History Under Siege - 2009 Most Endangered Battlefields
Battle of Gettysburg
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North came to a halt at Gettysburg, Pa., when elements of his army met a portion of Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s force. The struggle over the surrounding farmland erupted into the largest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War. For three days 160,000 men punished each other on the battlefield. Lee’s attacks carried the first day, but Meade blunted Confederate assaults on the second. On July 3, 1863, Union forces successfully repelled a massive Confederate frontal assault known to history as Pickett’s Charge.
The Union claimed victory but at a horrific price — more than 50,000 men killed, wounded and missing. Four months later, President Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg to help consecrate the new national cemetery. There, he uttered “a few appropriate remarks” to honor the fallen and give purpose to the ongoing struggle, reinvigorating the nation with his vision of its “new birth of freedom.”
Although Gettysburg is the best-known of all Civil War battlefields, it nonetheless faces threats to its preservation and interpretation. Many historically significant locations on the battlefield lie outside the boundaries of Gettysburg National Military Park and are vulnerable to residential or commercial development. Currently, a Comfort Suites hotel is under construction on Cemetery Hill, immediately adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery on Baltimore Pike, the road to the newly built visitor center. Preservationists are following all construction along this corridor carefully, hoping to thwart the type of development that marred the previous visitor center’s location.
Another threatened property lies northwest of town along Route 30, the Chambersburg Pike. The Gettysburg Country Club, scene of Confederate attacks on McPherson Ridge, went bankrupt in the summer of 2008. Although the National Park Service and other conservation groups pursued the land, the astronomical asking price has thus far prevented a preservation-based solution. A January 2009 sheriff’s auction failed to sell the property and the fate of the land remains uncertain.
CWSAC has classified Gettysburg as a Priority I, Class A battlefield — its highest designation.