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April, 2010

From the editorial page of today’s edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Editorial: No dice on Gettysburg

Since the state Gaming Control Board in 2006 rejected a proposed slots parlor several miles from the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, it’s hard to see how a full-blown casino just a half-mile south of the hallowed ground is an improvement.

Former Conrail chairman David M. LeVan is back with another proposal to build a casino near where thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers fought and died during the pivotal battle.

Like his failed bid for a gambling license, LeVan’s new proposal has rekindled the dispute between civic leaders, merchants, Civil War buffs, and conservationists over whether gambling can coexist with the historic site.

Up for grabs among four bidders around the state is a hotel-based resort license providing for up to 600 slot machines and 50 table games. A decision is months away, so that gives Gettysburg residents time to make their sentiments known to the gaming board, which certainly shouldn’t force-feed a casino down the historic town’s throat.

LeVan’s previous pitch for a 3,000-machine slots hall was at least somewhat removed from where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous speech, though the idea of a seedy casino anywhere near the quaint town and historic battlefield is troubling.

A coalition of historic and preservation groups – including the Civil War Preservation Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Preservation Pennsylvania – says the new site along storied Emmitsburg Road is simply too close to where soldiers marched.

Casino officials counter that this corridor already has been commercialized. What’s more, LeVan and his investors are making the case that the Adams County economy needs a boost even more than it did four years ago.

Even with a smaller gambling footprint at the proposed Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino, there’s little question the project would generate added tax revenue. Proponents also contend that a Gettysburg casino would capture gamblers from Maryland.

But with the new Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center open, there’s an even greater economic incentive not to mar the experience of battlefield visitors.

It is hard to make the case that the two disparate groups of visitors – gamblers and history buffs – would complement each other. In fact, Gettysburg has thrived for decades largely because it has stayed true to its historic roots.

The Gettysburg dispute offers another reason why gambling in the long run remains a bad bet for Pennsylvania. There may be short-term gains from the added tax revenue. But the long-term societal costs that follow gambling – including increases in crime, personal bankruptcies, alcoholism, and divorce rates – are not something Gettysburg wants to make part of its history.

Good for the editorial board of the Inquirer for taking the right position on this divisive issue. The bottom line is that there are plenty of casinos. There is only one Gettysburg. And that one Gettysburg should be casino-free.

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For about fifteen years now, I have made a point of going to the annual Civil War show in Mansfield, Ohio, which is always held the first weekend in May. It’s been a place to catch up with friends, to perhaps buy something, and to work my network. I usually run into at least one regular reader of this blog there. However, last year’s show introduced World War I and World War II relics, and that stuff took up about half of the show. A lot of the vendors that I’ve visited over the years were not there last year and I don’t expect to see them this year either. It’s just not worth the time or money to attend under these circumstances.

Since a big chunk of the show is going to be taken up by irrelevant stuff, which will keep many of my regular vendors from attending, for the first time in something like fifteen years, I will not be attending the show in Mansfield this year. As long as it’s not exclusively a Civil War show, I very seriously doubt that I will ever go again. So, for those of you who were hoping to see me there this weekend, I regret that I won’t be there. I regret that, but it’s not worth the time or effort to go to a show that’s becoming more and more irrelevant each year.

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From the front page section of today’s issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Gettysburg battles again over a casino plan

By Amy Worden

Inquirer Staff Writer

GETTYSBURG, Pa. – The struggle between the forces of development and preservation here on the ground where the nation’s most famous battle was fought is almost as old as the conflict itself.

Efforts to capture visitors’ dollars date to shortly after the 1863 battle, when souvenir hunters and relatives of missing soldiers arrived.

Today, amid heightened efforts to protect vulnerable parts of the battlefield and restore other areas to their original condition, preservationists see a new threat on the horizon: a proposal to put a resort casino in an aging conference center a half-mile south of the Civil War battlefield on the storied Emmitsburg Road.

“You can’t just stop at the borders of what the Park Service dictated,” said Nicholas Redding, a policy associate with the Civil War Preservation Trust in Washington, one of several major national preservation groups trying to stop the casino project.

Redding, a former Gettysburg park ranger, spoke as he maneuvered his car down Emmitsburg Road, one of the principal avenues of approach for the Union Army and the departure route for Confederates as they retreated in defeat after July 3.

“It’s a pivotal part of understanding how the battle unfolded,” he said.

But casino developer David LeVan, a former Conrail chief executive who served on the Philadelphia school board, and his supporters maintain the resort is far enough from the battlefield that it won’t be a threat. And, they argue, any history along that stretch of Emmitsburg Road has been erased by the construction of motels and businesses in the last century.

LeVan, in an open letter to preservationists, said the $75 million Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino project would rescue a long-struggling resort, saving existing jobs and creating hundreds of new ones.

The latest rift comes five years after the first casino battle was waged here.

In 2005, LeVan applied for a slots license to build a casino at another spot, several miles east of Gettysburg. That project, which would have been much larger with 3,000 slot machines, was farther from the heart of the battlefield but closer to the historic center of Gettysburg.

Then, as now, the controversy pitted national and local preservation groups against a local developer and his supporters who believe a casino will bring needed jobs to a county where unemployment – at 8 percent – has doubled in the last five years.

