I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the issue of battlefield preservation, and to the larger, broader topic of the preservation of any of our historical sites – be they land, buildings, monuments, etc. connected with any time period of American history. I’ve been in discussions over the years, and even recently on this and other blogs, about the importance of saving our historical sites. Opinions are all over the board, ranging from staunch preservationism to those who see no value in saving land such as battlefield property.
I think most of us see the arguments and debates constantly – witness, for example, the recent “Casino” situation at Gettysburg. Or the threats of development to Chancellorsville and many, many other sites.
As I’ve been thinking about these preservation battles lately, I always go back to what I’ve witnessed with my own senses. For instance, over the decades I’ve been traveling to historical sites (especially Civil War battlefields) I’m always impressed when families take their young children there. My goodness, just go to Devil’s Den at Gettysburg on any weekend during the summer and you’re bound to see hundreds of pre-adolescents crawling joyously over the rocks. Or near Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam, there may be families with young children having picnics. At Stonewall Jackson’s wounding monument near the Visitor Center at Chancellorsville, maybe you’ll see young southern kids with their parents, going through the rite of passage of hearing about Stonewall and where he was mortally wounded, and the impact on the Confederate future of the war.
I emphasize the children when talking about preservation of historical sites, because that’s where the future is, simply put. Kids today are bombarded constantly with demands for their attention – TV, cell phones, computers, iPods, etc. And kids today want to be entertained fast and quick. A minute of downtime and they’re bored, looking for something else. They want instant gratification.
Battlefields, historical homes, monuments – even the nifty boulders at Devil’s Den are a form of instant gratification for the younger generation. And it’s always been that way, even before the advent of our new forms of technology. When that five year-old grows up, he/she may remember his exploits at Devil’s Den, or at the Bloody Pond, or Burnside’s Bridge, or atop Marye’s Heights. And maybe he’ll want to go back. Or take his/her kids there one day, and learn about what really happened there in the meantime.
An 8th grade class on the Civil War is hardly instant gratification. Neither is a book in most cases. But let them touch and feel their history (regardless of whether they understand the importance of the ground) and maybe one day it’ll touch them back. Instant gratification. That’s what Mt. Vernon, the Capitol, Arlington House, and Devil’s Den gives them.
It’s worth saving. Every time.