnage. He lifts the battle to a level of abstraction that purges it of grosser matter....The nightmare realities have been etherealized in the crucible of his language." [10] With these words, Lincoln consecrated a site and a cause. The Civil War, the roots of which were still unclear for many Americans in 1863, became a morality play rooted in patriotism. The way that this imagery has reverberated to the present day and compelled our feelings for commemoration, though, demonstrates a link between a beloved political figure and a patriotic need to prolong our mourning for every generation of Americans who visits the battlefield park.

<15> This meaning came later, though. Practicality first defined this space. Lincoln spoke in order to dedicate the Cemetery that would hold many of those killed in the battle - particularly those unclaimed, unidentified, and, it seemed, unappreciated. Around the podium that day, one could not help but notice the fresh mounds of earth; even so, only a third of the expected bodies had been buried. The gravediggers were overwhelmed with the task. Whenever possible, soldiers' bodies were sent home. However, over 6,000 soldiers remained to be put to rest in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The horrid duty of contending with the dead fell to local groups and the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Thoughts of creating sacred spaces to remember the battle remained for another day. [11] On this day, most visitors wished to forget that, but, not Lincoln.

<16> Similar to a buried nugget of gold, in Lincoln's words that evoke many other issues, we find the roots of the ethic of preservation at Gettysburg. Ironically, in this same speech, we find the roots of the dynamic that has at once fueled and thwarted preservation of the battlefield: contest or debate. At the most basic level of his speech, Lincoln instructed listeners that it was for them, the living, to be dedicated, in this place, to the unfinished work that others had thus far so nobly carried on. His specific point, of course, was most likely to carry on the cause of the war. But after the war, when the site became embedded in symbols of patriotism, Lincoln's words took on additional meaning. The act of preservation has grown out of the suggestion made by Lincoln. Even though he remarked that we, non-soldiers, could never "add or detract" to or from the meaning of this place, preservationists have never stopped trying to do just that.

<17> There was no room left for ecological succession in the preservation impulse initiated by Lincoln's address; and, yet, there was a clear call for the site to follow an organicism rooted in American attitudes toward the ideals embodied by the Civil War. Americans, in Lincoln's words, needed to ascertain what are "fitting and proper" modes for recognizing the valor of those who died in the battle. At the time of the address, the battlefield property remained almost completely in the hands of private landowners. Gathering it together and federalizing it would seem to have fallen within Lincoln's insinuated call for quiet, respectful remembrance. However, would aggressive, managed manipulation and "restoration" have as well? Possibly, such efforts could be termed well-intentioned efforts of preservation that, unintentionally, detract from attention to the issues and ideas that motivated the incredible human efforts expended on this and other fields of battle.

<18> By contrast, many nineteenth century Americans used other sites to demonstrate that reflection in the natural world could enhance one's ability to ponder such larger questions and motivations. This realization stimulated the American movement for parks and National Parks quite separate from actions at the Gettysburg Battlefield. As I sit on the battlefield in 2006, I am convinced that a monumented battlefield site is the extent of what Lincoln could have imagined when he spoke at Gettysburg. Very likely, at this moment in 1863 he did not even consider preservation of the battlefield but only thought of preservation of the Union. And yet the ethic of his words seem clear.

<19> Over the course of the twentieth century, preservationists steadily came to view Gettysburg as an artifact of historical significance. While such a realization preserves the significance of the physical site, the main goal is to memorialize, mourn, or remember the battle. Over time, one product of this process has been to, by association simplify the role of the battlefield's landscape as a host for preservation activities. It has at different times served as a setting for visitation and at others as a tool for recalling events. The physical and topographical features of the field are now evaluated exclusively based on their relation to the events of July 1-3, 1863. However, the 1999 GMP is merely the latest step in the use of the nature of the field for the purposes of historic preservation.

<20> Ultimately, preservationists' interest in recreating the landscape of 1863 marks the exercise of one of Lincoln's primary points: intellectual freedom to construct cultural productions such as memorial landscapes. It follows Lincoln's inspiration, then, that preservationists never consider their work complete. The vigorous management of the battlefield's natural resources in 2006 marks no more a permanent precedent than any of the other phases of land-use at Gettysburg. After all, one clear, undeniable detail of the sacred is change.

 

Sacred Meaning and the Uses of Nature

<21> Sacred landscapes remain dynamic because they represent a variable: the human efforts to create and maintain monuments, which ultimately grow out of humans' desire to defeat the passage of time - to create a sliver of permanence in a transient world. We organize such efforts by applying meaning or rationale to such sites. While preservation itself often paints broad swaths of meaning that will appeal to many observers, the use of such sites remains very personal. Amidst such dynamics, the meaning of sacred sites and the ideas for their maintenance and preservation are certain to change with different eras. In Shadowed Ground, the geographer Kenneth Foote writes "The sites have been inscribed with messages that speak to the way individuals, groups, and entire societies wish to interpret their past. When 'read' carefully, these places also yield insight into how societies come to terms with violence and tragedy." [12] Lessons of the larger culture might be found in its efforts at the preservation that define, create, and maintain the sacred. In the case of Gettysburg, ideas for how to utilize the field's nature reflect larger societal priorities. Often, the sacred's symbolic value supercedes any other consideration of the site.

