Battlefield Sites

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Battlefield Sites


Timothy B. Smith


Timothy B. Smith


William H. Brown


Timothy B. Smith


Robbie C. Smith


Jeffrey William Hunt


Timothy B. Smith

Battlefield Sites: An Overview

The battle sites of the Civil War are some of the most hallowed pieces of ground in the United States. Shiloh National Military Park's first historian, the Iowa veteran David W. Reed, remarked, "There is nothing in this broad land of ours more sacred than the soil which has been wet with the blood of its patriotic sons" (Reed 1898, p. 374). In the early twenty-first century literally millions of visitors to the various military parks tramp along trails and roads and drive along tour routes in search of information on what happened at the various sites or the places where their ancestors once stood. Books, maps, Internet sites, and photographs can aid a visitor and inform them about what happened at specific sites, but none of those media are equal to walking on a Civil War battlefield and feeling a connection to what happened there. Fortunately, throughout our history Civil War veterans and others have worked to preserve some of these historic sites for visitors, allowing us of later generations the opportunity to connect to a former time.

Civil War battlefield preservation has gone through four stages since the Civil War. The first was a disjointed early attempt at erecting monuments and preserving individual areas, with a few monuments going up during the war itself and more built immediately after the conflict ended. The vast majority of the preservation that was achieved was inadvertently realized through the medium of national cemeteries, which were normally located on historic ground. The second phase, the golden age of Civil War battlefield preservation, took place in the 1890s, when the biggest and best-preserved battlefields were placed under protection. Unfortunately, the next wave of protection did not occur until the late 1920s and 1930s, when it was already too late to properly save many fields of conflict. Nevertheless, these parks of the New Deal era saved what could be preserved at the time. The most recent phase is a century later than the golden age; nonetheless a new generation of preservationists is doing what it can to protect the sites. Recently, efforts have gathered more momentum, with the Civil War Preservation Trust leading the way.

Early Battlefield-Preservation Efforts: The Veteran Generation

During the Civil War and up until 1890, veterans and local citizens marked several important sites. During the war itself, several soldiers and units marked such famous places as the Round Forest at Stones River, the Vicksburg surrender site, and the Henry House Hill at Manassas. The oldest extant example of these monuments is the Hazen Brigade monument at Stones River, which called the nation "to greater deeds" (Brown 1985, pp. 5–8). These commemorative features were individually and independently erected by sponsors with no Federal government involvement beyond the fact that those performing the work were primarily soldiers.

Although not specifically built for preservation purposes in most cases, silent national cemeteries established during the war—"for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country," in the words of the enabling legislation—also also marked the sites of many battlefields, such as Chattanooga, Antietam, and Gettysburg (Holt 1992, pp. 2–3). For example, Major General George Thomas, commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland, ordered the establishment of the cemetery at Chattanooga "in commemoration of the Battles of Chattanooga, November 23–27, 1863" (Holt 1992, p. 65). Many other national cemeteries also marked the locations of hospitals, prison camps, and camping areas.

After the war, preservation activity began to increase. In the period up until 1889, several veterans placed monuments and markers at such various sites as Antietam and Pea Ridge, but these were likewise privately funded with no government subsidization. The Federal government did, however, continue the building of national cemeteries on historic land. Desiring to build these cemeteries with the least amount of trouble, the government often took the nearest possible land to where the soldiers had been buried, which inadvertently was battlefield land in most cases. Among the resulting cemeteries were the national cemetery at Pittsburg Landing on the battlefield of Shiloh, the national cemetery on the banks of the Mississippi River on the Vicksburg battlefield, and the national cemetery within the confines of the Fort Donel-son defense area. These refuges were established primarily to allow a place of decent and honorable individual burial for U.S. soldiers. One builder commented that such individual recognition "accords with our intense individualism as a people, and with the value we attach to individual life; and it is demanded by the eminent worth of those for whom historic notice would thus be secured" (U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps 1865–1871, no. 11, p. 12). These national cemeteries also inadvertently yet opportunely preserved crucial areas of each battlefield site.

Not surprisingly, in the pre-1890 period by far the most significant battlefield preservation activity was at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association emerged to provide oversight. The state of Pennsylvania appropriated money for the use of the association, the legislature directing that the money "be applied to the purchase of portions of the battle-grounds" (Vanderslice 1899, p. 360). Made up of prominent Northern officials and Gettysburg citizens, the association was nevertheless under-funded despite several infusions of money from other Northern states. Observing the apparent inactivity of association officials, the Grand Army of the Republic took over the association by garnering sufficient stock to attain a controlling interest. Thereafter the association was on better footing and oversaw a myriad of such preservation attempts as buying key areas of the battlefield, marking troop positions, and working with individual states to erect monuments on the site. Nevertheless, there never seemed to be enough money and the work was somewhat disorganized and irregular. Most importantly, the activity at Gettysburg was primarily non-Federal, non-Confederate, and non-reconciliatory. It was a Union venture through and through.

Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation

America turned a major corner in its preservation activity in 1890. This shift from the Gettysburg style of commemoration, which was neo-Union, non-reconciliatory, and haphazard to say the least, ushered in the "Golden Age" of Civil War battlefield preservation (Smith, in press).

During the 1890s, several factors came together to generate a strong impetus to save the battlefields. One was that veterans who could return to the fields to document what had happened there were rapidly aging. David W. Reed, the first historian at Shiloh, remarked, "The work of restoring these battlefields has not been undertaken too soon. Those who have personal knowledge of positions and movements are rapidly passing off the stage" (Reed 1898, p. 373). To mark specific sites, the veterans building these parks often relied not only on official records and papers but also on the testimony and memories of other veterans. Such testimonies were a very important component of the process; while there were some areas of disagreement, for the most part the veterans were amazingly consistent in their memories.

One factor that made the 1890s the golden age of preservation activities was the ability to preserve almost pristine battlefields. Reed observed that soon veterans would "find it difficult to visit these old fields, or when there to fully comprehend the changes that have been made" (Reed 1898, p. 373). While there had been some change at the sites, they had not yet undergone the rapid development brought on by the second industrial revolution, during which massive industrialization, urbanization, and mobilization forever altered the face of American culture and society. It would be only a little over a decade after the 1890s before the Chickamauga commission would complain that "the roads [passing through the Chickamauga Battlefield] are in a section of country…[experiencing] rapid increase of populations and development of varied industries, and extensive use is made of them by farmers, merchants, contractors, and others, who haul material or merchandise over them" (Annual Report of the Secretary of War: 1907, p. 316). Urbanization and industrialization brought the loss of battlefields. Yet, in the 1890s most sites were still primarily pristine, and thus the veterans' generation was able to preserve some important battlefields.

Another factor making the 1890s the optimal time to preserve Civil War battlefields was the participation in politics of large numbers of veterans, which translated into strong support for preservation in Congress and in state legislatures dominated by veterans. At the same time, the presence of veterans in government went into a steady decline after 1890. Researching the members of Congress in the years between 1890 and 1899, in fact, shows a decline of some 20 percent in the percentage of members who were veterans—from around 50 percent in 1890 to around only 30 percent in 1899. Thus the best opportunity to fund military parks was the 1890s, when veterans who were interested in their old battlefields were there to pass the needed legislation.

These factors all worked together within the context of a reconciliation process that took place in the 1890s. After a war fueled by decades of heated debate over slavery and states' rights, the nation had again been divided by years of animosity-ridden reconstruction. Lasting in many cases into the 1880s, this anger was primarily related to racial issues. In the 1890s, however, whites in both the North and South began to move away from the conflict over racial issues that had so divided them in the past. This change, of course, meant less commitment to supporting the gains made by African Americans in the Civil War and during Reconstruction. As a result, segregation and Jim Crowism developed in the 1890s as whites in the North and South turned away from the divisive issues of race to issues on which both sides could agree. One of the major ways this reconciliation was achieved was through a focus on the bravery, courage, and honor of the aging Civil War generation, both North and South. The battlefield preservationist Henry Boynton remarked that a "quarter of a century has brought this [reconciliation] about, a period which is but a day in the life of a nation. He would indeed be impatient who looked for more speedy progress" ("Camping on Chickamauga," Washington Post, September 16, 1892; Blight 2001).

The four battlefields set aside as parks during the 1890s—Chickamauga-Chattanooga, Antietam, Shiloh, and Vicksburg—are, together with Gettysburg, the largest and best preserved. Unlike the one-sided effort at Gettysburg, the 1890s parks were created with Federal monies for both sides, with Confederate battle lines receiving just as much attention as the Union positions, and with legislation even mandating that some of the commissioners be former Confederate soldiers.

Two distinct styles of parks developed during this golden age of preservation. One reflected the ideas espoused by Henry Boynton, the founder of the first national military park at Chickamauga. His aim was to preserve entire battlefields, even those that covered thousands of acres, as was done at Chickamauga and Shiloh. A second style of preservation sought to preserve key features of a battlefield rather than the entire acreage. Where it was not possible to set aside large tracts of land, roadways and prominent points could be secured, as at the urbanized battlefield at Chattanooga, the first to be preserved in this manner. This second style of preservation, however, was also used for battlefields away from urbanized areas, most famously at Antietam. The Antietam Board President George B. Davis espoused the idea of buying small sections of battlefields and interpreting the action from those points. The "Antie-tam Plan" was thus much cheaper and would actually be used for the next several decades on other battlefields (Lee 1973, p. 40).

The physical construction of the five parks (including Gettysburg) was only half the work, however. As each of the parks was being established through land purchases, monument and tablet placements, and artillery positioning, a historiographical account of each battle was also being constructed. The commissions published books and generally promoted what they believed to be the correct history of their respective sites through drawing attention to key locales and such events as the Hornet's Nest at Shiloh, Snodgrass Hill at Chickamauga, and Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg (Reed 1902 passim). Their version of events largely became the accepted history of each battle, and has remained dominant even until the early twenty-first century although some scholars are beginning to dispute the older accounts.

Yet, just as many had feared, Civil War veterans did begin to pass away in large numbers soon after the turn of the twentieth century. There were so many deaths, in fact, that Congress revised its method of appointing individual commissioners for each battlefield park. In 1912 Congress passed a law that gradually discontinued the commission system. No commissioners would be put out of a job, but when they died or resigned, their position would not be filled (Lee 1973, p. 45). The five flagship parks were thus soon turned over to civilian superintendents who were not veterans and who operated within the War Department. A few old veteran commissioners lived into the 1920s, but by 1930 none of the original parks had a veteran commissioner.

