First Place, Senior Essay Contest 2010

Julian Lutz, 7th Grade

Teacher:  Kimberly Shammo
School:  Saint Hilary of Poitiers School: Rydal, PA

"Take Action: Save Civil War Battlefields" 

"Sadly, but not with upbraiding,
 The generous deed was done,
 In the storm of the years that are fading
 No braver battle was won"
    -Francis M. Finch, The Blue and the Gray

Think of America as it appeared in 1864: The Spring winds whistle through the trees, and sparrows sing. You stand by a dusty roadside, taking deep breaths of clean Virginia air. Suddenly, sharp reports come from down the Germanna Plank Road. Soon, bugle calls and the rumble of shoes and hooves erupt through the air. The battle of the Wilderness is on. It will rage for two days, leaving 22,000 Americans dead, the Wilderness scorched, and the history of the war forever changed. This was the beginning of the end: Grant’s overland campaign. I chose the Wilderness action for a reason: for such a horrific and important battle, precious little of the battlefield is protected, and developments, including a certain superstore, are forcing an advance onto the hallowed ground. The cause of the preservationist is simple: To protect history by protecting America’s historic locations. Why do I and so many others fight this fight? Because we must! We must- for conscience, education, beauty, and practicality.

 "So with an equal splendor,
  The morning sun-rays fall,
  With a touch impartially tender,
  On the blossoms blooming for all
    -Francis M. Finch, The Blue and the Gray

"How dear and dreadful they are to the earth." 
    -Walt Whitman, Beginners

Our battlefields are more than green space and monuments- they can help communities. My community (Abington, PA) organizes charter bus tours to destinations across the country, including Gettysburg. I love that battlefield- and when I stroll through the hills and forests, I am reminded of the tales of hell and heroism of which we are all so familiar- and I am moved, and immortally inspired. Gettysburg is also a good example of what happens when preservationists and developers reach a modest agreement: The town and its inhabitants are very aware of their history, physically as well as mentally. Yet, unlike in many small towns, it is not a 45 minute drive to a movie theater or reasonably sized shopping mall. It is serene, but not dead boring. Indeed, other than apples, tourism and the cluster of businesses based around the battlefield are the principal income in Gettysburg. Public works and services are well funded, which benefits the people. Gettysburg also knows how to turn an honest profit on their surroundings. A battlefield is a credit to a town and its citizens, and it does more for a community than a strip mall or casino ever could!

"No more shall the war cry sever,
 Or the winding rivers be red;
 They banish our anger forever
 When they laurel the graves of our dead"
    -Francis M. Finch, The Blue and they Gray

Our battlefields are also the last true, physical reminder of The War of the Rebellion. Of course, we can look at photos of what our battlefields looked like- but then, we never will see a flock of Dodo, or hear anyone speak Natchez, and, likewise, we will probably never see Fort Sedgwick again-just old photos, descriptions, and an abandoned superstore. And it’s a wholly unsatisfying experience. To really see and feel history when you can is truly riveting- I felt it when I played an antique bugle, or when I talk to a veteran. But our historic articles, and, sadly, people, tend to leave us earlier than we’d like- an estimated 1,800 WWII veterans die daily. That is what is unique about our battlefields- they will not die, fade, rust, or evaporate. They have the potential to last forever. Except for natural disasters, they can remain pristine reminders of our shared heritage. But our battlefields cannot protect themselves. And that is exactly why we must respect, protect, and cherish our historic sites- if not for the benefit of the community or individual, but for the future. When the flags furled, the cannon silenced, and the armies disbanded, the battlefield is our last reminder of the Civil War. That it is our manifest responsibility as Americans to make a place for the past in the future.

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