Gettysburg:The Next 100 Years
Dr. John A. Latschar
Gettysburg National Military Park
According to our program, my topic for this evening
is supposed to be: "Gettysburg NMP: The Next 100 Years." It is intended,
of course, to cap a day we have spent together reviewing the
institutional history of this battlefield.
You must realize, of course, that no one can forecast
or predict what will happen over the next 100 years - and that only the
truly wise or the truly foolish would even attempt to do so. Since I'm
certainly not in the first category (and I hope that I am not in the
second), you may be laboring under the false hope that I will deliver
the ideal post-banquet speech: a good beginning, a good ending, and very
little in between. No such luck!
Instead, what I would like to do is:
(1) outline some thoughts about the very near future
of this battlefield, over which we have some limited influence. I'll
define the very near future as the next seven years; or between now and
the year 2002, for reasons which will soon become obvious.
(2) outline some concerns about the very near future
of the United States, the National Park Service, and the general field
of historic preservation, over which we have very little influence,
(3) ask some questions about the distant future - the
rest of the 100 years.
Before I get started, however, perhaps a few moments
discussing my personal biases may be in order - so that you can
understand, in today's parlance, "where I'm coming from." A very astute
local reporter asked me several weeks ago whether or not the fact that I
was a trained historian affected the way I approached the management of
this battlefield. My gut reaction was - of course - what a strange
question. But he did force me to think about "why" my approach may be
History - like any other subject - may be divided
into two disciplines; the pure and the applied. All of us dabble to some
degree in the "pure" - the research - aspect of history, but I will be
the first to acknowledge that most of you have far more expertise in the
history of the battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War than do I.
The "applied" aspect of history may also be divided
into two parts; the teaching of history (which includes writing books,
articles, classroom teaching and battlefield interpretation) and the
preservation of historical resources. Both of these endeavors are, of
course, completely dependent upon the academic or scholarly research,
without which we would not know what to teach or what to preserve.
The NPS is heavily engaged in the teaching of history
- we just happen to call it interpretation. And we are engaged in that
educational effort with different parameters, subjects, and objectives
than many of you are in your classrooms, or in the wide audiences which
read and study your books and articles. But we must all agree that
research without education is meaningless; indeed, I would argue that
all the knowledge in the world is worthless unless we have the ability
to pass it on to others, or, in other words, that research is wasted
unless it can be applied towards some sort of public education.
The other side of applied history is historic
preservation - and that is my bag. For those of us in the NPS, and for
many of our colleagues at the state and local level, and within the
preservation groups and societies, our driving objective and concern is
the preservation of historic resources. Historic preservation is the
field to which I have devoted most of my adult life, and from which my
expertise (if any) derives. And let me assure you that historic
preservation is an inexact science - just as is research and education -
and it is heavily influenced by the "art of the possible"; i.e.,
balancing preservation needs against visitor use demands, political
pressures, and scarce dollars. Just as there will be no final consensus
concerning whom (if anyone) is "at fault" for the Confederate loss at
Gettysburg, there will be no final consensus concerning what the
ultimate "historic landscape" of the Pickett's Charge field should look
And therein lies my first bias. I will not attempt to
debate with you the exact movements of the 1st Minnesota (or any of the
417 regimental positions) on this battlefield. Instead, I will read as
much as I can to improve my general knowledge, and I will listen and
learn from all the experts in the scholarly and academic field.
Likewise, I will question our interpretive methods, to ensure that we
are using our limited educational resources to the best purpose,
acknowledging that many of you are far more capable writers, lecturers,
and interpreters than I ever will be. But I will go toe-to-toe with you
on the fascinating debates concerning historic preservation, as we
continue to discuss and try to implement that "art of the possible."
I'm sure I don't need to remind many people in this
audience of the mission of the NPS; but I will do it anyway. The NPS
mission, which was established in 1916 and has guided our thoughts and
our philosophies ever since, is to:
"conserve the scenery and the natural and historic
objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of
the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired
for the enjoyment of future generations."
This mission gives us two peculiar outlooks upon
First, for most of us, its a mission of love. I
literally interpret the phrase "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future
generations" to mean that it's my purpose in life to guarantee that the
battlefield will be here - unimpaired - for the enjoyment of my
children, my children's children, and my children's children's children.
That's why the NPS tends to think long-term. Our planning time-frames go
much further than the next quarter, the next fiscal year, the next
election, or even the next generation. We plan for "forever."
