Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Let’s stop bashing the Park Service over tree cutting

One begins to wonder, after the umpteenth letter to the editor is published decrying the tree removal at Gettysburg National Military Park, if the Gettysburg Times has surreptitiously taken a stance against the Battlefield Rehabilitation efforts.

Time and again people write to declare their horror at the removal of [eventually] over 500 acres of non-historic trees. Not one has mentioned the addition of over 100 acres of historically restored tree-lots, nor the large infusion of orchards that has occurred over the past several years.

On numerous occasions, people like Bobbie Platts and others have written to explain that although the Gettysburg Battlefield is a natural wonder in its own right, it exists today as a Military Park, the purpose of which is the interpretation, and understanding of the historic battle that took place on these fields, and the education of both the public and the military about what happened here, and how it happened, what decisions were made, and why, and determining the flows and outcomes of the battle based on those decisions. That is military history. That is also good historical practice.

Early on in the process the southern slope of Little Round Top was cleared of undergrowth, exposing the flank markers of the 83rd Pennsylvania. Once thought to have been a part of a continuous line of defense at the crest of Little Round Top, the clearing away of the undergrowth revealed a different story...a defense in depth, with angles of fire covering inviting gaps between regiments. Thus, the "history" that had been written now has to be re-written. So also the story of the attacks fended off on Oak Hill by Baxter's Brigade on the first day.

One need only to ride or walk down West Confederate Avenue below the Armory to understand how frustrated the Confederate artillerists were when they moved into line on Seminary Ridge late on the first day, only to face the same Union artillerist they had just forced off the first day's field, now arrayed on Cemetery Hill, and clearly visible to the Rebs. Prior to the tree clearing there simply was no real meaning for the presence of Confederate Artillery along that stretch of Park roadway. Even a vivid imagination had difficulty trying to picture it.

Several years ago the "Codori Thicket", located along Plum Run south of "Pickett's Charge", was full of non-historic trees and shrubs. Park personnel germinated seeds donated by the Friends of the National Park at Gettysburg and planted 16,000 of them on the newly cleared banks of Plum Run. The shrubs are now restored as is the Codori Thicket. Now, not only the story of the Confederate Brigades under Wilcox and Lang versus the 1st Minnesota on the second day, and the same two brigades versus the Vermont Brigade under General Stannard on the third [during Pickett's Charge] can be fully appreciated and -- finally --- properly interpreted and understood, but the Chesapeake Bay watershed got improved protection by this action.

It may take ten to fifteen years before the restored wood lots and orchards are mature enough to actually offer an understanding of where troops took cover, formed up for advances, or built lines to defend against enemy assaults, under the protection of the trees, which not only shielded them from view, but sometimes offered protection from enemy guns.

Again, this is good historical practice.

So is the insistence on maintaining the monuments and markers placed on the battlefield in many case by the survivors of the battle. Indeed, they do accurately mark the location of units throughout the battle. Their presence serves to aid the viewer in picturing the lines of battle.

The Park Service staff have thoroughly researched the condition of the battlefield prior to the battle with a great deal of professionalism and in a great deal of detail. As outlined in the GNMP website article
[
http://www.nps.gov/gett/parknews/gett-battlefield-rehab.htm] written by Dr. Latschar, the Military Engineering principles taught at West Point prior to the Civil War were used to examine the field's terrain for avenues of approach, observation points, obstacles, cover and concealment, key and decisive terrain areas, and viewsheds. Most are points used to analyze terrain for military [army] use in battle.

We cannot watch a replay of the battle on these fields. We cannot experience here the sounds, the smoke, the smells of the battle, but, with the help of the park under the brilliantly crafted management plan to restore these fields to their condition as near as possible to the day of the battle, we can use our minds' eye to understand the events that took place on these fields on those three days in July of 1863, with an accuracy that had begun to fade twenty years after the battle. Under Dr. Latschar's leadership, this program has been carried out with a dedication and precision by the Park staff that will serve as a model for preservation and restoration of historic areas far into the future. Indeed, it has already done so in new projects at Manassas and Vicksburg, using the Gettysburg Model as presented by Dr. Latschar at meeting of the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation in the fall of this year.

As for Gettysburg National Military Park, though many trees are gone, and more will go in the not too distant future, others are being planted. To the casual visitor, the open fields and vistas from places like Little Round Top [from which one can see the entire field from South Confederate Avenue all the way up to the Peace Light Memorial, around to the current Cyclorama Center, and to the top of Cemetery Hill] offer ways to see where most of the separate actions that made up the Battle of Gettysburg took place. The View from Little Round Top offers the scope of the great battle that occurred here, spreading it out over the acreage of the local farms, and into the town itself. When the current Cyclorama Center and Visitors center are gone, replaced by the new Visitors Center and Museum, that view from Little Round Top will include the restored Ziegler's Grove, which sheltered Union troops at the foot of Cemetery Hill.

