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RESTORING THE HONOR OF THE FALLEN
by Bob Brooke
 

The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

                                                                                                                              President Abraham Lincoln
                                                                                                                              Gettysburg Address

In the rolling hills of south-central Pennsylvania lies the once sleepy town of Gettysburg. Sleepy, that is, until one fateful day in July, 1863, when history changed all that. From the moment the last skirmish ended, curiosity seekers have made their way to the site of one of the most important battles of the Civil War. Others, too, have come seeking to pay homage to the dead, for it's to the thousands who died courageously here that this battlefield is dedicated.

Gettysburg has more monuments than any other battlefield—1,340 at last count. The reason for this is quite simple. In the days following the battle, those immediately touched by the death of fallen loved ones and the nation needed a way to express their grief. Nothing as devastating had happened to this young nation and monuments were a way of showing honor. Also, the battle took place in the midst of the Victorian Age, a time when death was a morbid fascination.

The average visitor to Gettysburg can't comprehend the awesome tragedy that happened there. Today, the rolling fields are as calm as before the battle, except for the hoards of tourists who flock there daily. It's only by studying the heroic faces on the men sculpted in bronze that the reason for the battle can be somewhat understood.

Despite their great numbers, their beauty, and their artistic and symbolic variety, the Gettysburg memorials receive only casual interpretation. Without much interpretation, visitors must rely on their own knowledge of the memorials' significance and of the historical contexts in which they were created.

An important feature of Gettysburg, the memorials represent an aspect of history almost ignored—the commemorative development of historic landscapes over time. Generation after generation has immortalized this battlefield. In fact, the latest monument to those who fought from the state of Maryland, will be dedicated this November.

Representing a long commemorative aftermath that has added richness and variety to the battlefield's history and appearance, the memorials, themselves, are historical phenomena worthy of more than a passing glance.

Why were more monuments erected at Gettysburg than anywhere else? To begin with, not only was the Civil War the most traumatic conflict this nation has endured, it also occurred during the Victorian era, a time of extensive monumentation. During this time, memorials were a popular extension of public sentiment.

Also, widely reproduced photographs of the Civil War and, later, of the newly erected monuments further instilled in the public's mind the idea of memorialization. Thus, the Civil War battlefields of the 1860s, like Gettysburg, became natural outlets for an outpouring of sentiment expressed in granite, marble, and bronze.

In addition, by the last decade of the 19th century, governments at every level--federal, state, and local--had become well established. Great corporate and individual wealth existed as well. A catastrophic war had concluded and people were able to afford to commemorate it.

Veteran's groups and other patriotic organizations encouraged the building of these memorials. Except for Grover Cleveland, every president from Ulysses S. Grant through William McKinley was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), as were many congressmen. The efforts of these groups culminated in the establishment of Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields as national military parks. In addition, the new law called for memorialization, which had, by this time, already begun.

Preserving the land that a battle was fought on alone doesn't present a specific perspective of that battle. Memorials, on the other hand, interpret a battle by highlighting certain parts of the conflict to be remembered. Marking the location of important encounters and recalling acts by individuals, regiments, and entire armies, the memorials embody memory and legend.

Noted for their elegant bronze and stone sculpture, and for their unique and varied designs, the Gettysburg memorials are more valuable, perhaps, for the information they offer about the soldiers and their positions, actions and casualties--information based on the soldiers' own personal experiences.

In all, there are ten different types of monuments at Gettysburg. By 1912, the United States War Department had placed more than 350 tablets and markers to explain the roles of specific military units. These included: headquarters markers, distinguished by cannon tubes pointed skyward; battery tablets, describing the actions of artillery batteries (Union batteries had six guns, Confederate batteries four); Confederate brigade markers, with round bases, describing the positions of Confederate Brigades, each containing 1,600 men; and Union brigade markers, with square bases, describing the positions of Union Brigades, each containing 1,500 men.

Some state memorials were erected soon after the battle. These commemorate all the soldiers from a particular state. Ten Confederate and five Union states are represented. The two most dramatic are the Pennsylvania Memorial, the largest containing the names of more than 34,250 soldiers who defended their native soil, and the Virginia Memorial, the most sculptural. the North Carolina Monument features the sculpture of Gutson Borglum, the artist who carved Mount Rushmore. In addition, generals and other notable persons are commemorated with bronze statues.

Regimental monuments, the most numerous on the battlefield, commemorate state militia and U.S. Regular Army regiments of 300-400 men. Erected by veteran volunteers and the various state legislatures, these are normally placed at the center of regiment's line of battle. The states of Pennsylvania and New York placed the most regimental monuments with 123 and 108 respectively. Unfortunately, there are few from the Confederacy. To the left and right of regimental markers are flank markets marking the regiment's flanks, or ends.

Four state infantry divisions—the 23rd and 96th Pennsylvania, the 93rd New York, and the 1st Maryland—all have monuments commemorating their dead comrades.

Today, visitors to Gettysburg are seeing something of a miracle, even if they don't realize it. Just as the wounds of the Civil War have been healed, so have the ravages of time and weather on many of the monuments to the fallen. An ambitious, on-going restoration and preservation program at the Battlefield has successfully restored many of the monuments. Two of the most dramatic restorations are those of the Pennsylvania and Virginia State Monuments. Both were done on site using a unique method of walnut-shell blasting to remove corrosion. Afterwards, the original color, often found in protected areas, is brought back to the bronze. Each was given a coat of a corrosion protectant and waxed. Some monuments have been left their corrosive green color, though fully protected from further corrosion.

As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently said, "the world can never forget what they [the soldiers] did here," as long as the monuments erected in their honor remain.

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