<22> Humans are able to co-mingle our immediate surroundings with an abstract language of signs and symbols that we call myths, legends, and science. Geographer Yi-fu Tuan refers to these additional meanings as "cocoons" that allow us to increase the significance and meaning of our surroundings. In comparison to the landscape's natural occurrence, these cultural cocoons can stir emotions entirely disjunct from the appearance of a locale. Distinguishing the sacred and the profane, for instance, usurps importance from any number of other details of a place. Of all these cultural productions, myth may be the most compelling. These layers of meaning evolve from humans seeking to resolve psychic dilemmas of some kind--to cope with loss, death, or mortality. Tuan writes, "the contradictions of life are usually resolved in narration." [13] Humans create a logic or meaning to rationalize organization, including that of a landscape. Tuan continues:

...man has the tendency to differentiate his space ethnocentrically, distinguishing between the sacred and the profane, center and periphery, the home estate and the common range. [14]

What happens, though, when the narrative meaning of a site conflicts with its natural elements?

<23> Geographer John B. Jackson discusses monuments as a connection and an echo of the past. In his essay on this topic, "The Necessity for Ruins," he continues:

A traditional monument, as the origin of the word indicates, is an object which is supposed to remind us of something important. That is to say it exists to put people in mind of some obligation that they have incurred: a great public figure, a great public event, a great public declaration which the group had pledged itself to honor. [15]

Prior to preserving a site, the public makes a decision regarding what the site should represent. The initial preservationists possess great control to set the site's obligations to its story; however, they have only nominal control over what exactly will go on at the site once it is established.

 

This 19th century postcard shows Devil's Den, which was and continues to be one of the most popular features of the battlefield (Courtesy the GNMP Archives).

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<24> At Gettysburg, preservationists immediately identified the significance of natural features for positioning and understanding the battle. [16] The first efforts to construct a park took advantage of these distinguishing features, including Little Round Top, Seminary Ridge, and Culp's Hill. When preservation became a job for the federal government in the 1890s, the natural elements of the battlefield clearly became a resource to be manipulated in order to facilitate the primary responsibility of the military park: visitor satisfaction and illuminating the events of the battle. By the 1920s, the priority was clearly the automobile tourist, which was reflected by the building of roads and parking lots as well as the maintenance of "viewsheds" and the sequencing of the tourist visit. During these eras of preservation, the natural elements of the battlefield were used as setting and context; rarely did natural features of the field restrict development in any way.

 

This nineteenth century image of lawn mowing is just one of the most obvious forms of upkeep and maintenance required for the field from the start (Courtesy GNMP Archives).

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<25> Through its first century of existence, the 7000-acre GNMP offered respite and solace to veterans as well as to a century's worth of mourners. The site's nature was instrumental to it's success as a monument. With little forethought or strategy, the memorial's meaning became indelibly linked with the landscape as the entire narrative, which soon was offered to visitors on cassette, CD or through the commentary of a battlefield guide. This may work for topographical features such as hills, ridges and mountains. But trees grow, species shift, and soils erode. Over time, the site became less grounded in historic authenticity and more a product of cultural memory - a memory that includes over-grown oaks, free-roaming deer, and tourist kitsch such as the electric map and the bobble-head Robert E. Lee.

<26> By 1990, the sacred setting at GNMP attracted nearly two million visitors per year. Heavy use combined with other factors to initiate a re-evaluation of Gettysburg's nature by many preservationists. Primarily, potential challengers to the battlefield's attraction to tourists emerged when Disney Company and others considered establishing historically-oriented parks. When the NPS considered its options at Gettysburg, it returned to one of the first observations park service administrators had made when the agency took over the military parks from the Dept of War. GNMP's first Superintendent James E. McConaghie, who began in the position under the Department of War and was carried over by the NPS, stressed the need for "authenticity" within the park. The most important portion of the authentic for McConaghie was the need for the NPS to restore the conditions of 1863. He writes:

The Park ... should in every possible way be restored to the condition of that time. Formal features and the demands of modern transportation necessitate a certain amount of work foreign to the desired 1863 atmosphere. Every attempt will be made to keep such development to the minimum. [17]

For various reasons, the NPS did not fully pursue this approach for the next half-century.