Although only five battlefields had been preserved by the end of the 1890s, the Federal government had nevertheless laid the groundwork for future battlefield preservation work. Unfortunately, it would be several decades before any more battlefields were preserved (Lee 1973, p. 51).

Parks of the 1930s and the Modern Period

The next wave of preservation did not occur until the late 1920s and 1930s, when it was already too late to fully save the fields of conflict. The result was a series of much smaller, less well marked, and highly urbanized parks such as Fort Pulaski, Petersburg, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Kennesaw Mountain, Stones River, Fort Donelson, Tupelo, and Brices Crossroads (Lee 1973, pp. 51–52).

Each of these parks, being patterned after the Anti-etam Plan, was not nearly as extravagantly constructed as most of the original parks preserved during the 1890s. Whereas most of the earlier parks were thousands of acres in size, the 1920s-era parks were at most only hundreds of acres large. Brices Crossroads and Tupelo, for example, were about an acre each, whereas Stones River and Fort Donelson were in the five hundred-acre range. This relatively small size reflected not only the methodology of the Antietam Plan but was also a result of the fact that the battlefields were no longer pristine and whole, due to urbanization and the industrialization of the World War I (1914–1918) era. Preservation of the land that was left cost large amounts of money, and a Congress no longer dominated by Civil War veterans would not appropriate the sums necessary to buy expensive urban tracts. Furthermore, the parks that were created in the 1920s were not marked with the detail of the 1890s parks, as most Civil War veterans had died by that time or were aged men with fading memories.

A major change came in 1933, however, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred all the War Department parks from that entity to the National Park Service. The system also gained new parks during the New Deal era, when a significant amount of federal funding was put into the park system, as part of the government's public works approach to lowering Depression-era unemployment. The parks at Appomattox, Richmond, and Manassas were established in the years prior to World War II, though these were on the minimal scale of the 1920s-era parks.

The post–World War II era saw the further development of Civil War parks; however, in this period the initiative for preservation largely shifted from the federal to the state and private level. Around the time of the war's centennial, Congress did establish several new parks, such as those at Fort Sumter, Harpers Ferry, Wilson Creek, Pea Ridge, Arkansas Post, and Andersonville, some of which were transferred from other government agencies. On the other hand, numerous other battlefields that could have been preserved—such as those at Franklin, Nashville, Perryville, Mansfield, and Champion Hill—were not. The Federal preservation effort reached its nadir in the 1970s and 1980s, which saw very little activity. Fortunately, the various states assumed responsibility for preservation and created state parks out of battlefields ignored by the federal government, such as the parks at Perryville, Sailors Creek, Bentonville, Olustee, Fort Blakely, Mansfield, Fort Pillow, and Pickett's Mill.

During the 1990s, however, the national battlefield preservation effort was suddenly revived with the establishment of several preservation entities, most notably the mammoth Civil War Preservation Trust. And even the Federal government became involved again through the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) within the National Park Service. The ABPP has saved thousands of acres of battlefield land since its establishment in 1996.

In the early twenty-first century, there are still hundreds of unpreserved battlefields, most admittedly small, though a few large battle sites have seen very little preservation work. Many groups are attempting to preserve these battlefields, from small local commissions struggling to purchase land to large national organizations that lend considerable weight to the preservation effort. None of these contemporary efforts, however, can ever equal what was done in the 1890s, when all the factors lined up to produce a "Golden Age" of Civil War battlefield preservation.


American Battlefield Protection Program Web site.Available from

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

Brown, Daniel A. Marked for Future Generations: The Hazen Brigade Monument, 1863–1929. Murfreesboro, TN: National Park Service, 1985.

Civil War Preservation Trust Web site. Available from

Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1993.

Friends of the Mansfield Battlefield Web site. Available from

Holt, Dean W. American Military Cemeteries: A Comprehensive Illustrated Guide to the Hallowed Grounds of the United States, Including Cemeteries Overseas. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1992.

House Committee on Military Affairs, House Report No. 1139. "National Military Park at the Battlefield of Shiloh." In House Reports, 53rd Congress, 2nd Session, June 22, 1894. Washington, DC: House of Representatives, 1893–1895.

Lee, Ronald F. The Origin and Evolution of the National Military Park Idea. Washington DC: National Park Service, 1973.

"Pickett's Mill History." Available from http://gastate

"Preservation at Bentonville." Available from

Reed, David Wilson. "National Cemeteries and National Military Parks." In War Sketches and Incidents: As Related by the Companions of the Iowa Commandery Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, ed. Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Iowa Commandery. 2 vols. Des Moines, IA: Kenyon, 1893–1898.

Reed, David Wilson, ed. The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1902.

Sellars, Richard West. Pilgrim Places: Civil War Battlefields, Historic Preservation, and America's First National Military Parks, 1863–1900. Fort Washington, PA: Eastern National, 2005.

Smith, Timothy B. The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890s and the Establishment of America's First Five Military Parks. Knoxville, TN, in press.

United States Army Quartermasters Corps. Roll of Honor: Names of Soldiers Who Died in Defence of the American Union, Interred in the National [and Other] Cemeteries. 27 nos. in 9 vols. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1865–1871.

Unrau, Harlan D. Administrative History: Gettysburg National Military Park and Gettysburg National Cemetery, Pennsylvania. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1991.

Vanderslice, John M. Gettysburg, Then and Now: The Field of American Valor: Where and How the Regiments Fought, and the Troops They Encountered; An Account of the Battle, Giving Movements, Positions, and Losses of the Commands Engaged. New York: G. W. Dillingham Company, 1899.

Timothy B. Smith

Wartime Commemoration and Monuments

Civil War battlefield preservation is a popular effort today, but the foundations of this phenomenon stretch back almost a century and a half. Indeed, the very first monumentation and commemoration of Civil War events occurred as early as 1861, the year the war began. Today, these initial efforts, some of which no longer exist in full form, are among the most distinguished commemorative features on any battlefield and serve as the foundations of present Civil War preservation and commemoration initiatives.

Early Civil War Monuments

During the course of the Civil War, soldiers placed monuments on several fields to commemorate what had taken place and to eulogize the dead. In September 1861, Confederate soldiers in Colonel Francis Barto's brigade placed a monument on the Bull Run battlefield to mark the site of Bartow's death on July 21, 1861. Soldiers of the 8th Georgia erected a white marble slab shaped in the form of an obelisk to commemorate their leader. Over one thousand people attended the dedication. Unfortunately, the monument is no longer in existence; it disappeared after the Confederates left the area and its fate was never determined.

Hundreds of miles to the west, soldiers of Colonel William B. Hazen's Union brigade erected a monument on the battlefield of Stone's River, near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in the spring and early summer of 1863. Hazen's brigade had repelled numerous assaults by the Confederates in the Round Forest and had buried their dead where they had fallen. As the Army of the Cumberland moved southward, Hazen's men remained to garrison the Murfreesboro area. That summer, they built a memorial to their dead on the spot where they had been buried. A burial vault patterned after an Egyptian mas-taba, the monument has the following inscription: "The blood of one third of its soldiers twice spilled in Tennessee crimsons the battle flag of the brigade and inspires to greater deeds" (Brown 1985, pp. 5–8; Abroe 1996, p. 90). The oldest surviving Civil War monument, it still stands at Stone's River National Battlefield.

Also during the summer of 1863, Federals in Vicksburg, Mississippi, marked the "surrender interview" site at which Grant and Pemberton had met to discuss terms of Confederate surrender (Abroe 1996, p. 92). The Federals took from a local stonecutter's shop a marble shaft that had originally been intended to memorialize Vicksburg's Mexican War dead. The monument's hurriedly carved inscription read: "The Site of Interview between Major General U.S. Grant USA & Lieut. General Pemberton July 4, 1863." Unfortunately, the date given for the meeting was incorrect; it had actually occurred on July 3. Nevertheless, this monument was somewhat different than earlier memorials: It marked the site of a significant event only; there was no memorialization of the dead.

Though put up as the war was ending, the two still-intact monuments at Manassas, erected in June 1865, must be mentioned in relation to wartime commemorative efforts. Federal veterans placed two sandstone obelisks to commemorate the two battles fought on that ground. One placed on Henry House Hill commemorated the first battle, while another placed near the famous railroad cut memorialized the second and larger engagement. Each honored fallen soldiers, and marked the most significant points on the respective battlefields (Abroe 1996, pp. 92–93).

National Cemeteries

The major act of preservation and remembrance during the Civil War was the establishment of national cemeteries. The War Department began the process of burying the dead and enumerating burial plots when the war began. Department and army commanders simply buried the dead, particularly battle casualties, on the ground where they had fought or had been stationed in camps or hospitals. Primarily located on private land, these burial grounds had to be bought or condemned. The 37th Congress of the United States passed legislation that allowed for national cemeteries as deemed necessary by the president, and Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law on July 17, 1862. Section 18 gave him the "power, whenever in his opinion it is expedient, to purchase cemetery grounds and cause them to be securely enclosed, to be used as a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country" (Holt 1992, pp. 2–3).

As a result of this legislation, the Lincoln administration created fourteen national cemeteries in 1862, and many others followed throughout the war. Most were set up around Washington, DC, and other troop induction and care centers. Alexandria and Soldiers' Home near the capital, and cemeteries at Annapolis, Maryland; Camp Butler, Illinois; and Philadelphia held more soldiers who died of disease and accident than of battle wounds. Perhaps the most famous cemetery in the United States, Arlington National Cemetery, was also a product of the war. Established by Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs on the estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Arlington became the site of burial for thousands of soldiers over the years (Holt 1992, pp. 2–3; Piehler 1995, p. 52).

Several of the fourteen original cemeteries, as well as many of the later burial areas, were on battlefields, marking the first time actual sites of conflict were preserved to commemorate the fallen. Although intended primarily to honor and commemorate the dead, they inadvertently preserved some of the core areas of battlefields for posterity. Still in embryonic form in the 1860s, these cemeteries would eventually form the backbone of the park system established by a national military park movement during the 1890s, when massive tracts of land were preserved to commemorate what had happened at various sites.