Our second peculiar outlook is derived from our dual
mission - preservation versus enjoyment - which can often lead us into
some neat dilemmas. For example, the easiest way to ensure "pure
preservation" is to close the park and not let anyone in. That makes
preservation of the resources a whole lot simpler (and would also reduce
our operating budget considerably). But of course, closing the park is
both undesirable and impossible - even attempting to do so would ensure
that you would have the opportunity to meet a new superintendent at next
Pure "enjoyment", on the other hand, would mean
opening the park wide open, for anyone to do whatever they want at any
time. That prospect is equally undesirable. As a result, we are
constantly searching for the middle ground. Or at least we used to. So
herein is my second bias, in answer to that reporter's question:
The criteria for decision-making on this battlefield,
for as long as I am privileged to be here (and I hope that's a good long
time) will be:
#1 - preservation of our historic resources
#2 - public "enjoyment", or education, or
interpretation of those historic resources.
If there is ever a question of the balance between
preservation and use, we will do our best to preserve the historic
resources first, and to make them available to the public second.
Our third priority, in case you are wondering, is to
do whatever we can to build communication and cooperation with all of
our partners in battlefield preservation. This includes, but is not
limited to, our in-house partners such as Eastern National Parks and
Monument Association, the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides,
the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg, and our precious
volunteers; and also our outside partners such as local governments,
Civil War Roundtables, the re-enactment community, and the Civil War
constituency at large. This only makes sense; it doesn't take a rocket
scientist to figure out that the more we can cooperate and work in
concert with one another, the better we can preserve our historic
resources and make them available to the general public.
The Near Future
So, my predictions concerning the very near future.
The initiatives which we have chosen to pursue, in light of the
philosophical criteria outlined above:
- We will convert selected park roads to one-way
status, in order to better preserve the resources, and particularly in
order to provide the general visiting public with a much enhanced
interpretive opportunity on the battlefield. This will inconvenience
some of the local population (by forcing commuters off park roads) and
some of research community (by making them go the long way around to
some of their favorite spots), but we asking those who are
inconvenienced to understand that the higher goal is to provide a better
environment for our visitors to appreciate and learn from this
- We will reduce the deer population. Again, this
will anger some segments of the general public who do not understand the
dramatic impacts which the deer are having upon our ability to restore,
maintain, and interpret the historic landscapes on the battlefield. But
somehow we must explain to those well-meaning folks that the deer are
literally eating us out of house and home. Unfortunately, deer are very
- We will invest more money into the study,
documentation, planning for, and management of historic resources. In
particular, we will invest several hundred thousands of dollars over the
next several years to systematically inventory and document all the
historic resources on the battlefield - including an inventory of our
historic landscapes - and we will then systematically plan for the
restoration and management of those historic landscapes.
And just in case there is any lingering doubt about
what we will concentrate on, let me assure you that according to
everything I have ever read, the Battle of Gettysburg took place in
1863. 1863 will be - and will always be - our primary emphasis, although
we will, of course, continue to interpret and honor the "memorial"
period and all the work and love which was invested in this battlefield
by the veterans themselves during that period. And it is important to
note that none of this investment is "new" money - it will come from
funds normally invested in visitor services in past years (thus
emphasizing my bias of historic preservation first, and enjoyment
- We will do everything we possibly can to build the
Museum of the Civil War. Our purpose in doing this is four-fold: (1) to
provide state-of-the-art storage and curatorial facilities to care for
and preserve our priceless collection of Civil War artifacts (which are
currently moldering in the basement of the Visitor Center), (2) to
provide state-of-the-art storage and archival facilities for our
priceless archival collection (which is currently moldering in the
maintenance complex), (3) to provide expanded space to double or triple
our ability to exhibit and interpret those artifacts to the visiting
public, and (4) to provide an adequate facility to exhibit the Cyclorama
painting, so that we may preserve that priceless object adequately and
so that we may take the cyclorama building off the Union battle
- We will question the way we educate the public,
through a continuous reexamination of our interpretive programs. We do a
first-class job of describing battles and tactics. And we do a very good
job of describing why battles took place - why they were shooting at
each other. Some of my colleagues think that is enough.
- That we should just teach the "facts." But there's
a built-in danger to that philosophy, for when we decide to teach "just
the facts, ma'am", then we screen and select the teaching materials we
use according to our own biases, and we teach people what we think.
The question is, should we be doing more? Should we
be trying to teach people how to think? Should we make all points of
view available to them, and force them to make up their own minds? And
should we be asking them bigger questions? Should we, for example, be
teaching that 620,000 Americans "gave their lives" during the Civil War,
because our political system failed? In other words, because the "old
men" of Congress could failed to agree, 620,000 young men died? Should
we be teaching our visitors that it could possibly happen again?