Stand behind the statue rock of General G. K. Warren on Little Round Top and you can see all the field except the XIth Corps area north of town from the first day's fight, and the Culp's Hill area. This is the same reason Warren was on Little Round Top: in a brief instant he could sweep the field with his binoculars, take in what was happening all over it, and with his Military Engineer's training, make decisions for his commander, General Meade, that would affect the outcome of the battle. On his shoulders, as on those of General Buford, and General Reynolds [and later confirming decisions by Generals Hancock and Howard], are the decisions that won the Battle of Gettysburg.

Those who come here to tour and soak in the general history -- the casual tourist, will go away with perhaps a greater understanding of what occurred here -- the size and scope of the field, the enormous armies on both sides, and the unbelievably high casualty rate.

The historians, amateur and professional, will take away a greater understanding of the terrain of the field, the flow of the battle, the decisions made by the generals, colonels, and other officers, and the effects of all of these factors on the troops. Most will be inspired to further their knowledge of the battle, the war, and American History in general.

The serious military historian will come away from here with a valuable understanding of the battle, perhaps down to the regimental and company level, with an understanding of why a colonel would halt his troops on one side of a hill to dress his lines before cresting the hill, and continuing his advance toward the enemy, the obstacles and shelter points used like the orchard and wheat field the 114th Pennsylvania [Collis's Zouaves] would use for cover during the artillery duel before Longstreet's second-day assault.

Several of those historians will return to their units, possibly in the field of some conflict. Others will return to their institutions of higher learning and teach current and future military leaders how to use that knowledge to protect the troops under their command, thus ensuring more of them survive and return home, and do so victoriously.

Visit the Battlefield at almost any time of the year and you will see them, by the busload, or by the carloads, young men and women and middle aged ones, in short hair, sometimes in uniform, often in civvies. They come to see where the principles of military warfare were practiced, which ones worked, which ones did not. They will continue their military careers with that knowledge in mind. And they will be better leaders, and safer ones for it.

No one likes to see a tree taken down, except perhaps a developer. But this is, after all, Gettysburg National Military Park, not Gettysburg National Wilderness Area. There are times that it becomes necessary to remove trees…to protect, or to restore. At Gettysburg, it is to restore.

Once and for all, let us put this canard to rest, and stop knocking the NPS staff at Gettysburg for doing what they are tasked to do under charter of Congress – administer a national level historic military site, not a recreation park.

The views are simply more stunning historically than the views with the non-historic trees were appealing. And that is in keeping with the mission of the national Park Service at Gettysburg National Military Park.

William G. Davis
Gettysburg, PA

This was submitted to the Gettysburg Times on December 19th by the author, a friend of ours. He is a local historian and a volunteer with the Park Watch Program.

There was no response. A follow up inquiry also met with stony silence.

Apparently the Times does not like being unmasked. Apparently the Times staff is pretty damned rude as well.

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2 comments:

The Informant said...

Apparently, somewhere amid your never-ending critique of the Gettysburg Times, you must have missed Scott Pitzer’s two part interview with Dr. Latschar that was recently printed, and drew many accolades.

And apparently, while you’ve been drinking your pro-GNMP kool-aid, you’ve ignored the fact that the GAO is investigating GNMP. When can your esteemed readers expect to read a blog about the GAO’s visits to Gettysburg?

GettysBLOG said...

Whoa, Nelly. You need a rabies shot Informant.

I read the article. If you think it backs up your implications about Dr. Latshar you are imbibing in your own kool-aid.

What does the GAO investigation have to do with the effects of the tree removal program and the Gettysburg Times' obvious penchant for needling the park about it. The Times publishes letters to the editor repeatedly that criticise the park for cutting down trees. These letters have been answered, with great patience and correctness several times, not only by Bobbie Platts, but also by Dr. Latschar himself.

Apparently the Times doesn't care. The Gettysburg Times stance on many items has been questionable.

Look to those issues.

Regardless of your personally invective laden diatribe, you totlally miss the point of the post.

What the National Park Service has done here at Gettysburg is truly remarkable and warrants a major re-write of the history to have it conform with the land as it was in 1863. It is a major accomplishment in historical restoration. We can think of no other historical restoration projects as vast as this that have been accomplished as well as this one here.

Unfortunately for you, this means we need to recognize the accomplishment of the man who led the way on this project, and say good things about him. Dr. John Latschar has accomplished something important here in Gettysburg, and for that he needs to be recognized.

Start your own blog if you want to criticize people but in response to this post here, you are off base and out of line.

Don't look for publication of any more comments from of yours by us.

If you don't have the stones to stand up and salute someone who has made a major accomplishment to the benefit of all, then you don't deserve a voice in public.