Brandy Station, Virginia, was the site of the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War in June 1863.
America's battlefields teach us about some of the most important events in our history. We also value them because they commemorate the selfless sacrifices made by our ancestors who fought there. They inspire us to contemplate the meaning of the battle, its causes, its cost, and consequences. They connect us to our past with such timeless virtues as duty, loyalty, honor, and courage, as well as cowardice, brutality, fear, and despair.
No battlefield stands today exactly as it did at the time of war. Many changes have taken place since that time. A cover of grass has grown. Fields have been planted. Fortifications have eroded, wood lots have been planted or cut down, and new buildings have been erected.
Today's battlefield is a record not only of the conflict, but also of change, some of which may be important in its own right. The battlefield we see today is a sum of many parts, all of which teach us about our past.
During the Texas War of Independence in 1836, 190 volunteers lost their lives defending this 1744 mission chapel in San Antonio, when Mexico's leader, Santa Anna, stormed the "fort" with his army of 5,000. The seige and battle lasted 13 days.
Look out over the land where warriors and soldiers bravely fought and died, the old farmhouse where the wounded were treated by nurses and volunteers, the church on the hilltop where commanders planned their strategy, or the remnants of a fortification once so strong it held safe the future of a nation.
You can almost see the bayonets flash, hear the guns and war cries, feel the cannon roar, and sense the bravery, pain, and suffering. Battlefields are special places because they evoke vivid images and awaken our shared emotions. Here is the sacred ground where we honor those who fought and feel a connection to our past. By visiting these sites, we gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for what took place.
There is more to a battlefield than immediately meets the eye. An important piece of this irreplaceable landscape is the reality of that long-ago battle that lies hidden underground.
By the 1930s, modern-day San Antonio was "closing in" on the Alamo and its grounds. Archeological evidence documenting past events needs to be carefully preserved for future generations.
This is the archeological evidence of the momentous and mundane events that took place here decades, hundreds, or even thousands of years ago. Through the protection, study, and interpretation of this evidence, we can enhance our own understanding of those events, and we can ensure that the battle, itself, is more than just a memory in an ever-changing world.
Preserving our historic battlefields is the only way to ensure that future generations of Americans will continue to value and learn from them. Unfortunately, many of these battlefields have already been destroyed and many more are at great risk of disappearing forever.