Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

By Earl J. Hess | Go to book overview

Appendix 2
Preserving the Field Fortifications at Gettysburg

The fieldworks at Gettysburg are probably the most famous of any campaign in the East from 1861 through early 1864. The Twelfth Corps fortifications on Culp's Hill garner the lion's share of the attention. This is a curious circumstance, considering that Chancellorsville saw much greater use of fieldworks and all the fortifications at Gettysburg are very simple, modest constructions. The earthworks used in the Peninsula campaign also were more extensive and complex than those at Gettysburg. But the reason for this disparity of attention is not difficult to ascertain: the public's view of Gettysburg as the preeminent engagement of the Civil War. If something was done at this battle, it automatically gained more attention regardless of its intrinsic value, or lack of it, in the general course of the war. In addition, Gettysburg was fought in the midst of a relatively wealthy population that could afford to expend the resources to preserve relics of the battle.

Local residents initiated efforts to preserve the field fortifications soon after Lee left their town. "These works, for the most part, yet remain as they were at the close of the battle," wrote Professor Michael Jacobs of Gettysburg College in February 1864. He "hoped that they may continue untouched, as a memento of the battle, and as objects of grateful wonder, until time itself shall cause them to decay." More than a year later, journalist John T. Trowbridge found at Culp's Hill a "rude embankment of stakes and logs and stones, covered with earth." He also discovered "little private breastworks consisting of rocks heaped by a tree or beside a larger rock, or across a cleft in the rocks, where some sharpshooter exercised his skill at his ease."

The Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association was created in 1864 to oversee the preservation of the battlefield. It existed until the federal government took over in 1893. The association engaged in what would be questionable work by modern standards, rebuilding artillery lunettes and rock breastworks without strict regard to accuracy. It reconstructed the gun emplacements on Cemetery Hill, adding some in places where veterans of the battle did not remember works at all. It built others up so that they "seemed to me larger and more elaborate than my recollection would make them at the time of the battle," thought Capt. R. Bruce Ricketts. Local civic leader David Wills wrote to Governor Andrew Curtin in March 1864 that the artillery emplacements on Cemetery Hill "have already been very much defaced. They were made, first by piling up rails and then throwing up earth on top. The

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