We could all use some tactical back-and-forth

Check out this article on the history of Civil War battlefield preservation at The Washington Post:

Despite admirable efforts to connect battlefields to the larger history of the Civil War, the one thing that battlefields can teach very well is the history of what happened in a particular place. If the goal is simply to inspire thoughts about the larger social history of the Civil War, one battlefield is pretty much the same as the next — and it becomes difficult to explain why we need to preserve so many of them, and with so much land taken off the tax rolls. If the goal is to make people passionate about battlefields and their preservation, visitors need to engage with the actual place to understand its strategic importance and the tactical back-and-forth.

I would argue that visitors need to get the strategic importance and tactical back-and-forth because they have intrinsic importance, not just because they inspire respect for preservation.

I seem to run across more discussions about how to effectively integrate non-military subjects into battlefield interpretation than about how to effectively interpret the battlefield itself. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad that battlefield interpretation is more well-rounded and contextualized than it used to be. We rightly emphasize the fact that the battles didn’t happen in a vacuum, but that insight cuts both ways.

Just as the war’s larger issues determined the conflict, the “tactical back-and-forth” determined the resolution of those larger issues. Emancipation, Union, and all the rest of it ultimately hinged on the stuff of old-fashioned military history: maneuver, terrain, firepower, etc. We preserve these places not only because people suffered and died there, but also because what happened there mattered. It mattered that such-and-such a colonel held a particular position, that such-and-such a general flanked an enemy. Determining the outcome of larger questions, after all, is why battles tend to be fought.

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2 Comments

Filed under Civil War, Historic Preservation, Museums and Historic Sites

2 responses to “We could all use some tactical back-and-forth

  1. The most endangered battlefield that I know of is Stones River. Some of the bloodiest ground in tn is now the site of shopping malls convenience stores etc. damn shame. Jim h

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. SD Peck

    “And then a young man in brightly colored spandex and orange running shoes came jogging by, an intruder from the present.” That statement is outrageous. We are all intruders from the present at any historic site. Turning a historic site into greenspace in a growing urban area makes sense to me. ( I am thinking of Guilford Courthouse NBP here. ) Do you sense context more waliking in a tour than jogging the paths for exercise? The issue is we have too few sites saved from our past, not too many. Tax rolls suffer little from our often feeble efforts to remember our past.

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