As I was reading this blog post about Irish family members, it really made me think about the “simpler times” during the Civil War and how heartbreaking it must have been for the Irish families searching for their loved ones. Since there was no mass media or internet, it was more difficult to keep track of soldiers within the battles of war. Some Irish families would pay $1 to put in an advertisement to help search for loved ones lost in battle in the New York Irish-American. The advertisements contained some information on the soldier (age, hometown, rank, etc.) and where he was last seen and the ads would be put up in three issues. Not only is it hard to send off a loved one to war, but also having to sit and wonder when or if he will come back. Sometimes, men would be dead for months before their families even found out about him. In today’s world, when you have someone close to you sent off to war, you usually find out their current state on a regular basis. Back in the Civil War days, it wasn’t the case. Since finding out about soldiers was seen as a waiting game to these Irish families, I could only imagine the grief they must have felt as the months went on, constantly wondering whether their son or brother was dead, captured, or (hopefully) alive and well. Although receiving news of a loved ones death is tragic, we are lucky to be living in a time of advance communication because back in those days, the waiting of that kind of news could almost be just as bad as the news itself.
Career: Wildlife Science
“Poor Virginia…By her officious subservience, however, she got her paw into the fire, and how dreadfully it is burned only those who are on her soil can form any idea. Everywhere is the destruction going on. Her soil is the battlefield, and, so far as the destruction of property is concerned, it matters but little which party is successful” (Castleman, 21). This quote, taken from the diary of Alfred Lewis Castleman, gives a visual to the kind of physical toll that certain areas and states in the U.S. suffered and what damage the war caused. Within the Civil War, there were many important battlefields and war sites that were key areas in the war and to this day are being conserved for historic purposes, which must be maintained carefully. The damage done during the war leaves many sites, forests, and artifacts very fragile and difficult to keep preserved. As I am focusing my education on wildlife and forest conservation, I will be looking at how Civil War sites are being preserved and how certain Civil War parks are run and how they are critical aspects in keeping the physical history of the war intact.
The Civil War had many bloody battles in the different parts of the United States and many battlefields within those areas are still seen as sacred grounds to this day. During those battles, there was damage done to the lands, forests, and fields by things like fire and explosions. Right after the Civil War, important battle sites, such as Gettysburg, were immediately preserved not just for the sake of history conservation, but also to help restore the land and ecosystem to a healthy environment since the damage from the war was brutal to most battlefields. One example of these important battlefields is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Right after the battle in 1863, the land was immediately preserved and in 1895 it was brought under government ownership. Although the landscape was preserved and is still being looked after today, things like natural succession and human development have caused changes in the natural appearance of the battlefield then it may have been remembered. “While some vegetation features (thickets, woodlots and woodlands) were removed by man over the years, others were overgrown by nature, becoming dense and containing many non-native species. In addition, some historic fields, pastures, and other open areas are covered by non-historic vegetation” (Gettysburg para 3). This battle site, like many others around the U.S., should be continued to be preserved, as this war is a very important part of our historical culture.
Although back in the 1860s the important battlefields were just seen as acres of land that men fought on to many of the people living around there, they are now very popular historic tourist attractions. Many of the places also have activities such as hiking trails through the forests and rivers to go canoeing and kayaking. Another big part of the ecosystem of Civil War lands is the animal community that lives within the nature of these parks. There are a large variety of the types of animals protected in nature at the parks, such as mammals (deer, foxes, and rabbits), reptiles (snakes and turtles) and birds (owls, geese, and hawks). To me, it’s important to continue protecting the nature of these areas, including the animals that dwell within the land. Also, helping preserve these lands and all the animals allows visitors to have a visual and to reflect on what it was really like back during the Civil War and to see what it was like out in nature during the times of battle.
Today, scientists, historians, and landowners are still working on preserving parks and sites of importance from the Civil War. They preserve these lands by using conservation strategies. When working on a project to organize the preservation of an area of land, these people look to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission. The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission was established in 1990 because there was a concern in the increase of loss of Civil War sites. There were 15 members in the Commission who were appointed by Congress and the Secretary of the Interior. They were a number of requests, such as to identify the nation’s significant Civil War sites, the state their condition, if there were any threats shown to the sites, and if there were any alternatives to conserve them. Once the information was gathered, the presented them in the Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields (CWSAC para 2). These documents are vital keys in making sure that the nature conservation of these lands will continue to be kept under protection for the sake of history. In order to hold on to the history of our nation, we have to ensure that they will be kept up and safe from anything that might destroy them, like expanding cities or large business corporations.
When preserving a significant land or battlefield, the organization called the Civil War Trust finds out if a property is listed as CWSAC eligible site. Once it becomes eligible, they use a computer mapping system called the Geographic Information System to connect potential sites to historic landscapes (Civil War Trust para 5). They then figure out how they are going to conserve the property. A conservation easement (a legal agreement between a landowner and an eligible organization that restricts future activities on the land to protect its conservation values) is made between the organization and landowners. Within this easement are certain rules and regulations that help protect the land. Some of these rules include: the restriction of the ability to subdivide a property, restriction of any changes to the topography of the landscape, and no allowance for new structures, unless they are necessary for an agricultural operation (Civil War Trust para 8). Some conservation easements can be good for the landowners because it can help the preservation of family land, there is a federal income tax benefit, some state income tax benefits, estate tax benefits, and property tax benefits (Civil War Trust para 9). Although it’s beneficial to make agreements with landowners to keep Civil War sites under protection, some might not feel so welcoming to the idea of having their property under the preservation of a Civil War organization. If certain families have special sentimental ties to their property, I feel that there shouldn’t be any pressure on them about buying out their land for historical purposes.
While there is still being work done today on preserving certain areas of the U.S. that are connected to the Civil War, there have been many acres of land over the years that have been successfully saved and kept up by different organizations that focus on helping conserve the history within the land. Some of these areas include Fredericksburg, Virginia (222 acres), Glendale Battlefield and Malvern Hill in Virginia (1,565 acres), the Wilderness Battlefield (where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first met in combat, 211 acres), and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (812 acres) (Civil War Trust). These sites were all critical sites that have major significances in the Civil War. Many of the properties that were saved often had things that distracted the sites from their historical beauty, such as commercial properties. Since then, the lands have been restored to resemble a more Civil War like appearance. In my opinion, the idea of commercializing an important property such as these is not right because many men had fought on these battlefields and were battling for what they thought was right. Commercialization is a concept for the modern world that is widely accepted now, but it should not put our nation’s historical sites in its shadow.
The lands and battlefields of the Civil War contain the most physical ties to our history and are worth preserving. As I am learning about the conservation of nature and wildlife, I see how it connects with the importance of conserving the significant sites of the Civil War. Although the war happened over 100 years ago, it is still an important part of our nation’s history and should be preserved not just for the sake of the nature within the lands, but also for the sake of history.
Castleman, Alfred Lewis, 1808(?)-1877, Diary of Alfred Lewis Castleman, September, 1861, in The Army of the Potomac, Behind the Scenes: a Diary of Unwritten History: from the Organization of the Army … to the Close of the Campaign in Virginia, About the First Day of January, 1863. Milwaukee, WI: Strickland & Co., 1863, pp. 288. [09-01-1861]
“Saving America’s Civil War Battlefields.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2013. <http://www.civilwar.org/>.
Gettysburg. National Park Sponsor, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2013. <http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm>.
CWSAC Battle Summaries. Heritage Preservation Services, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2013. <http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/abpp/battles/tvii.htm>.