The "Other" Near Future
In the meantime, however, there are other debates
currently in front of the American public which will inevitably affect
our ability to preserve and interpret this battlefield, and over which
we have very little influence. I am referring, of course, to the 104th
Congress and the Republican Party mandate commonly described as the
"Contract with America." Although we can rest assured that the
Gettysburg battlefield itself is not a direct target of that debate, we
would be foolish to assume that we may not be an indirect causality. I
don't need to describe to you the background of the 1994 Congressional
elections, or the over-all outlines of the "contract." You are all aware
of the "message" which the voters sent last November; that the Federal
Government is too big, that it is interfering unduly with the life of
the common man and with private enterprise, and that it costs too much.
These are all very real concerns and issues, which warrant our mutual
informed debate, questioning, and concern, because the consequences of
this national debate will inevitably affect our ability to preserve this
Why? The answer is simple. When all the rhetoric is
stripped away, the question facing the American public is rather simple
- where do you want your limited resources (tax dollars) applied, and
for what purpose. If the Federal deficit is to be reduced, or if the
Federal budget is to be balanced, then you and I will be faced with some
serious questions: do you want less governmental services, or do you
want to pay more taxes? As I pursue this line of thought, please make no
mistake that preserving the historic resources of this battlefield and
making them available to the American public is, indeed, a government
service which must be paid for to occur.
How does this affect Gettysburg? First, let's take a
look at how it affects the National Park Service, by looking at the raw
numbers. President Clinton's proposed budget for the entire Federal
Government for 1996 is $1.6 trillion. That's a 1, a 6, and 11 zeros. The
President's proposed budget for the entire National Park Service - all
365 parks (including our 24 Civil War parks) - is $1.5 billion.
Therefore, simple division will tell us that the entire budget for the
NPS is .094% of the entire Federal budget - less than one-tenth of one
percent. Another way of calculating the numbers is by stating that for
every $1000 you pay in Federal taxes, the NPS gets 94 cents.
If you want to calculate the percentage of the
federal budget that we currently spend on all 24 civil war parks in the
National Park System, the numbers get even more minuscule. The operating
budget for all 24 civil war parks is $28,843,000, or 2/1000th of 1% of
the total Federal budget, which means that for every $10,000 you pay in
taxes, the NPS gets 20 cents for civil war parks. How about Gettysburg -
is your calculator this powerful? Gettysburg's budget for 1996 is
$3,391,000, which is 2/100,000th of 1% of the Federal budget, which
means for every $100,000 you pay in taxes, Gettysburg gets 20 cents.
(And if you're paying that kind of taxes, I'd like the opportunity to
discuss with you some significant tax advantages of charitable
Now let's take a look at the big numbers. The
projected deficit for the Federal government for 1996 is $196.7 billion
- which is 12% of the total Federal budget. If we're going to balance
the budget by 2002, then we must either cut $200 billion in spending, or
increase tax revenues by a similar amount. The likelihood of taxes
increases seems faint.
So how are we going to reduce spending by $200
billion? The equations become even murkier when we try to decide what
budget categones are cut-able, and which are not. Let's start at the
- Interest on the national debt cannot be cut. In
1996, interest on the national debt will be roughly 256 billion, or 16%
of the total budget. That's off limits.
- National defense. In 1996, national defense is
likewise approximately $256 billion, or 16% of the total budget.
Currently, it appears that it may not be reduced, and there is even some
sentiment that it should be increased. So that appears to be considered
- Social Security. In 1996, social security payments
will be approximately $352 billion, or 22% of the federal budget - the
largest single element in the Federal budget. As you know, the balanced
budget amendment failed to pass the Senate this week, primarily due to
the question of whether social security entitlements should be
considered fair game for reduction. If we decide social security is
cut-able, there's some hope we could balance the budget; if not, the
chances become much dimmer.
- Medicare and Medicaid. In 1996, medicare and
medicaid expenses will be $272 billion, or 17% of the federal budget. We
spent a good part of the last two years debating how to manage our
federal health care dollars, and as you know, failed to come up with a
- Other mandatory spending, which includes all other
entitlement programs, are currently budgeted for $176 billion, or 11% of
the federal budget.
- Foreign aid, which you will see often targeted for
reduction on talk shows, amounts to a mere $16 billion in 1996, or 1% of
the President's proposed budget.
All other domestic programs in the Federal budget
(which includes everything else you can think of that the government
does) - which are often referred to as discretionary spending (and which
includes as a asterisk the budget of the NPS) - amounts to $256 billion,
or the final 16% of the Federal budget.