<27> The NPS finally initiated the implementation of this new ethic toward its nature with a new General Management Plan in the 1990s. [18] This document recast not only the role of the NPS, but also the role of the different components of the battlefield. The most dramatic twist empowered the NPS to install the nature of 1863 wherever possible. While such an aesthetic agenda might have been familiar in museum scenes or exhibits, it was a radical application on the grounds and maintenance efforts that had long defined much of the NPS's day-to-day work. In its odd manipulation of a real, living landscape, the new ethic of preservation fit generally into a culture-wide trend known as post-modernity. [19]

 

Civil War-gasm [20]

<28> Before cultural theorists had designated the late twentieth century as "the post-modern era," well-known writer and semiotician, Umberto Eco (1983) coined the term "hyper-reality." He used this term to describe efforts inspired by popular culture to create alternative examples of authenticity - the "real." Ironically, Eco writes, Americans journey into hyper-reality because their imagination "...demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake...." [21] From efforts such as "living history" and re-enactments, efforts to replicate historical "authenticity" also extended into the cyber realm through the use of computer-generated environments and alternative realities. When Civil War interest swelled with the activities of re-enactors and the staging of film events such as the Turner Broadcasting Company's Gettysburg, the NPS responded with its watershed shift in policy. While many of the non-historical park sites veered more than ever toward ecosystem management by the 1990s, the GNMP set out to use ecological science as its major tool to create a model of hyper-reality - indeed, a life size diorama of the 1863 landscape.

<29> Clearly, dioramas do not measure up to the contemporary expectations of fake authenticity that Eco described above. Most museums have long-since moth-balled these incredible artistic accomplishments. In the world of hyperreality, writes Eco, dioramas aim to establish themselves "...as a substitute for reality, as something even more real." [22] At GNMP, the re-telling of the battle includes other similar modes of interpretation, including the electric map and the late nineteenth century circular painting known as the Cyclorama. In attempting to redefine historic preservation during the 1990s, however, park administrators grew willing to explode the scale of preservation in order to defeat some of the field's most widespread limitations. Instead of capturing a moment in time within a glass case, administrators at GNMP became enamored with a simple idea: making a full-scale diorama that would tell the story of Gettysburg in a fashion that would be impossible for other locales to duplicate. In this new interpretation of historic preservation, the main actor in this project, of course, would be the scene itself. The scene resembles an orchestra, with each component of the natural environment contributing but also requiring individual maintenance and training before it can rejoin the group in creating the scene of July 1863. Such an experiment had never before been carried out on such a broad scale. The terminology used by the park service described this effort as "landscape restoration." [23]

 

Reenactors direct our attention to one the signs denoting posted areas around Little Round Top (Courtesy of P.J. Sleber).

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<30> The practice of landscape restoration has been carried out by the NPS and other federal organizations for decades. It also is a term that is sometimes used by private companies involved in mining, foresting, and road building to describe any effort to cosmetically fix a natural landscape that shows the scars of development. When ecological understanding began to play a more primary role in NPS planning after the 1960s, ideas such as restoration were held to a more stringent measuring stick. Primarily, a site that wished to practice landscape restoration had to first establish its goal - what exactly it wished to restore. Of course, organizing the reality of the Gettysburg Battlefield initially appears to be more simple than doing so elsewhere. On the surface, the logic and mission here are obvious. [24] The term used by park officials to describe the level to which the landscape is sculpted to this periodicity is " integrity."

<31> NPS officials, of course, had no difficulty in selecting the significant period for GNMP. The first NPS Superintendent of the site had called for an effort to return to the 1863 landscape in the 1930s. In addition, the NPS in the 1980s urged the preservation of "cultural landscapes" that reflected the pre-battle 1863 rural agricultural environment while continuing to create mechanisms to help visitors interpret the battle. This included the re-introduction of forests, orchards, and agricultural fields where they were located at time of the battle. Dividing park land immediately adjacent to the main battlefield into sixty-nine "viewshed parcels," the NPS then ranked each parcel for impact on battle action and interpretive value to the visiting public. With this policy in mind, beginning in 1985 the NPS explored strategies for preserving a sculpted 1863 landscape from its greatest predator: its own nature.

 

Modeling the Historic Nature of Gettysburg

<32> The first step toward reconstructing Gettysburg's historic landscape required the imaginative capabilities of a geographic information systems technology (GIS) that can mimic the topographical and biological details of an imagined landscape, by which the NPS created a series of model landscapes. In order to substantiate the ideals and methods described in the 1999 GMP, engineers devised four model landscapes: 1993, referred to as "existing conditions"; 1927, referred to as "commemorative era"; 1895, referred to as "memorial association era"; and 1863, referred to as "battle era." [25]

<33> The details to flesh out each of the models derived from historic accounts, maps and particularly from photographs. Historians inputted such details as tree location, noticeable erosion, and human manipulation (including agriculture, road building, etc.), into the GIS model, which then totaled the alterations to create complete simulations of the battlefield landscape at each of these junctures. The inventory showed that in 1863 the acreage now within the park was a utilitarian landscape of diverse uses, including orchards, agricultural fields, and homesteads. In addition to documenting conditions, analyzing landscape changes, and calculating view-sheds, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) were used with the GIS to provide "control points for map registration and to navigate to feature locations in the field." [26] In short, computing technology allowed planners to achieve a sense of place that reached further than any single human life span to learn the nature of the changes to Gettysburg nature over time.

