Civil War buffs such as ourselves like to
argue about the most important battle of the Civil War. Tourists who vote with
their feet and their dollars like Gettysburg - by far. Gettysburg receives over
1,800,000 visitors per year. No other battlefield receives over a million
visitors per year.
Why is Gettysburg so popular? Certainly it
has advantages, such as being close to the big cities on the east coast.
Vicksburg, my favorite battlefield, is way out along the Louisiana-Mississippi
border. However, Antietam is also close to the east coast and has less than
half the number of yearly visitors as Gettysburg.
I believe it is because non-Civil War buffs
can relate to the battlefield using the old childhood game of king of the
hill. Stand on top of Little Round Top and holler, “Rebs, come and take it
if you can.” Then stand at the Angle and holler, “Listen, Mr. Confederate.
If you want to cross that open field for a mile to attack me while I fire 100
cannon and 5,000 rifles at you, go right ahead.”
To test my theory, next time you visit
Gettysburg, go to the west side of town. Note the number of people visiting
the railroad cut and McPherson Woods. Except for the tour buses, you will find
very few visitors to this area, which is the first day of battle at
Gettysburg. Why so few? I believe because it is so confusing. Union forces
held the area in the morning of July 1, 1863, then the Confederates pushed
them out, then more Union troops came at midday and pushed the Confederates
back, then more Confederate troops arrived in the afternoon and pushed the
Union troops back through the streets of Gettysburg and out to the hills east
of town. You followed that, right?
This is too confusing to the non-Civil War
buff. However, he understands king of the hill at the Angle and Little Round
Top. Consequently, the average tourist takes the family to see the battle of
Gettysburg at the Angle and Little Round Top. He goes home and tells his
friends, “Oh yeah, I took the family to see the battle of Gettysburg.”
Gettysburg is changing in ways the visitors
can understand and in ways that relate to us Civil War buffs. First, tourists
are supposed to have a new visitors' center by 2009. The natives told me the
center would cost 90 million dollars and they have 60 million now in hand so
construction will start in the spring. The projected completion date is 2009.
Well, we will see. This building has been controversial since its inception.
The question, as usual, is who pays? In the beginning it was supposed to be
75% private money and 25% public funds. Now it looks like 75% public
Your question might be why do we need a new
visitors' center? There are three reasons. First, the present building is
seventy years old and looks it. Second, the present building is small and
without the humidity and temperature controls needed to display many
battlefield exhibits the Park Service now has in warehouses. Last, the
Visitors' Center, Cyclorama, and their parking lots are in the middle of the
Now let’s discuss what is happening for us
Civil War buffs. First, the monument on Pickett’s Charge for the 8th Ohio
has been dignified. You might remember that the monument sat in the front yard
of a seedy motel. The Park Service bought the motel and tore it down.
|Now we can see what
Gouverneur Warren saw from Little Round Top on the second day at
Gettysburg, July 2, 1863.
Second, the big change for us Civil War buffs
are the trees the Park Service is removing around Little Round Top. People
tend to think in 1860 the landscape was a large forest. It was just the
opposite. With the average family using wood for heating and cooking, the
landscape had few trees. The trees on Little Round Top had been cleared in
1860 and the wood sold to the federal government.
Now you can stand where Gouverneur Warren
stood on Little Round top and see the Confederates approaching. How do you
know? Because with no trees in the way, now you can see clearly the monuments
to the Alabama and Texas units in the fields to the left. Looking the other
way you can see all the way to the Angle. You can also see where Sickles moved
the 3rd Corps. Good grief, Dan Sickles, what were you doing way out
The weekend tourists will not notice this
small change, but you the Civil War enthusiast will enjoy this clear view