The early national cemeteries also at times made larger statements about the war itself. When asked if he wanted soldiers buried by state at the Chattanooga National Cemetery, Major General George H. Thomas was reported to have replied, "No, no. Mix them up; mix them up. I am tired of state-rights" (Van Home 1882, p. 213).

The War Department erected a small cemetery at the site of the January 1862 battle of Mill Springs in eastern Kentucky, and other national cemeteries were created at Chattanooga, Tennessee; Sharpsburg, Maryland; Murfreesboro, Tennessee; and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. These cemeteries were established primarily to honor the dead, but also to preserve a portion of the historic landscape. There was also new attention to honoring soldiers as individuals. For example, Thomas B. Van Home, the chaplain in charge of the Chattanooga National Cemetery, noted that extreme care would be taken to:

secure a short military history of every officer and soldier interred in the cemetery whose remains have been identified…. It seems eminently fitting that this should be done. It accords with our intense individualism as a people, and with the value we attach to individual life; and it is demanded by the eminent worth of those for whom historic notice would thus be secured. (U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps 1865–1871, no. 11, p. 12)

The war's most celebrated remarks on the commemoration of the dead, however, came from President Abraham Lincoln during the establishment of the Gettysburg cemetery in 1863. "We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives," Lincoln proclaimed, before calling on the nation to continue the fight, so that "these dead shall not have died in vain" (Wills 1992, p. 21).

Even if honoring the dead was their primary focus, the original cemetery builders also had preservation and commemoration of the historic landscape in mind as well. The War Department report on Gettysburg noted that the cemetery "embraces that portion of the ground occupied by the center of the Union line of battle on the 2d and 3d of July, 1863," and called this position "one of the most prominent and important… on the field" (U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps 1865–1871, no. 16, p. 76). In establishing the Chattanooga National Cemetery in 1863, Major General George H. Thomas ordered that the memorial cemetery be established "in commemoration of the Battles of Chattanooga, November 23–27, 1863" (U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps 1865–1871, no. 11, pp. 11–13).

There was one great distinction made in the building of these wartime sites, however. By and large, only Union dead were reinterred in the cemeteries; the Confederate dead were left on battlefields or moved to local cemeteries. Regulations required that only U.S. military personnel could be buried in national cemeteries, and Confederates were technically not U.S. personnel. Some exceptions occurred, however, such as at Arlington National Cemetery and Shiloh National Cemetery. Following the war, one Confederate veteran wrote bitterly of this one-sided policy:

We admit that we fought to destroy the old Union, and to establish a new government for ourselves, but you refused to let us go. You said you forgave us and would take us back into full fellowship, with all our former rights and privileges. We accept in good faith your offer and are willing at all times to prove our loyalty to our country, but we feel that if we have been restored to our places in the Union on equal terms with you, that it is hardly just that the bones of these, our brothers who wore the gray, should be left scattered upon the fields, while those who wore the blue are cared for and honored. (Reed 1893–1898, pp. 369–370)

Whereas the federal government made little effort to memorialize or honor Confederate dead during the war, viewing Confederates as traitors, revolutionaries, and enemies, African American soldiers were increasingly commemorated. This wartime commemoration at national cemeteries evidenced the growing standing of African Americans in the United States, particularly in the armed forces. Many national cemeteries that would not allow the burial of white Confederates contained United States Colored Troops. Although segregation was the norm even in burial, United States Colored Troops nonetheless received the same recognition that white soldiers gained by being buried in a national cemetery. In addition Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs remarked that the "colored soldiers buried now together give evidence of the death of many of their race in the struggle for their freedom" (Neff 2005, pp. 197–198). That African Americans, considered property by both governments at the beginning of the war, were being buried in national cemeteries by the end of the war reveals just how much the nation had changed.

While the vast majority of the commemoration and monumentation did not begin until after the war ended, there were some early efforts at marking positions, commemorating actions, and memorializing those who had given their lives. And these early efforts can mostly still be seen today, giving a critical glimpse into the war years and showing that those who fought it were already thinking about the legacy of their actions.


Abroe, Mary Munsell. "'All the Profound Scenes:'Federal Preservation of Civil War Battlefields, 1861–1990." Ph.D. diss., Loyola University, Chicago, 1996.

Brown, Daniel A. Marked for Future Generations: The Hazen Brigade Monument, 1863–1929. Murfreesboro, TN: National Park Service, 1985.

Holt, Dean W. American Military Cemeteries: A Comprehensive Illustrated Guide to the Hallowed Grounds of the United States, Including Cemeteries Overseas. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1992.

Krick, Robert E. L. "The Civil War's First Monument: Bartow's Marker at Manassas." Blue and Gray 8, no. 4 (1991): 32–34.

Neff, John R. Honoring the Civil War Dead: Commemoration and the Problem of Reconciliation. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005.

Piehler, G. Kurt. Remembering War the American Way. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.

Reed, David Wilson. "National Cemeteries and National Military Parks." In War Sketches and Incidents: As Related by the Companions of the Iowa Commandery Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, ed. Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Iowa Commandery. 2 vols. Des Moines, IA: Kenyon, 1893–1898.

Sellars, Richard West. Pilgrim Places: Civil War Battlefields, Historic Preservation, and America's First National Military Parks, 1863–1900. Fort Washington, PA: Eastern National, 2005.

Smith, Timothy B. The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890s and the Establishment of America's First Five Military Parks. Knoxville, TN: in press.

United States Army Quartermaster Corps. Roll of Honor: Names of Soldiers Who Died in Defence of the American Union, Interred in the National [and Other] Cemeteries 27. 9 vols. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1865–1871.

Van Horne, Thomas B. The Life of Major-General George H. Thomas. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1882.

Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Timothy B. Smith


Roughly twenty years after the end of the American Civil War, veterans and citizenry began to focus on memorializing the events of the late war to commemorate the soldiers' bravery and the lives lost. These efforts also focused on attempts to heal the wounds from the conflict and the political crisis that caused the bloodshed. In doing so, these veterans and citizens laid the foundation of historical preservation in the United States.

In 1880 the United States Congress passed legislation to allocate funds to preserve an American battlefield to commemorate past conflicts. $50,000 was disbursed to survey and develop maps detailing troop movements at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Once that mapping was completed, additional funds were set aside to mark the positions of the Army of the Potomac on the battlefield. While this work was being done, historical patrons from the South were requesting that a battlefield in the Southern United States be similarly marked.

Society of the Army of the Cumberland

After the late conflict of 1861 to 1865, various veterans' organizations were formed to remember comrades past and present. Organizations were created that focused on the victorious Federal armies that had existed during much of the war. One example was the Society of the Army of the Cumberland, an organization made up of veteran officers of the Army of the Cumberland, which had served in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, primarily in Tennessee and Georgia. In 1881, the organization held its annual reunion in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Many of the veterans were concerned that their old battlefields might be become unrecognizable over time without the placement of markers at key locations. Upon arrival at the old Chickamauga battlefield, a number of the older veterans were unable to pinpoint the locations of their regiments and brigades.

In May 1888, two former officers of the Army of the Cumberland visited the old battlefield. While examining the terrain, the two former officers developed the notion of turning the old Chickamauga battlefield in Georgia into a military park. The two officers were both brigadier generals, Henry Van Ness Boynton (1835–1905) and Ferdinand Van Derveer (1823–1892). Both Boynton and Van Derveer had served together in the Thirty-fifth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Van Derveer, a lawyer in civilian life, had commanded a brigade in the engagement at Chickamauga, while Boynton had been rewarded the Congressional Medal of Honor at Missionary Ridge during the Battle of Chattanooga in November 1863. Boynton used his position as a reporter with the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette to write columns to promote the idea of a military park in Chickamauga. In those columns, Boynton advocated a need for a "Western Gettysburg" for the veterans of the Western battles. Initially, he directed his editorial focus to the members of the Society of the Army of the Cumberland. Unlike the plans for the military park at Gettysburg, however, Boynton proposed that both Confederate and Union veterans participate in the establishment of the Chickamauga site:

The survivors of the Army of the Cumberland should awake to great pride in this notable field of Chickamauga. Why should it not, as well as eastern fields, be marked by monuments, and its lines be accurately preserved for history? There was no more magnificent fighting during the war than both armies did there. Both sides might well unite in preserving the field where both, in a military sense, won such renown. (Boynton 1895, p. 219)

During the early development of the Gettysburg bat-tlefield, only monuments to the regiments of the Union Army of the Potomac had been erected and not to the men of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

During the society's reunion in September 1888, in Chicago, the organization adapted a resolution to appoint a committee to develop a plan for purchasing land encompassing the Chickamauga battlefield site. The society chose its former commander, Major General William S. Rosecrans (1819–1898), to appoint the members of the committee. The committee was named the Chickamauga Memorial Association and was made up of former officers who had served in the engagement in September 1863. Invitations were sent to the governors of the states that had had troops serving in the battle to be members of the committee.

The War Department and Congressional Approval

While this initial planning was being done, the U.S. War Department also became involved in the early planning stages at Chickamauga. Captain Sanford C. Kellogg, a veteran of the battle, was assigned to research troop positions for maps to be included in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Kellogg conducted interviews of veterans and became a part of the research efforts to establish this new military park.

On February 13, 1889, the Chickamauga Memorial Association met in Washington, DC, with five members of the U.S. Congress who were from the South and had served as Confederate generals during the Battle of Chickamauga. These former generals agreed to cooperate with the Association and to assist with the formation of a joint memorial battlefield association. At the same time, Captain Kellogg agreed to assist the association by contacting additional parties who might be interested in serving as incorporators of a joint association.

The organizational meeting of the joint memorial association occurred during the annual reunion of the Society of the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga in September 1889. The reunion, which was a festive occasion, also hosted an assembly of Confederate veterans to participate in the creation of the memorial organization as well as local representatives from Georgia and Tennessee. The members of the Association proposed purchasing a tract of land that would encompass the battlefield from Rossville Gap to Crawfish Springs. It was hoped that the city of Chattanooga would also participate so that the future visitors would be able to examine the battlefields from Georgia to the northernmost points of Missionary Ridge in Tennessee. Twenty-eight former officers from both the Union and Confederate armies were selected to serve as a board of directors for the Chickamauga Memorial Association, with John T. Wilder as president and Joseph Wheeler as vice president.

