Gettysburg National Military Park ups preservation efforts before anniversary
Protecting the assets at the Gettysburg National Military Park — about 1,300 monuments and 400 cannons — from the ravages of time and potential vandalism are among preparations under way for the 150th anniversary of the pivotal Civil War battle fought there, park officials say.
An estimated 200,000 people are expected in the tiny Adams County town from June 28 to July 7 for activities to mark the three-day battle in 1863 involving 157,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and resulting in 51,000 casualties.
Park Ranger Katie Lawhon said although relatively few overt acts of vandalism occur, it is a concern.
“Considering we average 1.2 million visitors a year coming to see the world's largest collection of outdoor sculptures scattered over 6,000 acres, acts of vandalism are very rare,” Lawhon said. “And every time something does occur, it gets a lot of attention.”
In February 2006, someone damaged three Civil War markers — the 11th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and the 4th New York Battery — costing about $60,000. A replica of a 120-year-old sword was taken from a sculpted arm attached to the Massachusetts memorial.
Lawhon said sometimes unintentional damage occurs.
“Many people don't realize that something as simple as putting a child up on a cannon to take photos can cause damage,” she said, noting that the original wooden “carriages” — the two-wheeled support for the cannon — were replaced with cast iron in the 1890s and are fragile.
The park augments its eight full-time rangers with an active park watch staff, Lawhon said.
“These volunteers are trained to be our eyes and ears,” she said. “And it will be all hands on deck for this event.”
Three years ago, Bill and Becky Andrews of Spring Church in Armstrong County decided to become park watch volunteers after participating in battle re-enactments in Gettysburg.
“We thought it would be a great way to honor the people who served and died there,” said Becky Andrews, 62. “The park is sacred ground, and we feel it's very important to protect the monuments that were placed there.”
On several occasions the retirees spotted treasure hunters scouting for artifacts.
“Last year after Hurricane Sandy came through, a lot of the streams in the area swelled,” said Bill Andrews, 63. “When the waters receded, guys were out at night with metal detectors searching for artifacts because they know that many of the dead soldiers were buried in shallow graves with all the things in their possession.”
During one recent trip, the couple reported a man they saw walking along the road with “a big stick digging in the soft dirt for artifacts,” Becky Andrews said. “It's really sad that some people have no respect for anything and will go after whatever valuables they can find.”
Park watch members often wear yellow T-shirts but sometimes conduct “plainclothes patrols” — including after the park closes for the night, Lawhon said.
“For many of the people who take the time to visit, there's an overwhelming feeling of awe and respect for what occurred at Gettysburg and the monuments that have been placed here,” she said.
For the anniversary commemoration, the park received $504,000 in addition to $6.4 million in federal funding it will get this year, Lawhon said. Part of the money will pay to accelerate maintenance.
The full-time preservation staff, which typically cleans and preserves about 500 monuments by the end of summer, plans to complete that work in time for the anniversary, Lawhon said.
More than 1,400 volunteers help with battlefield maintenance, adopting portions of the park they'll maintain, she said. The work typically involves cutting brush, raking leaves, reseeding grass and restacking stone walls.
The Greater Pittsburgh Civil War Roundtable tends the monument honoring the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, made up primarily of soldiers from Allegheny and Butler counties, who defended Little Round Top. Members go there in spring and fall to clean up the area.
“We see it as an honor and a matter of pride to be able to take care of the area around a monument to soldiers from the Pittsburgh region,” said John Campbell, roundtable president.
“Besides the importance of maintaining the monuments, there's a certain amount of pride in making sure that the monument to a hometown regiment looks good for visitors,” said Mike Kraus, 58, curator at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland .
The park service is working to complete a half -mile pedestrian walkway along Taneytown Road, which runs through the core of the battlefield, before the commemoration.
“A lot of visitors follow walking trails and historic Hancock Avenue to get to the Pennsylvania Memorial, the largest monument in the park,” Lawhon said. “But they often return by walking along Taneytown, which is a narrow, busy road with no shoulders and no sidewalks.”
A badly deteriorated walkway leading to the popular 20th Maine monument on Little Round Top is being repaved.
Carl Whitehall of the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau said the preanniversary planning is designed to leave a lasting impression.
“We're going to be in the international spotlight,” he said.
Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7987 or email@example.com.