Bringing the Battlefield to Life

monument This tablet was placed on the south slope of Little Round Top in memory of Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent on August 1, 1878. Vincent was mortally wounded on that spot.

Monument DebateSilent sentries stand their ground on the Gettysburg Battlefield. Marking both Union and Confederate battle lines, the monuments at Gettysburg tell stories of glory and valor during the three-day battle in July 1863. The story of the monuments at Gettysburg, though, tells of a fight that continues to this very day.

Ever since 1867, when the 1st Minnesota Infantry placed a memorial urn in the National Cemetery, the placement of monuments on this battlefield has been a hot topic of interest and debate for battle veterans and historians alike.

On August 1, 1878, a small tablet was placed on the south slope of Little Round Top to the memory of Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent who was mortally wounded on that spot. Massachusetts followed in 1879, placing a tablet to the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry on the edge of Spangler’s Meadow honoring the men who died in a morning attack as a result of an order their colonel called "murder".

As the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battlefield approached, the rush to add monuments to the battlefield intensified. States assisted veterans in their efforts by appropriating money for monument construction, offering, by the turn of the century, anywhere from Wisconsin’s $3,000 to Pennsylvania’s $400,000.

After the fiftieth anniversary the southern states made a serious effort to memorialize their citizen soldiers who had fought and died on the Gettysburg Battlefield. But the rebel veterans were getting old, the Southern states were broke, and there was still a degree of opposition from the northern veterans. The South’s surviving veterans had little chance of matching the North’s proliferation of regimental monuments. A notable case is ‘the 2nd fight for Little Round Top’ by Col. William Oates, who tried in vain to get a monument to his regiment behind Joshua Chamberlain’s line.

In the end, the southern states settled on the idea of creating a single memorial from each state to honor the sacrifice of all of their respective soldiers. Virginia led the charge by erecting its magnificent memorial, topped by Robert E. Lee on his horse, Traveller, in 1917. It wasn’t until 1982, with the completion of the Tennessee State Memorial, that each southern state had a monument at Gettysburg. One positive result of the policy restricting the location of Confederate monuments is that much of the ground over which they advanced is uncluttered, appearing today much as it did at the time of the battle.

Even when it was agreed that a monument should be erected, the placement of the monument was often an object of great debate. The classic example is the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry memorial monument at the Angle, the position of which was determined by a protracted and bitter lawsuit that went all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Created/Published Boston and New York
Jno. B. Bachelder, c1863
A major player in this and other controversies was John Bachelder. Until his death in 1894, Bachelder was considered the leading historian of the battle of Gettysburg. Since the moment the smoke cleared, Bachelder had been at the heart of the effort to determine the exact location of each fighting unit. By 1873, Bachelder had accompanied over one thousand veterans on the field, placing wooden markers where the veterans said they fought.

Ever the entrepreneur, Bachelder created tour books, isometric troop position maps, battlefield prints (see photo) and a written history of the battle. His most important contribution, though, may be that he led the drive to mark Confederate battle lines so future generations could see a balanced picture of the battlefield.

The most complete story on the battlefield can be found in the hundreds of tables and markers put up by the park service in the early nineteen hundreds. Their commission was to write in Bronze and Granite, 'without praise and without censure', the history of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. Unlike the case of the regimental monuments, both sides are equally represented by the park markers and tablets.

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