Endangered History

So you don’t want to see your history erased.

If history is truly your concern, the major battlefields and historic sites from the Civil War are meticulously maintained by the heroes of our National Park Service. At these national monuments and parks you can see actual history, not romanticized sugar-coated statues placed with questionable motives.

You can see the rolling hill that provided cover at Antietam. You can step out onto the top of Little Round Top at Gettysburg and see the whole battlefield in context. You can climb the same steep grade that forces hauled canons up at Kennesaw Mountain – three thousand feet up in just one mile! You can understand the importance of border states by walking the canon lines at Pea Ridge where a Park Ranger can tell you how the tide turned once Missouri was saved for the Union. Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, Wilson’s Creek, Shiloh, Andersonville, Arlington and many more. These places are truly our hallowed ground – the places where we can confront the real truths and come to understand the reasons why that terrible war had to be fought. These are the places that America wrestled with it’s very soul. These places ARE history.

It’s all there and it’s all in context. It’s preserved. These statues that Mr. Trump wants you to worry about give you nothing like that, and they are a poor substitute for actual history. In my travels I have seen hundreds of these “monuments”. None of them had the power of that view from Little Round Top that overlooks the field of battle that saw over 51,000 casualties in the course of three days . None of them compare to the power of that last image of the single stone at Arlington House. Those statues ring as hollow as the bronze shells that they are. Robert E. Lee never visited Charlottesville. I get no sense of history standing in his artificial shadow there.

What you might not realize is that Donald Trump has signed executive orders for the removal of protected status of some national monuments in the Parks system in an effort to open them up to mining, fracking, and general business development. If he cared at all about history and beauty he would never have considered plundering our national treasures.

If you love history, you really should be worried. While Donald Trump has you focused on statues he’s prepared to sell off your actual history to the highest bidder.

I apologize if this shift in focus on my little photo blog catches you by surprise. These are strange days my friends. Strange days.

27 thoughts on “Endangered History

  1. Excellent post and beautiful pictures. I have been to just a few Civil War battlefields, including Harper’s Ferry and Arlington, but have been more interested in the political and economic context than the military. I am new to your blog and assuming that the beautiful photos are yours. If not, you have certainly chose well!

    • Thank you – these are my photos – I love visiting National Park sites and many of them are battlefields. I’m fascinated by the history but also the political context.

      Some places give you surprises. A couple of years ago I was traveling through South Carolina and saw a National Monument to Andrew Johnson. I love to understand more about the context of a person in history, but I have never wanted to know anything about Johnson – I’m thinking southerner who oversaw reconstruction. What I saw that was fascinating is that he was a tailor before he ran for office and in his retirement he set up something like what we would call a “business incubator” today. He taught freed slaves how to run their own businesses, to be tailors, or bakers, or cobblers. I had no idea. He is still a conflicting figure to me but I saw a humanity in him that I had not expected. No statues required.

      I just read your post about What Happened – I am about halfway through it and I am taking in in doses. I agree with your appraisal of the election completely. I am heartened to hear her perspective, but sometimes it is still just too much to process. Nice work on that post. We seem to be living in a time where we have access to more information than at any other time in history – and it seems to be a time when so many people are so closed to any information that challenges them.

      • Thank you. You are absolutely correct. History is complicated and so are the characters in it. Johnson was incredibly complicated. I did not know this about him either so much more to learn. The National Park Service owns and manages his home in Greeneville, TN. I visited this summer and found it to be one of the more interesting presidential homes.

        Keep posting!

  2. Pingback: Endangered History — the eff stop | TheHistoryWriter.net

  3. Lorrie,

    Thanks for this timely, well-written article and pictures. I share your love of history preserved in our national parks, particularly Gettysburg, where my dad took us numerous times in the ‘50’s when he was stationed in Harrisburg as an Air Force recruiter. I inherited my love of history from him. History does seem to come alive when it has a human connection – a relative, a mentor, a park ranger. The view from Little Roundtop is like so many of the rolling hills of Pennsylvania with a special beauty in each season.

    As a kid I pretended to be a sharpshooter fighting from a hiding place called Devil’s Den, a group of barren boulders set into the hillside where some of the bloody battle took place. The National Park Service back then had an indoor exhibit of a topographical map of the battlefield that almost filled up a room. Lights would come on as the audio recording described the events of those fateful days in Gettysburg to help amateur historians picture what unfolded. It grabbed my imagination then.

    Fast forward to the ‘70’s when I read Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, an historical novel that delved into the psyche of Lee and some of his opponents as they engaged in the battle. Lee, who arguably had been the greatest strategist in that war, made a fatal blunder at Gettysburg – sending Pickett into a suicidal charge across open fields to attack higher ground where he lost 60% of his division. Master Robert screwed up royally that day and the tide of the war turned.

    The Park Service also maintains Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park. Colonel Robert E. Lee wore a blue uniform in 1859 leading the US Army forces to put down John Brown’s rebellion. The story is retold where it happened by our Park Service. So in 4 short years Lee goes from leading blue forces to suppress slave rebellion to leading gray forces to preserve the “peculiar institution”.

    Make no mistake, Blue and Gray, North and South had equal hands in prolonging indentured servitude and racism. The assassination of Lincoln removed a leader promoting “malice toward none and charity for all”. The radicals who came to power after that and through the reconstruction era, imposed harsh punishment – arbitrary rule by outsiders to exploit Southerners who had rebelled. Having little power to resist the victors, resentment swelled and festered toward the least powerful, the ex-slaves feeding the racism and the classism that have always been a part of our collective heritage – north and south. Union troops left the South in 1877, some 12 years after the war “ended” at Appomattox.