The charter of the Chickamauga Memorial Association was registered with the Superior Court of Walker County, Georgia on December 4, 1890, and the incor-pporation was to last for twenty years until 1910. The organization consisted of the general membership, incorporators, the governors of various states, president and secretary of the Southern Historical Society, and the Secretary of War. General membership was open to all veterans for a lifetime membership fee of $5.00.

Congressmen Charles H. Grosvenor (1833–1917), who had served as a colonel of the Eighteenth Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Chickamauga, introduced H.R. 6454, "An Act to Establish a National Military Park at the battle-field of Chickamauga" on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in May 1890. The legislation served quick approval in the House Committee, and passed both houses of the U.S. Congress. President Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901), himself a Union veteran, signed the bill into law on August 19, 1890. The federal government would obtain roughly 7,600 acres through condemnation, while roads to the park would be ceded to the federal government by the states of Georgia and Tennessee. Soon after the incorporation of the Association, the Secretary of War appointed a national commission to oversee the work at the site of the military park. Joseph S. Fullerton was to serve as chairman, Alexander P. Stewart was placed in charge of construction, and Captain Kellogg would serve as secretary of the commission.

Construction of the Park

Work began on converting the property into a military park with markers and a museum. Underbrush was cleared away, roads were built to connect various portions of the site, and research was done to pinpoint the locations of regiments and batteries during the engagement. In some cases, Boynton and Kellogg worked together to gather information on troop positions and compose maps to aid in construction. Veterans were also interviewed to help locate landmarks that indicated where a particular unit fought during the battle. In 1890, the United Confederate Veterans held an encampment at the battlefield site and helped to locate Confederate regimental positions for Boynton and Kellogg. The members attempted to work through controversies dealing with these fighting positions between veterans of companion units. In addition to setting up memorials to the volunteer units, Boynton made an effort to place markers to commemorate the United States Army Regulars, which had also fought at Chickamauga in September 1863.

As the work continued on the site, the grounds of the park itself became training grounds for local militia and regular troops. In 1890, the Georgia State Guard used the old battlefield for encampments and training. With the start of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States Army created Camp George H. Thomas, named for Rosecrans's successor as the commander of the Army of the Cumberland, on the grounds of the military park. This site continued to be used by the U.S. War Department and became the town of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The military use of this portion of the park continued throughout the turn of the twentieth century and up through World War I (1914–1918). The site was beneficial because the location of the battlefield was near the major north and south railroad lines running through Chattanooga. It was an ideal location for troops to be encamped during their training and possible deployment overseas. In addition, the park commission saw the military as an excellent way to increase use of the park and to justify its continued funding as an educational tool to citizens and the military.

The role of the commission in a leadership role with the park continued until 1921. By this date, the various commissioners who had taken an active role in the development of the site began to pass away. Joseph Fullerton died in 1897, and his chairmanship was passed down to Boynton. Boynton himself died on June 3, 1905, and his successor was Ezra Carman, who had commanded a New Jersey regiment during the Civil War. Former Confederate general Alexander P. Stewart passed away in 1908, and another former Confederate general, Joseph B. Cumming, replaced him. Captain Kellogg was reassigned from the park commission because of friction between himself and the civilian commission members. Much of the controversy came from the fact that a U.S. Army captain was trying to tell former generals what to do, which was not very conducive to career advancement. The park continued with its construction plans, and the hiring of staff to maintain and interpret portions of the military park.

In 1912, legislation was passed to allow the Secretary of War to assume the duties of commission members upon their deaths or resignations. By May 1922, Joseph B. Cumming passed away; with his death, the sole commission member remaining was the Secretary of War, at that time John W. Weeks of Massachusetts. By 1930, the staff of the National Military Park fluctuated with the additions and removals of permanent staff and the introduction of numbers of temporary personnel. At the same time, discussions were afoot to transfer jurisdiction over the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park and the other national military parks to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Many persons were opposed to the transfer due to the belief that Fort Oglethorpe would remain open, and the U.S. military and National Guard units would need the park property for conducting military education and training. Despite these objections, the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park was transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior in August 1933. As of the early twenty-first century, the Chickamauga battle site is under the care of the National Park Service.


Boynton, Henry V. The National Military Park, Chickamauga-Chattanooga: A Historical Guide, With Maps and Illustrations. Cincinnati, OH: Robert Clarke, 1895.

Kaser, James A. At the Bivouac of Memory: History, Politics, and the Battle of Chickamauga. New York: P. Lang, 1996.

Paige, John C., and Jerome A. Greene. Administrative History of Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park. Denver, CO: National Park Service, 1983.

Robertson, William Glenn [et al.]. Staff Ride Handbook for the Battle of Chickamauga, 18–20 September 1863. Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1982.

Sauers, Richard A. "From Hallowed Ground to Training Ground: Chickamauga's Camp Thomas, 1898." Civil War Regiments, vol. 7, no. 1, (2000): 129–143.

Sullivan, James R. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia—Tennessee. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1961.

United States Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park Committee. Legislation, Congressional and State, Pertaining to Establishment of the Park, Regulations Original and Amended, Governing the Erection of Monuments, Markers and Other Memorials. Washington, DC Government Printing Office, 1897.

United States Congress. Joint Committee to Represent the Congress at the Dedication of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Dedication of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, September 18–20, 1895. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1896.

William H. Brown


Shiloh National Military Park, established by Congress in 1894, preserves one of the most crucial battlefields of the Civil War. Containing some 96 percent of the actual fighting area, the Tennessee park is the best-preserved major battlefield of the war. It allows visitors and historians alike to glimpse what a Civil War battlefield looked like and to follow the movements of troops throughout the battle. More profoundly, it offers visitors a chance to connect with the traumatic events that occurred there.

National Context

The original establishment of the park was a product of several factors that came together in the 1890s to create a national preservation movement. In that decade, white Northerners and Southerners began to reconcile with each other after decades of grueling animosity, war, and reconstruction. In 1892 battlefield preservationist Henry Boynton wrote of the reconciliation, "[a] quarter of a century has brought this about, a period which is but a day in the life of a nation. He would indeed be impatient who looked for more speedy progress" (Boynton 1892, p. 4). Backing away from divisive racial issues, the veterans of the Civil War began to find common ground by focusing instead on the bravery, courage, and honor shown by Civil War soldiers on both sides during the 1860s. Thus, America began a process of reconciliation through memo-rialization, commemoration, and preservation. Statues went up all over the nation during this time—on almost every courthouse lawn, and in the two capitals that had once directed war against each other. No more vivid example of this reconciliation through commemoration is available than Shiloh National Military Park.

In the 1890s, the "Golden Age" of Civil War battlefield preservation, the federal government began a process of saving battlefields, and secured five of the war's major sites to varying degrees. Shiloh National Military Park was the third of the five battlefields preserved, following the Chickamauga and Chattanooga site and Antietam, and preceding Gettysburg and Vicksburg.


The impetus for preserving Shiloh dated back to 1893, and can be traced to several sources. Veterans of the Army of the Tennessee, who felt their army needed to be memorialized as others had been, began to lobby for Shiloh's establishment and passed a resolution "heartily favor[ing]" making Shiloh a park (Society of the Army of the Tennessee 1894, pp. 124–126). One of the author's of this resolution, Representative David Henderson, addressed fellow members of Congress on the subject, stressing that the creation of a park at Shiloh would "meet the wishes of the Western armies" (Congressional Record, p. 21). On a more personal level, veterans who returned to the battlefield were appalled to hear local farmers tell of unearthing battlefield graves while plowing or digging ditches or roadways. As late as 1893, one veteran remarked, farmers were "ploughing up… [soldiers'] bones all over the field" (Society of the Army of the Tennessee 1893, pp. 8, 60–61). These veterans wanted their former comrades to rest in peace, and the way to do that was to preserve the entire battlefield.

These men soon established the Shiloh Battlefield Association, out of which came the idea of lobbying Congress to create the park. Congress did agree to do so in 1894, with the president signing the bill into law on December 27, 1894. The act declared the importance of having "the history of… memorable battles [fought by the Army of the Tennessee] preserved on the ground where they fought" (Congressional Record, p. 19).

The founding legislation stipulated that "the affairs of the Shiloh National Military Park shall, subject to the supervision and direction of the Secretary of War, be in charge of three commissioners,… each of whom shall have served at the time of the battle in one of the armies engaged therein" (Congressional Record, p. 19). Secretary of War Daniel S. Lamont appointed Colonel Cornelius Cadle, a veteran of the 11th Iowa Infantry of the Army of the Tennessee, as chairman of the commission. To represent the Army of the Ohio, Lamont chose that army's commander at Shiloh, Major General Don Carlos Buell. Former Confederates were also included in the process, befitting the era's move toward reconciliation; the secretary appointed Colonel Robert F. Looney of the 38th Tennessee Infantry as the Confederate representative. These men, along with such figures as Josiah Patterson, Basil Duke, David W. Reed, and James H. Ashcraft, who gradually replaced the original commissioners as deaths and resignations occurred, were the primary people responsible for what is today America's best-preserved Civil War battlefield. Reed, in addition to later becoming a full commissioner, served as the park's historian from its inception and has gained the title "Father of Shiloh National Military Park" for the work he did physically on the ground, as well as historiographically in print (Smith 2006, pp. 139–155).

Building the Park

The commission began its work early in 1895. Engineer Atwell Thompson and his crew surveyed the battlefield and mapped the area and its plots of land in what veterans described as an effort to convert "mere land into a park" (Smith 2004, p. 45). Only after this process was completed could the commission begin to buy the property. Land agent James W. Irwin found it difficult to sort out land titles in the rural area, and the commission was further hampered by a rogue veteran who obtained options on some of the land in hopes of blackmailing the government into giving him an appointment as a commissioner. The commission reported to the secretary of war in 1897 that "[m]uch difficulty has been experienced in obtaining sufficient titles to the land negotiated for, but this is gradually being overcome" (United States War Department 1897, p. 59). Eventually, the commission purchased some 3,600 acres of land; only about 500 acres have been added since, illustrating the comprehensiveness of their original work. With the land purchase, the history of the battle could be, in the words of the enabling legislation, "preserved on the ground" (Congressional Record, p. 19).