<34> Once GIS was used to create the four models, the same information provided the templates to construct the most prescient policy decisions for the future. The inaugural event of the restoration process was the demolition of the National Tower. [27] Following the implosion of the tower in 2001, the NPS implemented treatment plans for portions of the cultural landscape designed with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation. These plans focused on specific segments of the landscape that were deemed of highest historical significance. The overall ideas of the GMP formed a new ethic and were applied to rationales for the management of each designated site. In the GMP, these approaches were broken down into the naturally occurring segments of the battlefield landscape.

<35> As administrators came to grips with the implications of the new GMP on general resource management, they realized that the natural systems at work in GNMP could not function entirely as friendly forces in the effort to create the historic landscape. Landscape specialists could assuredly re-create the plants and general landscapes of 1863, but existing natural systems within the park would prevent any reconstruction from survival and, therefore, compromise "authenticity." In short, before beginning large-scale efforts of landscape reconstruction, rangers needed to delete the forces that would upset the diorama. Primarily, this meant wildlife control. Before beginning other efforts, the staff of the GNMP would first have to wrest control from the battlefield occupant who began this tour: the white-tailed deer.

<36> Under the scrutiny of the new ecological lens that the NPS applied to the GNMP, the deer were described as the primary "charismatic terrestrial" population in the park. To a non-scientist, this terminology designates a land-based animal that visitors notice. The term "charismatic," of course, seems to offer a special status or protection to the identified population. In a natural-wonder-based park, this would likely be the case. But nothing could be further from the truth at GNMP.

<37> Wildlife biologists came to study the deer and to determine how they influenced the landscape. By 1990 nearly 1200 deer resided within the GNMP's 7000 acres. [28] During this period, park service employees estimated that each year one hundred deer were hit by automobiles on park roads. More important, though, park officials also suspected that the deer were becoming a primary influence on the appearance of the battlefield's landscape. The wildlife biologists constructed small enclosures in crop fields to estimate the extent of damage caused by deer to crops. [29] The average yield of corn dropped by twenty per cent in unfenced compared to fenced plots and wheat dropped to thirty percent. Assessments were also made of the animals' effect on orchards and shrubs, particularly in areas in which new seedlings would be introduced. No hunting was allowed in the park, so mitigation also became an emphasis of the work of the biologists.

<38> When one considers its history at this site, the deer's plight is ripe with irony. Although the population certainly browsed the battlefield's historic landscape, the controlled space of the GNMP had contributed to the herd's growth. Since the late nineteenth century, the battlefield had inadvertently become a participant in one of the greatest ecological recoveries in history. Although deer are at home in either forest or agricultural lands, their numbers plummeted during the early nineteenth century as a result of extensive clear-cutting of forests. By the end of the 1800s, the white-tailed deer was extremely rare in Pennsylvania. [30] The establishment of the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 1896 paved the way for regulations limiting the annual deer harvest. These restrictions along with the introduction of white-tailed deer from other states, the lack of natural predators due to their extirpation, and the re-growth of the previously clear-cut forests, led to a resurgence of the white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania. Without a natural predator, the white-tailed deer population grew unimpeded in the twentieth century. With each deer covering a range between 321-1,628 acres, the population soon became a dominant species on the Pennsylvania landscape. [31] By the late 1900s, deer had become so numerous that they formed a pest population for many Northeastern cities, where suburbs squeezed out farmland as well as deer territory. The impact of this growing deer population showed itself on the landscape through over-browsing. Taken collectively, the estimated annual damage by deer to agricultural crops and forest seedlings in the U.S. is at least $100 million and $750 million respectively. [32]

<39> During this recovery, the GNMP's 7000 acres acted as a wildlife reserve, offering deer open browsing and no predation. This situation could only change with a redefinition of what this site meant and how it should be maintained. When the NPS implemented its new ideal vision of the battlefield's historic landscape, it invited Penn State University scientists to substantiate what they already knew: The new goal of landscape restoration, wrote the park's research biologist Richard Yahner, "requires survival of a sufficient number of seedlings to ensure perpetuation of the historic woodlots and annual maturity of crops representative of the historical period." [33] He continued that their research "...showed that browsing by deer exceeded the acceptable damage." The wildlife biologists concurred that this population was not sustainable; historians and preservationists noted the impact that the animals' trampling and nibbling bore on the historically-created and preserved landscape. By the mid-1990s, the NPS had adopted the radical approach of "harvest." Although various animal rights organizations filed suit charging that the policy overlooked a 1990 NPS report that showed that problems with historic preservation grew from NPS mismanagement not deer browsing, courts maintained the NPS' right to control populations that impacted the service's ability to carry out its mandate. [34] Congressional hearings brought the issue before the American people, who clearly prioritized the historic significance of this unique site. The hunt to preserve the right and ability to reconstruct the historic battlefield was on.

