So…Gettysburg was first a town and farming community, then a battleground of two large armies, then a tourist destination, and now a National Military Park. How did Gettysburg battlefield come under the protection of the National Park Service? And who else helps protect the former battleground? When were all the monuments placed?
Today we’ll talk about the history of Gettysburg National Military Park and what you can see if you visit in the modern era.
A Brief Timeline – Highlights Of Creating A Military Park
July 24, 1863 – New York Herald announced “The ground is to become historic…”
1864 – Civilians – organized by Gettysburg resident David McConaughy – formed the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, with plans to buy land, build roads on the battlefield to help with “interpretation”…but they lacked extensive funding at first.
1865-1895 – for thirty years the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association purchased battlefield land and administered the property. They also oversaw the placing of some of the memorials and markers on the battlefield – many of which were donated by veterans of the Union units or admirers of the commanders. During this period, the railroad lines took visitors on battlefield “tours” and to the amusement park.
1895-1933 – The United States War Department managed the preserved portions of Gettysburg Battle and placed many federal markers and interpretation weaponry (cannons and caissons). They worked to improve the visible markers to tell the Gettysburg military story in a stronger way. 20 miles of avenues were built for automobile touring, 300 cannons were placed around the battlefield, trees were replanted, and 800 new acres of battlefield were added to the preserved land.
1933 – The National Park Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of the Interior, took over the management, preservation, and education development of Gettysburg Battlefield. They remain in charge of Gettysburg National Military Park to this day. Visit their website to learn more about the park.
1965 – 2016+ – Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association rises from the “ashes” of the former Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association of an earlier generation. By 1981, this organization spent over $200,000 to add an additional 172 acres of battlefield land to the military park. The association continues to enlist the help of many volunteers to raise money, work on restoration projects, and work with the NPS to keep Gettysburg Battlefield a pristine place of remembrance.
1993 – The movie Gettysburg was released. The film had been partially filmed on the battlefield – a first in the history of film-making at the military park. With proceeds from the film, the guardians of the battlefield embarked on a new restoration project to return portions of the battlefield to its 1863 appearance – planting peach trees and brier patches, for example.
2006 – Gettysburg Foundation was formed from two former groups. This volunteer organization works closely with the NPS to coordinate restoration efforts, living history programs, tours, and much, much more! Visit their website to learn more.
2008 – a new military park visitor center opened!
Current – Gettysburg National Military Park continues to preserve and interpret the American legacy and, with the help of volunteer organizations, work to improve and restore different areas or structures on the battlefield.
In 2008, I visited Gettysburg National Military Park. Wow. It was amazing and two day and a half days was not enough time. Someday, I’m going back!
Eight years ago, I didn’t know as much about Gettysburg as I thought I did. I’m still learning about this historic community, battle, and it’s special place in American heritage. But I did know one thing – I left Gettysburg with a new sense of patriotism. Standing at certain places on the battlefield I had an overwhelming sense of the sacrifice that was made to preserve American ideas.
At the time, I was kinda sorta interested in civilians of Gettysburg. Now, after a long time to reading and writing about those brave people, I want to go back. Yes, I’ll appreciate the military monuments and stand in quiet remembrance at various points. But what I really want to do is go to the farms…see the houses up-close. Gently touch the wood of the barns. And remember my beloved forgotten civilians who gave so much, who lost so much, who endured so much while the fighting surged around them.
I’m so glad Gettysburg National Military Park and scores of volunteers safeguard these treasures: the land, the monuments, the houses. It’s one way to remember and touch the past…and I’m glad that someday I’ll get to do that again.
P.S. If you’re like me and can’t get to Gettysburg easily, follow an official page on Facebook. Here’s the Gettysburg NPS page and Gettysburg Foundation page. (I love all the photos in my newsfeed from the Foundation!)
Now if you actually live near Gettysburg, please go visit…and I’ll be a little jealous. 😉