What does all this mean? Again, let's compare two
numbers. If we delete from the "cut list" all the programs which either
cannot be cut (interest on the debt), which probably will not be cut
(national defense), and which cannot be cut without drastically
curtailing the entitlement programs (social security, medicare,
medicaid, etc) to which we've become accustomed (or dependent), we have
deleted from the "cut list" all but 17% of the federal budget. What's
left is discretionary domestic spending (16%) and foreign aid (1%).
These two budget categories add up to $272 billion; and the current
annual budget deficit is $196.7 billion.
What will happen? I don't know - and neither do you.
But the sole purpose of this long recital is to suggest to you that one
of the most significant debates in the recent history of the United
States is currently taking place. The question to be answered is how
much taxes are too much, and to what purposes those taxes should be
used. If you don't think that the answer will affect the National Park
Service, our 24 civil war battlefield parks, and Gettysburg National
Military Park, then it's time to hit your local library and catch up on
The newspapers and journals today are full of
suggestions - many of them directly from Congressman who sit on the NPS
authorizing subcommittee - to delete parks from the system. Some of the
more radical thinkers have even suggested eliminating the entire NPS and
turning everything over to the states. We don't think this will happen,
but we are concerned about eliminating parks. When you read these
articles, you will always note that everyone is careful to say that they
would preserve the "crown jewels" of the system, such as Yosemite,
Yellowstone and Grand Canyon (and, I presume, such as Gettysburg), but
that we should get rid of parks which have no "national significance."
Unfortunately, there never has been and never will be consensus on what
a "crown jewel" may be, or upon what "national significance" may be.
There is a very great likelihood that your definitions will not agree
with mine. I can almost guarantee, however, that some of our smaller
Civil War parks, such as Stones River, Fort Pulaski, and Pea Ridge will
not meet someone's definition.
Now, it seems to me that trying to balance the
federal budget on top of the NPS is fairly hopeless, given some of the
numbers we have reviewed. If we did decide to eliminate the entire NPS,
remember, we would reduce the current deficit by $1.5 billion, or by
8/10ths of 1%. It seems somewhat akin to trying to pay off your mortgage
by eliminating your kids allowance. But then I've already admitted that
I am biased.
So the point to this whole discussion is to get to my
third bias of the evening. If you are interested in the civil war, and
if you are interested in the preservation of our battlefields, then you
had better take part in this debate. And you had better bring the debate
down to your personal level. If preservation of civil war battlefields
is important to you, then you need to ask yourself whether it's
important enough that you are willing to pay increased taxes to fund
that preservation, or if you are willing to take a reduction in your
social security payments to fund that preservation. It's as simple as
that. And it seems to me that if you're not participating in that
debate, and if you're not willing to make that personal sacrifice, then
you cannot really say that you are interested in battlefield
The Distant Future
Finally, let's take a few guesses at what might
happen in the next 100 years.
#1 - I think it would be a mistake to assume that
we'd still be here; that either Gettysburg National Military Park or the
National Park Service would exist 100 years from now. Why? Simply
because no one can predict that far (after all, no one could have
predicted the existence of the NPS 100 years ago).
#2 - I think it would be a mistake to assume that the
battle of Gettysburg, or even the Civil War, will still be considered
relevant - and thus worth preserving - 100 years from now. Part of this
assumption comes from known social trends that we can all track and
assess. For example,
- The civil war constituency - like our visitors - is
currently dominated by the white, male, portion of the population. Males
far outweigh the females in both our visitorship, and in membership in
civil war associations; and whites far, far outnumber blacks, hispanics,
and other minorities in both visitorship and membership.
- If we're going to survive, we must reverse this
trend. Let's talk about women first, if only because (according to the
American Travel Council) women make 80% of the leisure decisions in the
United States. If this, and other Civil War parks, are going to survive
the economic and social trends of the future, we are going to be forced
to change the way we think. We have plainly failed to make the civil war
as interesting or as relevant to women as it is to men; and we have done
that by concentrating on battles, tactics, and regimental histories. As
a group, we largely ignore the social aspects of the civil war, both
within the armies and within the civilian sector.
As my own wife is prone to remind me, the year that
we spent separated while I was in Vietnam were just as formative to her
life (and her outlook on life) as was mine. Why don't we spend more time
talking about the incredible impact of the war upon women and domestic
life, as hundreds of thousands of families both North and South were
forced to eke out a living without their husbands and sons; as they were
forced to rear their children, farm their land, take in domestic work,
or hire out for day labor in order to make ends meet; some for the
duration of the war; many for the duration of their lives? Until we
learn to make the Civil War more relevant to women, we will not be able
to count upon their support for the continued tax dollars required for
preservation of our battlefields.