    By the 1890’s Southerners regained some power. Those seeking to honor their fallen ancestors and to reassert their restored power set about setting up statues and monuments around village and city squares and fields throughout the South. And you raise a good question, are these the historical markers that need to be preserved?

    Are the sins of the fathers visited upon the sons? Indeed, karma is a bitch. There is a presence of the past in each moment. We are not only a sum total of experiences in our individual lives, but we are also shaped by history that gave us our context – our families of origin, their families, and so forth for generations. The ripples of that war are still at play in the American character. 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War. 51,000 in a few days in Gettysburg.

    Are we really still fighting this family war? Do we have to demonize one another to feel good about ourselves?

    Near the Gettysburg battlefield the Park Service also maintains the Eisenhower National Historical Site. This was President Eisenhower’s farm, which I remember gazing at from a distance as my family left one of our visits to Gettysburg. Ike was the last general to become president. He had seen first-hand the terrible destruction of war and knew the cost in human lives. President Eisenhower’s cautionary words in his farewell address were to be wary of “the military-industrial complex”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y06NSBBRtY People who make money from preparing and waging war have and continue to promote fear. Some people promote fear just to gain attention for themselves.

    How do we end the cycle of war? How do we end pitting people against each other?

    There ain’t no magic, but some of our history should instruct us. Eisenhower and Truman pushed forward the Marshall Plan after WWII, not to further punish our enemies and to take silly victory dances calling ourselves winners, but to help those in need, even those we had fought with before. What resulted was 4 decades of unprecedented prosperity in this country and around the world. Sure the Cold War raged and bullies had to be confronted overseas and at home, but we were lucky to have had leaders tempered by real world experience and that precious characteristic of all great leaders, humility.

    The Park Service also maintains Robert E. Lee’s family home at Arlington, Virginia. The lasting memory of the Arlington Cemetery is row upon row of fallen soldiers who gave the last full measure for ideals of home, family and freedom. How should we honor them? Let’s stay in touch with our history.

    Lorrie, thank you again for sharing your thoughts about and pictures of some of the national parks. I look forward to seeing some more of them.

    Al Stacer

    • Thanks so much for your comment Al. I almost posted a shot from the overlook at Harper’s Ferry. I visited Gettysburg a couple of years ago and also went through the Eisenhower Hose while I was there. It was fascinating – I loved that Ike imagined a retirement in soil conservation – he purposely bought the worst farm in the area and worked out a plan to revive and restore the soil.

      These places are exactly where we should keep monuments – this is where history happened and when you are there you get the full scope of the events. Today I was saddened to see the destruction of a monument in Columbus Ohio – it was in a confederate cemetery at Camp Chase, a northern POW camp. Thousands of souther soldiers are buried there far from home. This is history – this is not an unrelated statue in a place where Lee never visited.

      I was at Arlington House last year. I had visited the cemetery below before but being up there and seeing the very first burials in Mrs. Lees rose garden let me see just how much anger there was in both the north and south – it’s amazing that a spot that was chosen out of a sense of betrayal over Lee’s siding with Virginia has become a much larger monument to loss and remembrance and honor. These places can help us find healing.

      It’s interesting to look at the timelines for the placement of these monuments – Gettysburg is a great example because there are so many. The north began to memorialize their units in the 1880’s and 1890’s as vets from the battle began to get older – in the desire to preserve something of their heroic past and participation. This is also when the first monuments to generals and leaders began – almost always from the union side.

      Confederate monuments began appearing in large numbers during the Jim Crow and Klan years from 1907 through the 1930’s. There is gap until we approach the centennial when most of the state monuments were placed by both sides in the 1960’s and 1970’s. There are even a few from the 1990’s and 2000’s.

      Timelines aside it seems that most were place with specificity to the actual locations of importance and the vast majority of monuments apart from the unit location markers are Union. This was the invasion of the North so that makes sense. I think that there was no state in existence at the time of this epic battle that did not sustain losses – for me this spot is really ground zero of the America we think of today – a UNITED States.

      Thanks again for your comment – I enjoy hearing your perspectives.

      Lorri

  4. First off, welcome back. I am worried, this is all too real, and all too reminiscent of horrors past, yet many want to keep their eyes closed and heads averted. 😦 Above all, thank you for this post! Images, word, sentiment, perfect!

  5. Yes!

    I remember being in Germany years ago, where I was upset that there were no markers in the streets of Germany of what happened where, the way we do here in the US. It bothered me that there was nothing saying that here Hitler did X and it was bad. Ultimately, it occurred to me that they didn’t want to remember. They lost. It was a stain on humanity that they participated in. And then it made perfect sense. Why memorialize the evil?

    • It has always struck me as odd that the rebellion is so cherished in the collective southern memory. The carnage, the suffering. It’s always been about denying equality at its core. It’s not history at all, its remembrance. Like lots of romanticized remembrances there’s not much truth to them.

  6. Absolutely, beyond words, Awsome. You should be working for the Atlantic, National Geographic, any top rated publications. You are a Force!!! Proud to know you. Please put this in Facebook so it can go viral!!!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Thanks Patty, I posted it on my timeline and on my photo page. It seems so logical. I just can’t believe the value placed in those things. Often they are cast from the same foundry and sold to several cities. Mass produced intimidation.

    • Great to hear from you Michelle! Living in the south those tin men are everywhere. It’s crazy that people are so attached to them when they can actually see history at a National Battlefield. We all know it’s no more about history today than it was when they were put up during Jim Crow.

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