<40> Beginning in the fall of 1995, park rangers spent from 10 pm to 6 am most nights in the back of a pick-up truck patrolling the roads of GNMP. They used spotlights and night-vision goggles to find deer as they fed. Using high-powered rifles, then, the rangers killed the grazing deer. The Park Service reported that 503 deer were killed in 1995 and 355 in 1996. Observers report that by the end of the decade, the deer population in GNMP had been cut to 80. [35] The NPS reported that in 2001 there were 71 deer per forested square mile; this dropped to 49 in 2002. [36] In the view of the new culture of preservation, the battlefield had been cleared of its most significant disturbance.

 

At the Ground-Level of Restoration

<41> much of this paragraph has already been said; condense, shorten With the subtraction of the deer from the battlefield by the early twentieth century, the NPS added orchards at Codori Thicket at the site of the former Klingel Farm in 2002 and implemented significant efforts to combat forest succession. While landscape restoration efforts required the cutting of some wood lots, this was only one aspect of the initiative. In an interesting twist, scientists' increased understanding of ecological systems - which had spurred environmental legislation such as the Wilderness Act of the 1960s and the Endangered Species Act - now allowed them the opportunity to engineer or craft ecological processes. For preservationists, ecology represented the next frontier of managing and maintaining sacred locales.

<42> With the help of ecologists, NPS officials were able to ascertain a nuanced portrait of the site that clarified which plants and trees were indigenous and which were non-native. For instance, with this portrait in place, part of the NPS approach to forest management became controlling and managing exotic species of plants that had encroached into the battlefield. During the past 140 years, of course, a number of newcomer plants have made a marked impression on the battlefield landscape. The primary culprit is Japanese barberry, an invasive species that has crept into the areas left open by the rising forest canopy. In addition, pioneer species of trees, including wild black cherry, flowering dogwood, sweet cherry and white ash, have crowded the white oak, chestnut oak, black oak, and hickories that were common at the end of the 1800s. Armed with their remarkable understanding of this unique place, NPS officials have whenever possible subtracted non-native species of plants and added those that were likely present in 1863. This selectivity has, of course, attracted some criticism. Many environmentalists argue that NPS's understanding of ecological systems has been applied selectively in order to achieve priorities of cultural preservation. They argue that this contradicts the larger mission of the NPS.

<43> With the 1999 GMP plan, though, the NPS's mission at Gettysburg became extremely unique. Forests offer a prime example of this preservation ethic. With a new perspective on the 36 percent of the park that is wooded today, NPS officials define many areas to be crucial components of the tourists' "viewshed." In recent plans to manage the forests of the GNMP, the NPS identified specific forest areas that had framed much of the battle action, such as providing cover for soldiers. The computer-generated landscape models factored in use patterns, but also tree types and growth rates. Of course, as organic elements of the landscape, forests have also significantly changed since 1863. As part of the 1999 GMP, the NPS began monitoring and assessing three specific pockets of forest - the terminology of GNMP refers to these areas as "wood lots." Typically, each wood lot is designated with the name of the 1863 landowner. Current efforts focus on the harvest of forests that have grown since 1863 and the treatment of remaining canopies to more closely resemble that of 1863. [37]

 

Over the last three years, the NPS has hired private contractors to take out areas of forest in order to reconstruct the natural features of 1863. (Courtesy of the Author)

[click image for larger version]

 

<44> The Codori-Trostle Thicket is one of the first test cases of reconstructing the historic landscapes. This diverse landscape along the Emmitsburg Road Ridge was the scene of major battle action on July 2 and 3, 1863. When an advanced line of Union soldiers took position along the ridge, they formed one of the nearest points to the Confederate line. This area saw constant fighting and shifting of the lines over the next few days. The Codori-Trostle Thicket offered some of the only cover available to the worn soldiers. The capture of the ridge on July 2 provided the Confederates with the opportunity to plan and execute Pickett's Charge. This significance in events of 1863 has altered preservationists' view of the tree stands in the 21 st century. The NPS has initiated efforts to restore the features of the site that were important to the fighting and the outcome of the battle.