- We have utterly failed to appeal to the black
population of America, for very different reasons. Theoretically, blacks
should be intensely interested in the Civil War, but they are not. I
would speculate that a reasonable portion of that is due to their
understandable reluctance to dwell upon an historical period in which
they were considered sub-human by a majority of the white population
both north and south. That is understandable.
But a larger portion of this failure is our own
fault. In our current interpretive efforts to honor both the Union and
the Confederate forces which fought on our battlefields, we have bent
over backwards to avoid any notion of fixing blame for the war - to talk
about who was right and who was wrong in this great struggle. If we are
catering exclusively to the white portion of our population, this makes
sense. For the black, it does not. It is abundantly clear to them who
was wrong, and no academic argument ever printed will convince them
otherwise. In their view, the only and sole purpose of the Confederate
States of America was to permanently and perpetually keep the black race
in bondage. To them, there can be no question that the South was
"wrong." That is also very understandable.
- Yet we are extremely reluctant to tackle that
issue, partially due to our sense of "fairness" - which only extends to
our white constituency - and partially, I would suggest, due to the
still-lingering affects of the "myth of the lost cause." Jeffery Wert
was exactly right, when he remarked that although the North may have won
the war, the South has won the history. As long as we perceive the
Confederacy to be tinged with an element of romance, we will fail to
make the Civil War and our battlefields relevant to our black
population, and we will fail to win their support for the continued
preservation of these fields.
- And we have not even tried to make the Civil War
relevant to our fellow citizens of Hispanic descent, who by the end of
the 20th century will no longer be a minority, but will be the majority
- the largest segment of our population. How can we make this war, this
struggle, and this battlefield significant to them? I don't know, but
unless we figure it out, we will quickly lose our relevance, and with it
our place in history.
Finally, who can guess what other political, social,
and economic trends will arise over the next 100 years. If we look at
the last 100 years, we can hazard at least one more fairly standard
prediction, based upon what has happened in the past.
- Ever since the classical debates between Jefferson
and Hamilton, the political pendulum has swung back and forth rather
steadily between the notion of "big government" versus "small
government." Jefferson was a small government advocate, Hamilton was
big, and the debate which they started has never been settled for
It is no accident, though, that events around this
battlefield can be directly traced to the prevailing theories which
reigned supreme at the time. It is more than a coincidence that the
landmark Supreme Court case establishing the theory of eminent domain,
which allowed the Federal government to condemn the Gettysburg Electric
Railway line, followed closely upon the heals of the Panic of 1893. That
panic signaled - as all economic downturns do - that perhaps private
enterprise should not be trusted with the nation's future, and that
perhaps we would be better off with a little more Federal government
control of the private marketplace. Again, it should not be considered
an accident that the creation of Gettysburg National Military Park - in
essence, the assumption by the Federal government of an obligation which
was previously considered appropriate for the private sector - was done
in the immediate post-panic years.
- Nor should we consider the transfer of this park to
the National Park Service in 1933 to be an accident. 76 parks were added
to the NPS during Roosevelt's first administration - fully one-fifth of
our entire current system. Again, this huge increase in the NPS can
logically be read to reflect the near-total loss of faith in the
capitalistic (free enterprise) system during the Great Depression, and
the new-found faith in the power of the Federal Government. As Mark
Snell remarked, there was in the 1930s a great sense of comfort in a
strong central government.
- That pendulum between big government and small
government wash shoved in the opposite direction by the voters last
fall; for how long is anybody's guess. There is no doubt that these
trends will continue to fluctuate over the next 100 years. As economic,
social, and political issues ebb and flow, so will ebb and flow the
fortunes of the National Park Service, the historic preservation
community, and our Civil War battlefields.
So what's going to happen to Gettysburg National
Military Park over the next 100 years. I don't know. But as I suggested
earlier, it's up to us, for our system really does represent the "will
of the people." Let's just be careful what we ask for, and let's be
willing to pay for what we ask.
In closing, let me leave you with one last set of
promises, as we try to peer into the mists of the future. As long as we
are able, we will continue to do our very best to preserve this
battlefield for the enjoyment of this and all succeeding generations. We
owe nothing less than our fullest devotion and care, to the memories of
those who fought and died here, to the memory of the veterans who
established and cared for this shrine, and to the memory of all those,
both public and private, who have preceded us in this duty.
As we do that, we will continue to make mistakes, and
we will continue to try to learn from our mistakes. Finally, we will
continue to ask for your help - your assistance, your guidance, your
support, and your criticisms - for we cannot do it alone. This job is
much too big and much too important to leave to us. Please join us.