Once the land purchases went into effect, the commission was able to begin the process of marking the history of the battle" (Smith 2004, p. 62). The commission itself paid for the hundreds of iron tablets marking troop positions and campsites and giving direction that went up over the next few years, and also paid for replica iron cannon carriages on which they placed several hundred original Civil War cannon tubes that had been donated by the War Department. The commission also erected headquarters and monuments marking specific locations where general officers camped or were killed. These markings allowed, in the words of the park's superintendent DeLong Rice, "the seeker after history… [to] start at the tablet where the first volley was fired and follow every movement of the divisions, brigades, and regiments through all the evolutions of the battle" (United States War Department 1915, p. 885).

The major monumentation, however, was paid for by other entities. Congress appropriated money to erect monuments to several regular army units that had fought at Shiloh. Most notably, the various states that had troops at Shiloh began to erect monuments all over the battlefield. The enabling legislation stated that "it shall be lawful for any State that had troops engaged in the battle of Shiloh to enter upon the lands of the Shiloh National Military Park for the purpose of ascertaining and marking the lines of battle of its troops engaged there" (Congressional Record, pp. 19–20).

The various states went about monumentation in different ways. Some erected one monument to all their units, whereas others placed different monuments dedicated to each of the units. Some erected both types of monuments. No matter the process, however, each state shared the same goal, stated succinctly by Ohio's legislature: "ascertaining and marking the positions occupied…by each regiment, battery, and independent organization…which were engaged there" (Lindsey 1903, p. 152). By no means the most heavily monumented park of the 1890s, Shiloh National Military Park is nevertheless beautiful in its simplicity (Smith 2004, pp. 137–138).

By 1908 the park was relatively complete—just in time for a thrashing in 1909 when, in the words of the commission chairman Cornelius Cadle, "a cyclone visited the Park" (Shiloh National Military Park Daily Events, October 14, 1909, pp. 274–277). The damage caused by the cyclone necessitated extensive repair and reconstruction. Following this, the physical building of the park was complete. It would not be until the 1930s that major work at the park began again.

Just as important as the physical building of the site was the development of an accepted historiographical analysis of the battle. As Ulysses S. Grant, the Army of the Tennessee commander at Shiloh, remarked, the "Battle of Shiloh…has been perhaps less understood, or, to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood, than any other engagement" (Grant 1884–1888, p. 465). Careful examination of all available written records was an important first step, as the recollections of elderly veterans were often unreliable and contradictory. As Reed remarked, "occasionally…some one thinks that his unaided memory of the events of 50 years ago is superior to the official reports of officers which were made at [the] time of the battle. It seems hard for them to realize that oft-repeated campfire stories, added to and enlarged, become impressed on the memory as real facts" (United States War Department 1912, pp. 195–196). One of the park sponsors in Congress had promised that the park itself would "put at rest once and for all time to come the uncertainties and misrepresentations surrounding the battle," but that turn of events of course failed to materialize (House Reports, pp. 1–5). The park commission disseminated its own version of the battle, however, through the marking of the battlefield and in its official history, The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged (1902).

The commissioners themselves soon died away, leaving the park in the hands of non-veterans such as DeLong Rice and Robert A. Livingston. Rice, who was very much attuned to what the veterans had done, took over in the 1920s. Unfortunately, he died as a result of an explosion on the park in 1929. Park clerk Robert A. Livingston then became superintendent. Life at Shiloh was relatively quiet in the 1920s and early 1930s (Smith 2006, pp. 157–170).

The Modern Era

President Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred Shiloh, and the other parks, from the War Department to the National Park Service in 1933, the same year he began implementing the New Deal, which sent many workers to Shiloh. In the 1940s, however, much of this labor force went off to war, leaving Shiloh with an almost perpetual shortage of funds and workers (Smith 2004, p. 127). The late 1990s and early twenty-first century saw an upswing in activity at the park, with a new unit opening twenty miles to the south at Corinth, Mississippi. Its state-of-the-art visitor center focuses not only on Corinth's relevance to Shiloh, but also on the siege of Corinth and the subsequent battle there (Special Resource Study: Corinth Mississippi 2003). As of 2007, several entities are continuing efforts to preserve more battlefield ground at Shiloh, as well as at Corinth. Their efforts will continue to carry out the desires of its founders: to commemorate and memorialize those who fought on those hallowed fields of combat.


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

Boynton, Henry. "Camping on Chickamauga."Washington Post, September 16, 1892.

Congressional Record, 53rd Congress, 3rd Session, 27, 1

Eisenschiml, Otto. The Story of Shiloh. Chicago: Civil War Round Table, 1946.

Grant, Ulysses S. "The Battle of Shiloh." In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, ed Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel. 4 vols. New York: The Century, 1884–1888.

House Reports, 53rd Congress, 2nd Session, Report No. 1139.

Lee, Ronald F. The Origin and Evolution of the National Military Park Idea. Washington, DC: National Park Service, 1973.

Lindsey, T. J. Ohio at Shiloh: Report of the Commission. Cincinnati, OH: C. J. Krehbiel, 1903.

Reed, David Wilson, ed. The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1902.

Shiloh National Military Park Daily Events. Shiloh National Military Park Archives, October 14, 1909.

Smith, Timothy B. The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890s and the Establishment of America's First Five Military Parks. Knoxville, TN: in press.

Smith, Timothy B. This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004.

Smith, Timothy B. The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006.

Society of the Army of the Tennessee. Report of the Proceedings of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee at the Twenty-Fifth Meeting Held at Chicago, Ills. September 12th and 13th, 1893. Cincinnati, OH: Author, 1893.

Society of the Army of the Tennessee. Report of the Proceedings of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee at the Twenty-Sixth Meeting Held at Council Bluffs, Iowa. October 3rd and 4th, 1894. Cincinnati, OH: Author, 1895.

Special Resource Study: Corinth, Mississippi. National Park Service: Washington, DC, 2003.

United States War Department. Annual Report of the Secretary of War—1897. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1897.

United States War Department. Annual Report of the Secretary of War—1912. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1912.

United States War Department. Annual Report of the Secretary of War—1915. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1915.

Timothy B. Smith


The first efforts by Civil War soldiers to mark sites where blood was spilled, comrades fell, and lives were sacrificed began before the reverberations of fire faded from the scene of the conflict's battlefields. The earliest known monument on a Civil War battlefield was erected within the first four months of the war. Confederate soldiers of the Eighth Georgia infantry erected a monument on the battlefield of first Manassas to their brigade commander, Col. Francis Stebbins Bartow, who was killed during that engagement. Private William H. Maxey, of the Eighth Georgia described the occasion in a September 5, 1861, letter to his father: "I will now tell you of our yestodays work. Our whole brigade went to the Battlefield to place a stone for signal whare Bartow fell. We had prare and then had a speech from Mr. Striklin. On the stone it had the words that Bartow spoke it was on the stone 'they have killed me boys but never give up the fight'" (September 5, 1861). In 1863, surviving troops of Col. William B. Hazen's brigade placed a memorial in the Round Forest to commemorate comrades who fell on the battlefield at Stone's River. Similarly, in July, 1864, Federal soldiers marked the site on the Vicksburg battlefield where barely a year before, Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant met Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton to discuss surrender terms for the Southern forces.

Attempts to set aside battlefield lands as a remembrance of those who struggled and died over them were made on a provincial level even before the conclusion of hostilities. The most well known instance is that of Gettysburg where local citizens formed the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. In 1864, the association was given the authority, by the Pennsylvania legislature, "to hold and preserve, the battle-grounds of Gettysburg… and by such perpetuation, and such memorial structures as a generous and patriotic people may aid to erect, to commemorate the heroic deeds, the struggles, and the triumphs of their brave defenders" (Unrau 1991, pp. v–vi). Although the prosecution of the war prevented much progress until after the end of the hostilities, what was accomplished at Gettysburg served as the example for what were to become the first five Civil War battlefields preserved as National Parks. Localized and parochial efforts to commemorate specific contributions made during the Civil War continued after the conflict ended.

The final three decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the gathering of Civil War veterans at numerous reunions across the United States. The earliest of these were partisan, based strictly on previous Union or Confederate affiliation. In 1875, Confederate veterans journeyed to Boston to join with their Union counterparts for the 100th anniversary celebration of Bunker Hill. It was not until then that the past adversaries came together publicly. As reunions increased they became more frequent and widespread. The former opponents began to interact on an increasingly regular basis. As years passed and interaction between the one-time combatants grew the hostilities and passions of the conflict faded. This is reflected in the comments of Confederate General William B. Bate: "I note with inexpressible pleasure that the lapse of more than thirty years has mitigated the passions, allayed the excitement, and disposed the minds of all surviving contestants of these great battles to look back at the past with those moderated convictions which are due to a contest in which each party held principles and convictions to justify the contention" (Boynton 1896, pp. 45–46). A similar comment was expressed by Union veteran. J. S. Fullerton, "Never before has such harmonious work been possible" (Boynton 1896, p. 25).

The fiery sentiments and hostilities of the past were replaced by the soldiers' recognition of their shared experiences. Whether North or South, the aging warriors realized a common bond of sacrifice, suffering, struggle and loss as veterans of the Civil War. "We meet today upon this sacred spot to celebrate the heroism of the American soldier, the great results of battles, and the greater victories of peace. We do not come with words of crimination or with memories charged with bitterness or envy" (Boynton 1896, pp. 68–69). Bate aptly expressed the soldiers' experience:

Here, within sight of this stand, we and they—the living and the dead, Confederate and Federal—fought for the right as each understood it, for the Constitution as each construed it, and for liberty as each interpreted it. With sheathless swords in sinewy hands we, Confederate and Federal, fought that great battle of duty, and now, thirty-two years after, we again obey the assemble call, we respond to the long roll and fall in line, not to renew the battle nor to rekindle the strife, nor even to argue as to which won the victory, but to gather up the rich fruits of both the victory and defeat as treasures of inestimable value to our common country." (Boynton 1896, pp. 45–46)

Out of that common knowledge grew a desire to commemorate their service. Nationwide interest was generated among the aging veterans to set aside battlefield lands as a remembrance of the common struggle they endured and sacrifices they gave. Bate continues to define the reason of being for the first National Military Park: "We have assembled on these glorious battlefields for the preservation and perpetuation of sacred memories; to treasure the recollections of heroic deeds; to compare in friendly criticism our past action; and to advance by lessons to be learned here the common glory of our common country" (Boynton 1896, pp. 45–46). Union General J. S. Fullerton reiterated the sentiments: "But little over thirty years have passed since this most desperate of battles was fought, and now survivors of both sides harmoniously and lovingly come together to fix their battle lines and mark the places now and forever to remain famous as monuments to the valor of the American soldier" (Boynton 1896, p. 25).