<45> Since 1863, research has shown that low-growing vegetation has matured into forest, fence lines have been moved or misaligned, and open field acreage has shrunken. Cultural landscapes were restored first with the re-introduction of fencing and an orchard. In 2003, the NPS harvested trees and shrubs in order to restore the appearance and view-sheds of 1863. "Historic photographs show intermittent trees and bushes," explains one NPS ranger. "The soldiers could see everything down to Devil's Den and the Peach Orchard, and over to Taneytown Road, including the Union artillery park there." Although 140 years of natural growth have altered these views, the efforts of NPS demonstrate that such changes can be negated - at least temporarily. [38]

<46> Many tourists could not be more pleased. "Now," reported one, "you can begin to really see what the soldiers saw. And why they chose to do certain things." Critics, though, come from many perspectives. "Nature is not a robot," grumbled one visitor as she scanned the logging near the Codori-Trostle Thicket during the Winter of 2002. "You don't train nature to do what you want like this. It's not that different from choosing to pave the place." Can nature and preservation work in coordination toward a cultural end? GNMP may prove to be the nation's greatest test case of this new preservation ethic as it continues similar efforts of restoration throughout the park.

 

Conclusion: Adding the Nature of Gettysburg

<47> At Gettysburg, drawing from the inspiration of Lincoln's Address, one generation chose war for reasons including slavery, state's rights, and economic division. Another generation determined that the events of July 1863 merited that this place be set aside from use - distinguished from other locales. Ensuing generations determined the extent of this commitment. Ultimately, preservationists settled on the creation of an unintended park. As park administrators prioritized the monuments to human mortality - whether to specific regiments, individuals, or states that participated in the battle - the natural ecology of the place determined the setting and context of this sacred site, including deer, overgrown view-sheds, pioneer biota, and the long ruts dug by farm machinery. The present era, then, in pursuit of accuracy and authenticity, seems to begin the process of re-creating the nature of 1863 and reinterpreting the role of environmental elements including the tree against my back in 2006 and the deer that cautiously crosses the field before me.

<48> The NPS refers to this strategy as landscape restoration, not as ecological restoration. In other areas of the 1999 GMP, though, these dualistic themes continue to resurface, especially in the idea that the "...NPS is unique among federal agencies in that its prime mission is to maintain nature in all of its diversity undisturbed by human activity in natural areas." [39] Of course, shifting military parks to the NPS in 1933 entrusted the agency with the cultural preservation of some of the nation's most treasured history. One might argue that in the form of restoration at Gettysburg, we find the product of these two mandates joining together. But is it? Where is the nature? Where is the diversity?

<49> In cases such as Gettysburg it appears that the ideal of "authenticity" has transformed ecology into a mere tool for historic preservation. With a few adjustments, though, work at a site such as Gettysburg could easily exemplify a new ethic for historic preservation's use of nature. By making preservation efforts at Gettysburg more transparent, for instance, the NPS could create the battlefield as an important symbol of planning, design, and preservation that respects - rather than exploits - the ecology of a site.

<50> Each stage in this place's unique story demonstrates a new phase in the cultural construction of its sacred meaning. The process of this constructed meaning is marked by contest. It is only the present generation, though, who has pulled the natural environment into active participation with Gettysburg's contestation. More important, the current generation has juxtaposed the site's nature with the needs of preservation. Shaped by Eco's concept of hyperreality, the American public of the 1990s approached the battlefield with new expectations. Contemporary Americans expect to see authenticity rather than wild deer on the battlefield. We don't expect to read about the details of the Battle of Gettysburg, we expect to see them played out on movie screens or dramatized on the actual fields by re-enactors.

<51> In the case of the nature of Gettysburg, we expect the impossible. Inevitably, deer or other wildlife will cross in and out of park boundaries. Forest canopies will rise, giving way to new biota and undergrowth. And tourists in cars and busses will generate pollution and other impacts just as certainly as they shall purchase the bobble-head Lee. The living landscape will change. And the computer-generated natures of 1863, 1895, 1927, and 1993 , of course, never exactly existed outside of the hard-drive. To conform the natural landscape to such ideals is folly and opens up an era of preservation certain to be ripe with the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations. And yet, the same might have been said of President Lincoln, when he ordered the preservation of this locale in November 1863 while also saying: "But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract...." [40] It is crucial to realize that the story of preservation at Gettysburg is not ever over or complete. Preserving such sacred sites is an on-going, cultural pursuit. Thus, the 1999 GMP will not be the final word. In this continued conversation, the nature of Gettysburg might again be seen for more than its historical significance.

