Why Bother Preserving Civil War Battlefields?
The Civil War Trust is busy trying to spread an alarm: “According to a study done by the U.S. Congress, fully 20 percent of the hallowed ground of the Civil War has already been destroyed forever, covered by roads, housing developments and other inappropriate development. Battlefields such as Chantilly and Salem Church in Virginia are just two examples of battlegrounds all but destroyed.”
I’m trying to gather some sympathy for the plight of these old battlefields, but I’m having some trouble.
Just what is so important about keeping old battlefields in the same condition they were in 150 years ago? What do we gain from having these fields?
The Civil War Trust calls these fields “hallowed ground”, meaning that the earth has been made holy in some way, and must be held apart, sacrosanct. The publication of the Trust carries the title Hallowed Ground.
To me, the idea that ground becomes sacred whenever people fight and kill each other there seems unwise. Worshipping battlefields seems to honor the act of violence, to encourage people to fight. It’s a way of celebrating Americans going to war against each other, as if war is necessary to give our nation meaning.
What do we lose when people are allowed to move on, and allow old battlefields to grow over to forest, or to be developed for other human use? The Civil War Trust bemoans the fact that the Chantilly battlefield and Salem Church battlefield have been almost completely changed since the end of the Civil war, but so what? Who has suffered because the Chantilly battlefield isn’t a field any more? What negative impact has resulted from the transformation of the Salem Church battlefield into something else?
What if there were no preserved battlefields left in the United States of America at all? What would be the loss? Do we need to have big open fields in order to remember our nation’s history?
We have other means of preserving history. We have books. We can make video documentaries. We can concentrate the display of historical artifacts and information into museum.
What’s so special about having rusting cannons stand out in fields?