What began as individual attempts in small pockets across the country to commemorate on the local level became a cohesive coordinated effort supported on a national scale. Those efforts to preserve Civil War battlefields as a memorial to the soldiers who fought over their grounds in turn fostered reconciliation.

Union General John M. Palmer conveyed the understanding that exists between the former combatants who shared the common experiences of the battlefield:

We are here today 'with malice toward none and charity for all;' we meet as citizens of a common country, devoted to its interests and alike ready to maintain its honor, wherever or however assailed. To my comrades, you who were Confederate soldiers during all the weary struggle of the civil war, I beg to say I was proud of your gallantry and courage. I never allowed myself to forget that you were Americans, freely offering your lives in the defense of what you believed to be your rights and in vindication of your manhood. You are now satisfied that the result of the civil war established the unity of the powerful American Republic; you submitted your controversies with your fellow-citizens to the arbitrament of the battlefield, and you accepted the result with a sublime fortitude worthy of all praise; and your reward is that peace and order are restored, and 'the South' which you loved so well and for which you fought so bravely now blossoms with abundant blessings. (Boynton 1896, p. 37)

"Indeed," remarked General Fullerton, "this celebration—the inauguration of this park and commemoration of the grand and noble idea—marks the beginning of a regenerated national life" (Boynton 1896, p. 25).

These efforts calumniated in the establishment of the first Civil War battlefield set aside as a National Park. Chickamauga and Chattanooga were preserved as a National Park by an act of Congress in 1890. Evidence that battlefield preservation was national in scope is exhibited by the addition of Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg as national battlefields in 1894, 1895, and 1899, respectively. The establishment of grounds at Vicksburg, Mississippi as a National Military Park perhaps best exemplifies the strides taken toward national reconciliation by the widespread support that effort garnered. Veterans from across the country gathered at Vicksburg in the late spring of 1890, to attend a grand reunion held May 25–30. An association of veterans was formed to prepare for the expected magnitude of the event. The Blue and Gray Association was organized by charter in November, 1889, complete with a board of directors. The scale of the expected event is indicated by the approval to raise $100,000 in capital stock. Attendees of the reunion participated in a parade, field trips to outlying battlefields and visits to the interment sites of both Union and Confederate dead. The reunion was considered a success. Many veterans, however, noticed that the grounds over which they fought, bled and many had died, were ignored. The battlefield was virtually devoid of markings indicating the struggle that occurred there. Veterans left the reunion feeling that the grounds "deserved more and must be properly marked and preserved by our government" (Bearss, p. 3).

Over the course of the next five years veterans returned sporadically to Vicksburg for a number of events. The desire for good will and reconciliation that existed and motivated the interactions between the former combatants is aptly expressed by Union veteran Charles Longley. In a February, 1895, letter to fellow Iowa veteran William T. Rigby, Longley notes,

I appreciate fully your kindness in telling me of Gen Lees good opinion and for two reasons. 1st I like to have friends. 2d I wanted to make a lasting good impression as a soldier on our friends in the South. You and I were representing the Federal Army and preaching a gospel of Peace and Goodwill to representatives of the Confederate Army their wives and children—increasing or decreasing their heart loyalty to the United States. It is not a small thing that we succeeded and it is not a small thing to have the assurance of the fact from such as Gen Lee and Colonel Floweree. (Files VNMP, Longley letter, February 19, 1895, p. 1)

In the fall of 1895, many of the aged soldiers who participated in the Blue and Gray Association again joined forces to form the Vicksburg National Military Park Association. It was organized at a veterans' meeting on October 22 and 23. According to the Iowa department of the Grand Army of the Republic, "The object of this organization, as indicated by its title, is to secure as a National Park the site of the siege and defense of Vicksburg." (Files VNMP, Department of Iowa Circular, p. 1). The Vicksburg National Military Park Association was chartered as a corporation by the State of Mississippi on November 19, 1895, and conferred with the authority to

… purchase, acquire by donation or otherwise, and to hold and dispose of real and personal property, and also to raise a fund either by subscriptions to the capital stock of this association, or by voluntary donation for the purpose of establishing a national military park in and around Vicksburg and to perpetually mark and designate the battlefields and other places of historic interest around said city. (Files VNMP, Charter of Incorporation, p. 1)

Former high ranking officers of both the Union and Confederate armies were represented among the officers, executive committee, and board of directors of the newly formed organization. Union Generals Moritmer Leggett, George McGinnis, and Lucius Fairchild joined Confederate Generals Stephen D. Lee, John B. Gordon, and Thomas Waul among the membership, which was indicative of the reconciliatory nature and work of the organization. The work of the association progressed rapidly. The first meeting of the Board of Directors produced an outline of grounds for inclusion in the park. According to Rigby, who was secretary of the association, "On motion of General Fairchild it was decided that 'the proposed Park should include the lines of the earthworks of the opposing armies and the land included within these lines, with such additions as are necessary to include the Headquarters of Generals Grant and Pemberton. Such of the water batteries as it may be desirable to designate, and other historical spots, the whole not to exceed four thousand acres'" (Files VNMP, Rigby, Brief History of Vicksburg National Military Park Association, p. 4).

The board's executive members appointed a committee charged with framing and presenting a bill for the establishment of a National Military Park at Vicksburg to Congress. The proposal of General Fairchild was incorporated into the bill with a modification to the recommended acreage. Based on an estimated cost of thirty-five dollars an acre, land acquisition of twelve hundred acres as opposed to the desired four thousand was suggested. The bill garnered the support of thirteen different states. By joint resolutions of their legislatures, Mississippi, Iowa, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Tennessee all endorsed passage of the bill. Numerous veterans' organizations including Department Encampments of the Grand Army of the Republic and Commanderys of the Loyal Legion encouraged passage of the bill. After three successive years in which members of the association traveled to Washington to urge passage of the bill, success was achieved early in 1899. The bill was passed by the Houses of Representatives on February 6, followed the Senate on the tenth, and became law with the signature of President McKinley on the twenty-first. Many aging warriors passed from this world to the next before realizing their dream of establishing a park over the siege and defense lines at Vicksburg. During the early years of the twentieth century, many of those veterans that remained returned to the scene of battle to mark their positions. Union Major D. W. Reed, a veteran of the Vicksburg campaign, stated the purpose behind the tireless efforts of the old soldiers:

It is not intended that these parks will be ornamental pleasure grounds. The real object is to restore these historic fields to substantially the conditions they were in at the time of the battles; and, in harmony with that idea, these parks will be devoted strictly to the illustration of the great struggles which rendered them famous. In these parks every incident of the battle will be treated from an impartial standpoint of history, without sectional animosity or bias, and in all markings or monuments justice will be shown alike to vanquished and victors. On one or the other of these fields the most distinguished generals of North and South have commanded, and troops from nearly every state and section fought; so that by securing and preserving these fields intact as representative examples of the war, the Government will be able to perpetuate their history, so that they may serve as permanent object lessons of American courage and valor, and each constructed on a grand scale not to be found elsewhere in the world. (Iowa Commandery 1898, pp. 372–373)

The desires for commemoration, preservation and reconciliation among Civil War veterans were inextricably intertwined and naturally evolved from one another. The gathering of veterans in reunions across the country sowed the seeds of reconciliation and resulted in the desire to commemorate and memorialize common experiences. The desire for and accomplishment of preservation on a national level followed. Reconciliation was thus achieved in a communal sense and reunion came full circle. It was the veterans themselves, those who fought and bled over the grounds of numberless Civil War battlefields across the country that worked tirelessly to see that the park was established, marked their lines and positions, and provided for the erection of monuments for the purpose of honoring the sacrifices made over those grounds.

Vicksburg National Military Park is a memorial that tells of the devotion of soldiers and their shared experiences of sacrifice that transcended the boundaries of North and South. It also tells us of the commitment of a grateful citizenry in their efforts to honor unto posterity those sacrifices, and finally the park tells us of a deeply wounded nation and its desire for reconciliation. Vicksburg National Military Park tells the story of the Vicksburg Campaign and a shared experience. It commemorates the devotion of soldiers and their common experience of sacrifice, the commitment of a grateful citizenry, and the desire for reconciliation of a deeply wounded nation. In this one succinct inscription, "Here brothers fought for their principles, here heroes died for their country and a united people will forever cherish the precious legacy of their noble manhood" (Programme Pennsylvania Day, p. 1).


Bearss, Edwin C., Administrative History. Unpublished Manuscript. Files of Vicksburg National Military Park Archives, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Boynton, H. V., compiler. Joint Committee to represent the Congress. Dedication of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, September 18–20, 1895. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896.

Files of Vicksburg National Military Park Archives. Administrative Series, box 7, folder 158, Vicksburg, MS.

Iowa Commandery Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. War Sketches and Incidents. vol. 2. 1898. Reprint, Wilmington: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1994.

Longley, Charles. Letter to William T. Rigby. February 19, 1895. Files of Vicksburg National Military Park Archives, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Maxey, William H. Letter to Father. September 5, 1861. Files of Manassas National Battlefield Park Archives, Manassas, Virginia.

Programme Pennsylvania Day, 1906. Irving Press, New York. Files of Vicksburg National Military Park Archives, Monumentation Series, box 3, folder 94. Vicksburg, MS.

Rigby, William, T. Brief History of Vicksburg National Military Park Association. December 7, 1899. Files of Vicksburg National Military Park Archives, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Unrau, Harlan D. Administrative History: Gettysburg National Military Park and National Cemetery. Washington: National Park Service, 1991.

Robbie C. Smith


The battle of Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863, fought in Adams County, Pennsylvania, was the largest and blood-est military engagement of the Civil War. Over 160,000 men from the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870), and the Federal Army of the Potomac, commanded by Major General George Gordon Meade (1815–1872), had struggled over the hills, woods, ridges, and fields around the small town. The fighting was as fierce as any that took place during the war, and on several occasions, the outcome of the conflict hung narrowly in balance. When the battle ended, however, the Union army still held its position, and the Rebels were forced to admit defeat.

