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Gettysburg Seminar Papers

GETTYSBURG 1895-1995:
The Shaping of an American Shrine
 

Gettysburg:The Next 100 Years
Dr. John A. Latschar
Superintendent
Gettysburg National Military Park

Introduction

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, and

(3) ask some questions about the distant future - the rest of the 100 years.

History

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 different.

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 like.

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."

NPS Mission

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 life:

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 year's seminar.

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 battlefield.

- 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 cute.

- 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 second).

- 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 lines.

- 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 battlefield.

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 donations.)

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 top:

- 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 off limits.

- 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 solution.

- 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 your research.

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 preservation.

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 long.

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.

Closing

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.

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