<52> As we consider future interpretations of preservation at Gettysburg, a useful alternative to some of the utilitarian land-use that is now over-whelming the nature of Gettysburg might be found in the burgeoning field of ecological restoration. Eric Higgs, the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Society for Ecological Restoration, separates cultural restoration efforts into two primary categories: technological and focal. In technological restoration, natural elements might be employed by planners and designers to create an artificial - but living - landscape. For instance, this is utilized by designers of artificial sites including Disney's Wilderness Lodge, parkway landscapes, and Rainforest restaurants. Technological restoration commodifies natural processes and directs them toward a desired end. By contrast, focal restoration, uses natural elements by factoring ecological change at a site over time. It rejects the artificiality of selecting a specific reference moment in the past, and, instead, argues for incorporating ecological integrity and historical fidelity to create a model of landscape evolution. In short, focal restoration does not strive for perfection - which, in nature, is impossible - but, instead, for a middle ground that respects ecological and cultural patterns as ongoing processes. [41]

<53> At present, planners administer the GNMP through technological restoration. What might Gettysburg look like under the lighter touch of focal restoration? Specific areas could be restored to their 1863 appearance; however, in addition to educating visitors of the historicity of the views, they could also document the process of reconstruction. Such directives could refer to other segments of the landscape that had not been manipulated in such a way as reference points: Culp's Hill, for instance, which has been allowed to remain almost pristine as the forested series of hills appeared in 1863. The NPS could also include a sequence of re-photography to document the process. These technologically restored areas, in this fashion, would not deceive visitors about what they were seeing. In the vast majority of the park, however, focal restoration could be used to allow the natural processes to continue. By carrying out such a plan, GNMP would maintain its unique ability to offer visitors the "authentic" scene while also being faithful to the ecology of the locale. It would also put on display the process of preservation initiated by Lincoln's words: the "addition and detraction" that we as a people feel compelled to perform at places that are important to each one of us.

 

References

Blight, David. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Desjardin, Thomas A. These Honored Dead: How the Story of Gettysburg Shaped American Memory. New York: Dacapo, 2003.

Donnell, Patricia M. O. Historic Preservation Forum, May/June 1993, pp. 36-45.

Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyperreality. New York: Harvest, 1983.

Foote, Kenneth, Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997.

Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1989.

Higgs, Eric. Nature By Design: People, Natural Process, and Ecological Restoration. Boston: MIT Press, 2003.

Horowitz, Tony. Confederates in the Attic. New York: Vintage, 1998.

Jackson, John Brinckerhoff. The Necessity for Ruins Amherst: University of Massachussets. Press, 1980.

McPherson, James, Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg. New York: Crown, 2003.

Merritt, Joseph F. Guide to Mammals of Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh,1987.

Musselman, Curt. "Using Global Positioning System....," George Wright Forum 19:1, 2002.

National Park Service, 1999 GMP.

______. Woodlots and Landscape Features at Gettysburg National Military Park, PSU, 2002.

Patterson, Gerard. Debris of Battle. Mechanicsburg, PA, 1997.

Reardon, Carol. Pickett's Charge in History and Memory. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1997.

Russell, Emily W.B. People and the Land through Time. New Haven: Yale Univeristy Press, 1998.

Sellers, Richard West. Preserving Nature in the National Parks. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Tuan, Yi-Fu, Topophilia. NY: Prentice Hall, 1974.

Vecellio, Gary M., Richard H. Yahner, and Gerald L. Storm. "Crop Damage By Deer at Gettysburg Park." Wildlife Society Bulletin 22 (1994): pp. 89-93.

Weeks, Jim. Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003.

Wills, Gary. Lincoln at Gettysburg. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Yahner, Richard H. Fascinating Mammals. Pittsburgh, 2001.

 

Notes

[1] I want to thank John Latschar, Katie Lawhon, Greg Godell, John Heiser, Gabor Boritt, Ian Marshall, Carolyn Mahan, and students in a seminar 2004 Environmental Studies Seminar at PSU on National Park History, particularly, Mike Treese, P.J. Sleber, and Carolyn Itle. Research for this paper and the book Contesting Gettysburg was received from Penn State University and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute. Finally, I wish to also cite my debt to the work of Jim Weeks who published Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine) shortly before his untimely death in 2005. [^]

[2] See Gary Wills (1992: 261). I have chosen to excerpt the text that Wills presents as the likely spoken version. I have elected not to include the portion of the Address that most directly challenges Americans to continue to support the on-going war effort. For a full consideration of the various versions of the Address, see Wills' fine book. [^]

[3] The "culture of preservation" is the term used in my work to reflect that each era recreates its own expectations of the sacred and constructs a process and method of preservation that fulfills it. [^]

[4] For discussion of these points, see Carol Reardon, Pickett's Charge and James Weeks' Gettysburg. Each author primarily emphasizes that observers treated 1913, which was the fifthieth anniversary of the battle as the final reunion; however, some veterans continued to return. [^]

[5] Visitation data is from GNMP vertical files. [^]

[6] While some readers might wince at the polemical claim of McPherson, certainly we can all agree with his inference: that few landscapes have as much as resonance and symbolic value to Americans as the Gettysburg Battlefield. In fact, I would suggest that most Americans would hear little overstatement in McPherson's emphasis in this quote James McPherson (2003: 15). [^]