According to Stephen Sears in his 2003 book Gettysburg, Lee lost 22,625 men over the course of the battle, while Meade's losses were 23,049 men. Combined casualties for the two armies over the course of the campaign equaled 50,674 men, including 7,691 dead (Sears 2003, p. 498). Almost from the moment the last weapon was fired, Northern troops and civilians sensed that Gettysburg was uniquely important. This feeling grew in part from the staggering scale as well as the death toll of the battle. But in large measure, it came about because the battle was an unquestioned victory for the Army of the Potomac, ending a string of embarrassing defeats dealt it by Lee's Rebels. Initially, many Northerners thought the victory at Gettysburg, combined with Union triumphs in the West, might herald the end of the war. It did not. Two more years of bloody fighting remained before the conflict would close.

Regardless of the disappointing aftermath of the campaign, however, the feeling that this battle was special prevailed. Northerners felt compelled to memorialize the battle, even while the outcome of the war remained uncertain.

Commemorating a Fallen Leader

In the summer of 1863, Major General John F. Reynolds (1820–1863) was one of the most capable officers in the Army of the Potomac. Offered command of the army in the days leading up to the battle of Gettysburg, Reynolds, disdainful of meddling by politicians in the army's management, refused the job. The post went instead to Meade. Thus it was Reynolds who rode into Gettysburg at midmorning of July 1, 1863, at the head of the Union I and XI Corps. Approving the decision of Brigadier General John Buford (1826–1863) to provoke a fight at Gettysburg, Reynolds ordered his troops into the battle, determined to buy time for the rest of the army to reach the field and occupy the high ground south of town. This quick-thinking decision was critical to the outcome of the contest. Even though the Federal I and XI Corps were eventually routed by attacking Confederates, their resistance bought Meade time to get most of his army onto the heights it would successfully defend on July 2 and 3.

John Reynolds did not live to see the fruits of his decisiveness. As Federal infantry rushed forward to meet attacking Confederates, Reynolds was killed instantly when a Rebel bullet struck him in the back of the neck. He was the first Union general lost in the battle and one of the most talented (Sears 2003, p. 170).

The death of their commander was a painful blow to the men of the I Corps. Shortly after the battle, the idea of building a memorial to the fallen general surfaced. Colonel Charles Wainwright (1826–1907) was the commanding officer of the I Corps's artillery. He noted in his diary, edited by Allan Nevins and reprinted in 1998 under the title, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861–1865, that it was Major J. M. "Ben" Sanderson, who initially proposed the erection of a monument to Reynolds.

"At the time we were on the march and could do nothing in the matter," Wainwright recorded on August 29, 1863. But once the rival armies paused along the Rappahannock River in Virginia, the opportunity arose for Reynolds's former staff to discuss the issue. Several of them agreed upon a plan, and Wainwright went to the camp of the Pennsylvania Reserves, whom Reynolds had once led, and proposed an effort to raise money for constructing a proper monument. "All seem anxious to carry out the matter," the colonel happily informed his journal (Nevins 1998, p. 278).

The enthusiasm was real and the intent sincere. Officers and men contributed the first funding for the proposed monument. But the effort quickly slipped into the background as the immediate realities of an unfinished war took precedence. Many of those who subscribed to the cause would join Reynolds in death before the first anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. Despite the hopes and plans of Wainwright, Sanderson, and others, the conflict would have to end and time would need to pass before the memorial they envisioned could be funded, designed, and built. Not until 1871 would the idea born in July 1863 see fruition. Nonetheless, the statue of John Reynolds would be the first monument raised on the battlefield to a specific individual.

Dedicating a Cemetery

Even as civilian volunteers and medical personnel strove to deal with the tens of thousands of wounded scattered in temporary hospitals all around Gettysburg, the first steps were taken to preserve the scene of action as a monument. Learning that weather was exposing the bodies of soldiers buried in temporary graves immediately after the fighting, the governor of Pennsylvania, Andrew Gregg Curtin (1817–1894), authorized David Wills (1831–1894), a Gettysburg lawyer, to purchase land for the construction of a permanent soldiers' cemetery. The site selected by Wills was adjacent to the existing Evergreen Cemetery, which gave Cemetery Hill, a key geographic feature of the battle, its name. Now it would become the final resting place for more than 3,600 Union troops killed in the battle (Davis 2002, p. 12).

The landscape architect William Saunders (1822–1900) of the Department of Agriculture was given the mission of designing the cemetery. Saunders produced a simple but elegant plan for the 17-acre site. A "soldiers' monument" would form the center of the cemetery, with graves extending from it in semicircular rows. The dead would be grouped together by state; the size of each state's "lot" in proportion to the number of its fallen. No Confederate dead would be included. Saunders's design was quickly approved by a hastily appointed board of commissioners (Davis 2002, p. 12).

Work on the cemetery began promptly, spurred by the necessity of retrieving already decaying bodies from shallow graves. Even as this task was carried on, however, the commissioners decided to hold an official dedication ceremony for the site. The event took place on November 19, 1863—a mere 139 days after the end of the battle. Some 15,000 people watched as a military procession escorted dignitaries from Gettysburg to the as-yet unfinished cemetery. In his beautifully illustrated 2003 work, Gettysburg Battlefield: The Definitive Illustrated History, David Eicher notes that the honored guests included President Abraham Lincoln, Governor Curtin, three members of Lincoln's cabinet, and the French ambassador to the United States. Also included was David Wills, in whose home the president stayed the night before the ceremony (2003, pp. 256, 264).

Several thousand spectators followed the procession to the cemetery. Here they heard the famous orator Edward Everett (1794–1865) give a flowery 117-minute-long speech recounting the history of the battle and the campaign that led to it. Following Everett, Lincoln was given an opportunity to make a few remarks. The president spoke for only two minutes. In that brief span, Lincoln uttered his most famous words—the Gettysburg Address (Eicher 2003, p. 262).

The ceremony over, the work of reinterment continued. Ultimately, 3,629 Federal dead were laid to rest within the cemetery boundaries. Names could be attached to only 1,965 of the men whose remains reside there—1,664 headstones merely read "unknown" (Eicher 2003, p. 262; Davis 2002, p. 16).

Work on the cemetery continued into 1864. The last bodies were buried, the grounds beautifully landscaped, and a stone wall erected around the site. On July 4, 1865, amid another ceremony, the cornerstone of the envisioned Soldiers' Monument was laid in the cemetery grounds. This final piece of Saunders's original plan was finished four years later and dedicated in 1869 (Davis 2002, p. 16; Eicher 2003, p. 271).

Saving the Battlefield

While Governor Curtin and David Wills worked to build the soldiers' cemetery, others conceived additional means to commemorate the battle. As William C. Davis explains in the 2002 edition of Gettysburg: The Story behind the Scenery, David McConaughy (1823–1902) was the prime mover in the effort to preserve the battlefield. On August 14, 1863, in an address to Gettysburg's leading citizens, he proposed the town acquire as much of the battleground as possible, and that the field along with its breastworks, fences, and buildings, be "preserved and perpetuated in the exact form and condition they presented during the battle." The good people of Gettysburg concurred. The battlefield, they felt, should become a lasting monument to "perpetuate the great principles of human liberty and just government." Union soldiers had fought to preserve and would help instill those virtues to "all men who in all time" should visit the battleground (Davis 2002, p. 12).

McConaughy was pleased with the response but disinclined to wait for community action. Before the war was over, he had purchased Culp's Hill and the eastern slope of Cemetery Hill—both anchors for Meade's right flank during the battle—as well as parts of Big Round Top and Little Round Top, scenes of heavy fighting on the Union left flank. McConaughy paid for these properties out of his own pocket, anticipating reimbursement by the government of Pennsylvania when the battlefield became an official monument (Davis 2002, p. 12).

On April 30, 1864, the state of Pennsylvania formally chartered the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMA). Its purpose was to "hold and preserve the battlegrounds of Gettysburg, and care for "such memorial structures as a generous and patriotic people may aid to erect to commemorate the heroic deeds, the struggles and the triumphs of their brave defenders." Membership required a ten-dollar donation and bestowed the right to vote in annual elections for the association's president and twenty-one-member board of directors. In 1866 Pennsylvania's legislature gave the association power to buy land relevant to the battle, build roads, construct monuments, and seize land when owners would not sell. Association property was declared tax-exempt in perpetuity (Davis 2002, p.16).

David McConaughy became the association's legal counsel and was tasked with raising money for the project, hopefully from the legislatures of Northern states whose men had fought at Gettysburg. As an inducement, the governor of any state whose legislature donated funds to the association automatically became a member of the board of directors. Pennsylvania was the first to contribute, granting $4,000 to the association in 1864. To the disappointment of McConaughy and the GBMA, however, other states failed to follow suit. The war would be long over before the vision of the association and the foresight of David McConaughy would truly bear fruit (Davis 2002, p. 17).

Temporary Failure, Ultimate Triumph

Beyond the creation of the soldiers' cemetery, little was done to physically commemorate the battle during and immediately after the war. Although Northerners, particularly those in the Northeastern states, continued to perceive Gettysburg as an important victory, two more horrible years of war remained after July 1863. The necessity of carrying on the conflict, the growing unpopularity of the war, the divisiveness it entailed, the real possibility of Northern defeat, and the seemingly endless flood of casualties produced by the final campaigns shoved Gettysburg into the background. During the remaining years of the war, there were more important things to do. After the war, the rancor of Reconstruction and the settlement of the West captured the public's attention. The nation's wounds remained raw as the enormous cost of the war was digested. Most people wanted to forget the recent horror and get on with their lives.

By the late 1870s the worst aftereffects of the war were wearing off. The dormant impulse to honor fallen leaders and their troops began to reemerge. As the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle neared, there was an outburst of activity. Time had begun to heal the conflict's wounds; aging veterans were eager to preserve the scene and the story of what they had done; and the nation as a whole had started to come to grips not only with the cost of the war but also its meaning.

Gettysburg would ultimately become the symbol of the entire conflict. As the site of the largest and bloodiest battle of the war, it seemed the natural place for the principal memorial to the struggle. Lincoln's famous speech on the battlefield, which so concisely encapsulated what Northerners believed the war and the battle were about, added weight to this point of view. Even the South, initially barred from commemorating the service and loss of its sons, was invited and willing to tell its side of the battle at Gettysburg.