[7] Many sources can be consulted for this. See, for instance Wills (1992: 41). [^]

[8] Wills (1992: 24). [^]

[9] Ibid.: 26. [^]

[10] Ibid.: 37. [^]

[11] The best treatment of procedures and efforts to bury the dead and recover the Gettysburg area is found in Gerard Patterson, Debris of Battle (Mechanicsburg, PA, 1997). [^]

[12] Kenneth Foote (1997:5). [^]

[13] Yi-Fu Tuan (1974: 17). [^]

[14] Ibid.:15. [^]

[15] John Brinckerhoff Jackson (1980: 91). [^]

[16] John Bachelder and others used topographic features to locate battle actions and to organize veterans' recollections. [^]

[17] McConaghie to Director, NPS, July 30, 1934, File No. 601-05, Gettysburg, CCF, RG 79, GNMP Archives. [^]

[18] See Weeks (2003: 181-12). [^]

[19] For the discussion of postmodernity that most informs my use of the term, see David Harvey (1989). [^]

[20] This term is used by Tony Horowitz in Confederates in the Attic. I use it here to create a sense of rapture felt by many Civil War buffs and historians when confronted with details and information that helps to create a sense of authenticity. My point here is that such a sense of authenticity is largely a façade. [^]

[21] Umberto Eco (1983:8). Dioramas, of course, are not a new idea. The effort to control physical reality in confined models is credited to Frenchman Louis Daguerre, who also perfected early photography as well. In 1822, Daguerre patented the idea of the diorama, which derives from the Greek "dia" (through) and "horama" (what is seen). The diorama was a theatrical version of a scene that had mechanical parts. Later, the word was applied to museum displays, describing realistic three-dimensional representations of life in natural settings. Normally, fine craftsmen were required to create great detail on a small scale. Typically, the emphasis of the diorama was its use of small human forms that allowed visitors to objectively view the scene at a specific moment in time. However, the creator also brought the surrounding environment down to this scale and shaped a totalizing view of the scene for viewers. [^]

[22] Ibid. [^]

[23] The most helpful sources on this subject would include Richard West Sellers' Preserving Nature in the National Parks and Emily W.B. Russell's People and the Land through Time.

In any national park, the General Management Plan (GMP) is the guide to policy objectives within a specific site. In 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) required that the GMP include with it an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Each plan begins with the unique mission of each park site. Each National Park is required to have a GMP in place; however, many parks are run with plans written over a decade ago. GNMP completed its first full GMP in 1982. In a climate of heightened debate and contest between groups prioritizing historic preservation, economic development, or environmental protection, the GNMP worked through the process of creating a new management plan during the 1990s. Superintendent John Latschar guided the process and presided over lengthy public meetings about the way that the NPS would approach the battlefield's future. [^]

[24] Patricia M. O.Donnell (1993: 36-45). [^]

[25] Curt Musselman (2002: 40-48). [^]

[26] Ibid.: 41. [^]

[27] For the purposes of this essay, the debate over the Gettysburg National Tower will not be discussed. The tower debate, which preceded its construction in 1974, was the lightning rod for preservationists to determine the extent of their control over the appearance of this site. However, the debate has little to do with ecology and the management of natural resources. Instead, the debate concerned aesthetics. See, for instance, Weeks (2003: 219-20). [^]

[28] Resources Management Plan, GNMP, from office of Superintendent, John Latschar, Nov. 1994. Language used here is appropriated from this document. [^]

[29] Vecellio, Gary M., Richard H. Yahner, and Gerald L. Storm. "Crop Damage By Deer at Gettysburg Park." Wildlife Society Bulletin 22(1994): pp. 89-93. [^]

[30] For more information on the history of the white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania, see Richard H. Yahner, Fascinating Mammals ( Pittsburgh, 2001). [^]

[31] Merritt (1987). [^]

[32] Yahner, 2001. [^]

[33] Yahner, 2001. [^]

[34] Discussion of these is contained in the GNMP vertical files. [^]

[35] The original document rationalizing action is "Executive Summary of Population Status, Movements, Habitat Use, and Impact of White-tailed Deer at GNMP," compiled by Gerald L Storm and Richard H. Yahner, Penn State University, submitted to the NPS in 1989. Coverage in the Gettysburg Times can be found throughout this time period. [^]

[36] Gettysburg Times, 9/10/02. [^]

[37] Woodlots and Landscape Features at Gettysburg National Military Park , PSU, 2002. [^]

[38] Gettysburg Quarterly VII (4) Winter. [^]

[39] 1999 GMP, p.45. [^]

[40] Wills (1992: 261). [^]

[41] Higgs (2003: 12-24). [^]

 

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