When the nation was finally ready to use the battlefield to remember and teach what had happened there, to honor those who had fallen and participated in the titanic struggle, the ground was found well prepared by the wartime efforts of Gettysburg's citizens. Their foresight in preserving the physical battleground and providing a final resting place for some of its victims proved the foundation for what is today the nation's most famous and most frequently visited national battlefield park.


Davis, William C. Gettysburg: The Story behind the Scenery. Las Vegas, NV: KC Publications, 2002.

Eicher, David J. Gettysburg Battlefield: The Definitive Illustrated History. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003.

Nevins, Allan, ed. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861–1865. New York: Da Capo Press, 1998.

Sears, Stephen. Gettysburg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Jeffrey William Hunt


Antietam National Battlefield, first preserved by Congress in 1890, is one of the most pristine battlefields in the United States. Situated in rural western Maryland near the small town of Sharpsburg, the battlefield has not been subject to the same urbanization and industrialization that have compromised so many other Civil War fields of conflict. As a result, Antietam is unspoiled, giving visitors a glimpse back in time at famous sites such as Bloody Lane, Burnside Bridge, and Miller's Cornfield, where many historians say the fate of the United States hung in the balance and was decided in favor of unity (Trail 2005).

National Context

Antietam's establishment in 1890 was part of a national movement to preserve battlefields. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the U.S. government preserved five battlefields in varying degrees: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was established first; Antietam second, in the same year; then Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg in later years. Thirty years after the war, when tempers had cooled and old age had mellowed many of the veterans, white Northerners and Southerners began to reconcile through memorializa-tion, commemoration, and preservation at, among other places, their old battlefields.

Antietam did not fit the national mold, however. The four other battlefields established during the 1890s were much larger parks, run by permanent commissions made up of veterans. Moreover, the intent, particularly at Chickamauga and Shiloh, and to a lesser degree at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, was to preserve entire fields of conflict, or at least the most important parts of them. This view of preservation was promoted by the United States's chief preservationist of the time, Henry V. Boynton (1835–1905), who served first as the historian and then as the commission chairman at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Smith 2008). An alternate plan of preservation was adopted for Anti-etam, promoted by the other major preservationist of the day, Major George B. Davis of the U.S. Army. Davis believed preserving entire battlefields was unnecessary, and that limited purchase of land along roads and lines of battle would suffice, leaving the bulk of the battlefields, particularly those in rural areas, in private farmers' hands. Secretary of War Daniel S. Lamont (1851–1905) agreed, arguing that buying the entire battlefield would necessitate "operations of agriculture," which would be costly and was "outside the ordinary and usual scope of governmental endeavor" (Annual Report of the Secretary of War—1894, pp. 29, 255–256). Davis led major effort at Antietam in the 1890s, and that battlefield therefore was much smaller and less monumented than the others. Moreover, Davis's "Antietam Plan," as it was called, was the model for more battlefields throughout the twentieth century as the United States tried to save money and balance the competing effects of preservation and urbanization (Lee 1973).


Veterans had placed monuments at Antietam as early as 1887, but the major effort to create a park did not develop until 1890, when a veterans' association and local congressman, Louis E. McComas (1846–1907), proffered a bill to establish a major park like that being contemplated at Chickamauga. McComas was never able to get his bill passed, but according to the local Keedysville Antietam Wavelet, he was able to get, "by a short cut," a limited appropriation rider for a board of veterans to mark lines of battle at Antietam (Antietam Wavelet, June 21, 1890). In 1891, the secretary of war appointed this board, which consisted of Union colonel John C. Stearns of the Ninth Vermont Infantry and Confederate major general Henry Heth (1825–1899). Right away, all could see that the Antietam project was not as well supported as the other parks then under development. Rather than a three-man commission like the others, Antietam battlefield was governed by a two-man board that did not have nearly the authority or the resources the other commissions had. Likewise, Antietam was not established as a park like the others, but was left simply as an agricultural area with battle lines marked thereon. "Had we been placed on the same footing with the Chickamauga Commission," Stearns and Heth wrote on January 13, 1894, "we would have been able to report greater progress" (Antietam Board to R. N. Bachelder, RG 92, E 707, box 1).

Building the Park

Stearns and Heth began their work in August 1891, but made little progress for the next three years. They managed to locate the lines of battle for the armies and began to mark some of them, but old age, sickness, and limited governmental support caused delay after delay. Heth wrote on August 1, 1894, that "it is hardly necessary to add that in consequence of Col. Stearns' bad health, the work has not progressed as rapidly as it would otherwise have done" (Henry Heth to R. N. Bachelder, RG 92, E 707, box 1). Thus, little was accomplished in the first years of the board's existence.

Secretary of War Lamont soon tired of the lack of progress at Antietam:

While fully aware of the difficulties that attend upon undertakings of this kind, at Antietam and elsewhere, I cannot resist the conclusion that the Board as organized under the order of June 17, 1891, is less expeditious in its operations than Congress and the Department have a reasonable right to expect…Over three years have passed since the scheme was undertaken, and the Board has so little to show in the way of accomplished results as to lead to the belief that difficulties have been encountered which are either insurmountable, or cannot be overcome by the Board as at present constituted. (Daniel S. Lamont to Quartermaster General, July 14, 1894, RG 92, E 707, box 1)

In summer 1894 Lamont thus called Stearns and Heth to account for their work. Stearns immediately resigned, whereupon Lamont sent George B. Davis to take over the effort.

Davis was then head of the board publishing the Official Records, and would later become the army's judge advocate general. As president of the Antietam board, Davis oversaw the effort, constantly pushing to get the work done. "It is only by constantly pushing in these small ways that we can keep the whole project in motion," Davis wrote (George B. Davis to E.A. Carman, November 27, 1894, RG 92, E 707, box 1). In addition to Davis, a board was still needed to actually do the work. The secretary of war appointed Ezra Carman of the Thirteenth New Jersey Infantry to be the Union representative on site at Anti-etam, and reappointed Heth to the Confederate side. Lamont also appointed Jed Hotchkiss, Stonewall Jackson's famous cartographer during the war, as the engineer tasked with making maps of the battle and battlefield.

Heth, Hotchkiss, Davis, and particularly Carman then went to work with a vengeance, producing in eleven months more results than Stearns and Heth had produced in three years. The board first began to create maps of the battlefield, but this task was plagued with problems, and even led to Hotchkiss's eventual removal from the project. Davis wrote that Hotchkiss's work "well nigh proved a failure" (George B. Davis Memorandum, August 2, 1895, RG 92, E 707, box 2). Gettysburg National Military Park's engineer, Emmor B. Cope, assisted the board thereafter.

More tangibly, Davis, Heth, and Carman began working on the battlefield itself. They bought a few acres of land, mostly where roads needed to be opened to allow access to the entire battlefield, but endured some opposition from landowners. At one point, Davis told Carman that he would come to Antietam "chiefly to have a showdown about land" (George B. Davis to E. A. Carman, November 6, 1894, RG 92, E 707, box 1). The veterans also began writing text for the several hundred tablets that would be placed along the roadways the government had bought. A few artillery pieces went up, as did fencing and a few monuments to mark where general officers had been killed. The board also built an observation tower at the Bloody Lane, and individual states erected monuments to their troops.

The majority of the work was completed by August 1895, when Davis resigned as president of the board to become a professor at West Point. He argued he would be "too great a distance to direct the work to advantage" (George B. Davis memorandum, August 1, 1895, RG 92, E 707, box 2). In his place, to tie up the loose ends, was army officer George W. Davis (no relation to George B. Davis). He managed to finish a majority of the work before he, too, left to lead troops during the Spanish-American War. Heth and Carman worked periodically on the site for a few years; with Heth's death in 1899, Carman became the chief historian of the battle and battlefield.

With the board's demise and Carman's eventual appointment as chairman of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Commission, the government property at Antietam fell solely to the local cemetery superintendent, but it proved to be far too much work for him. The quartermaster general even told the secretary of war that "complaint is made that there is no supervision and no responsible authority who may guard the tablets erected by the government and the monuments erected by states and regimental organizations" (J. M. Ludington, May 3, 1900, RG 92, E 89, file 109863). The War Department then appointed a series of superintendents, but had bad luck with a few of them. One was murdered, and one was fired for drunkenness when a War Department inspector reported he was "whiskey crazy and that he is a dangerous man to have as superintendent of the Battlefield (C. P. Spence to Depot Quartermaster, April 14, 1913, RG 92, E 89, file 371906). By the mid-1910s, however, Antietam came under the care of a series of superintendents with little fanfare, and this governance lasted until 1933.

Modern Era

Antietam became part of the National Park Service in 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred the battlefields from the War Department to the Department of the Interior. Thereafter, Antietam became a full-fledged park, a status it had never been given under the War Department.

A major change has come to Antietam in recent years that is as ironic as it is appropriate. Since the 1980s, the National Park Service has begun to acquire large amounts of land at Antietam—land purposefully left in private ownership in the 1890s to save the government money. The so-called "Antietam Plan," has been thrown on the scrap heap of history in favor of total preservation. In the years after the 1890s, most Civil War parks such as Petersburg, Stones River, Kennesaw Mountain, Manassas, and Richmond had been developed along this "Antietam Plan." Now, entities such as the National Park Service, the Conservation Fund, and particularly the Civil War Preservation Trust have swung the pendulum of preservation theory back to Boynton's idea of total preservation. Of course, the results have been beneficial to the park that is considered one of the most beautiful sites in America's historic landscape (Smith 2008).


Annual Report of the Secretary of War—1894. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1894.

Antietam Wavelet, Keedysville, Maryland, June 21, 1890.

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

"General Correspondence, 1890–1914." E 89, RG 92, Records of the Quartermaster General. National Archives, Washington, DC.

Lee, Ronald F. The Origin and Evolution of the National Military Park Idea. Washington, DC: National Park Service, 1973.

"Records of Cemeterial Commissions, 1893–1916, Antietam Battlefield Commission, Letters and Reports to Secretary, 1894–1898." E 707, RG 92, Records of the Quartermaster General. National Archives, Washington, DC.

Smith, Timothy B. The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890s and the Establishment of America's First Five Military Parks. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008.

Snell, Charles W., and Sharon A. Brown. Antietam National Battlefield and National Cemetery. Washington, DC: National Park Service, 1986.

Trail, Susan W. "Remembering Antietam: Commemoration and Preservation of a Civil War Battlefield." Ph. D. diss. University of Maryland, 2005.

Timothy B. Smith