And again, the dispute has divided this borough of 7,500, sparking wars of words on the local editorial pages and in Internet chat rooms, dueling public events, and competing lawn signs.

The divide appears to some degree to be geographic. In the borough’s historic district, “No Casino” signs adorn many brick houses; the lawns of properties outside the district are decorated with “Pro Casino” signs.

Each side has leveled charges at the other, including harassment and theft. Lawn signs have mysteriously disappeared. Most recently, Ronald Maxwell, director of the Hollywood blockbuster Gettysburg, entered the fray, delivering a tent-revival-style sermon to more than 200 preservationists.

Speaking at the Gettysburg Firehouse earlier this month, Maxwell led the crowd in a no-casino chant: “There are hundreds of casinos; there is only one Gettysburg,” and accused LeVan and his partners of seeking to “rape and exploit the battlefield.”

(Maxwell later apologized for that statement in a letter to the Gettysburg Times newspaper.)

The casino war erupted earlier this year when LeVan, who declined several requests from The Inquirer for an interview, joined with Joe Lashinger, developer of Chester Downs, to bid for the state’s one remaining resort casino license. The winning bidder will be allowed to install up to 600 slot machines and 50 table games in a hotel facility.

They are competing against three other applicants: one at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Southwestern Pennsylvania, one in the Poconos, and one in Mechanicsburg, outside Harrisburg.

LeVan, 64, a Gettysburg native who lives across the street from the new Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center, is seen as something of a paradox to preservationists because he has invested heavily in preserving the borough and the battlefield. All told, LeVan has invested more than $4 million in saving battlefield acreage and historic properties in the area.

Neither LeVan nor his supporters see his roles as developer and preservationist as conflicting.

“I am passionate about the battlefield, too,” said hobby shop owner Tommy Gilbert, a childhood friend of LeVan’s. “The battlefield is protected. What we need is an economic shot in the arm.”

But preservation groups say a casino will not only increase development pressure, it will forever alter the image of a sacred place in American history and drive away battlefield tourists.

“It will change the identity of the community from a historic community to a casino town,” said Susan Starr Paddock, president of No Casino Gettysburg.

Paddock led the opposition in 2005, when LeVan’s slots-license application was denied by the state Gaming Control Board, in part because of the lack of local support.

This time LeVan is ramping up his effort to rally support of residents in Adams County, and his spokesman, David LaTorre, says it has paid off. He cites a recent poll conducted by a research firm run by G. Terry Madonna at Franklin and Marshall College showing that 62 percent of county residents who responded supported the casino.

LaTorre feels the proposed casino location, about 90 minutes from Washington and Baltimore, makes it the most attractive candidate for the second resort license (the first was awarded to the still-unbuilt Valley Forge casino in 2009).

“The state has an easy choice,” LaTorre said. “Shoehorn another one in crowded casino areas southwest and the Poconos or approve a facility near the Maryland border, a virtually untapped marketplace.”

It is unclear when the final resort license will be awarded. The deadline for applications to be filed with the Gaming Control Board was April 8, and board officials say the review process will likely continue until late this year.

We only have on chance to prevent this abomination. I implore you: do what you can to write to the Gaming Control Board and tell them that you think that Gettysburg is NOT the place for a casino, whether the Maryland border is untapped or not!

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One of the more enduring and more intriguing puzzles associated with the Battle of White Sulphur Springs is finding information regarding Capt. Paul von Koenig, who was killed in action on the first day of the battle, August 26, 1863. Koenig was killed while leading a flank attack of elements of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry on the afternoon of the first day. In 1914, Col. James M. Schoonmaker of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry arranged for a monument to be placed on the spot where Koenig was killed and buried. Although the monument has been moved (and I don’t know whether Koenig’s body was, although I assume it was) because the field where it was originally placed is now a strip shopping center, it is still there on the battlefield to this day.

Why Koenig was there at all is the mystery I am trying to unravel. I have been unable to dig up much about him at all. Here’s what I know: Paul von Koenig was a German baron who came to the United States at the beginning of the war with a brother. He was commissioned as a captain in the 68th New York Infantry, a largely German unit that ended up as part of the 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. At the time that he was commissioned in 1861, von Koenig was 25 years old. And that’s 100% of what I know about this man.

I have learned that his is an ancient and ennobled German family; there is presently an incumbent Baron von Koenig in Germany, whom I have tried unsuccessfully to contact. The regimental history of the 14th Pennsylvania suggests that one of his brothers attended the dedication of the monument to him on the battlefield, and that the brother was a lieutenant general in the German army in the days immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I, but I have been unable to verify that or learn the brother’s name if it is, indeed, true.

What I have yet to unravel is the mystery of the question why von Koenig was serving with W. W. Averell’s cavalry brigade in the first place, since he was an infantry officer. Further, the bulk of Averell’s brigade was made up of West Virginia cavalrymen, with one regiment of Pennsylvanians–the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry–and NO New Yorkers at all. Averell evidently trusted the young baron, because he spoke highly of him and evidently used him for important tasks during the time the two served together.

I will have von Koenig’ service records in a week or so, and can only hope that there might be some indication in them as to why von Koenig was serving with Averell. Often, pension files can be the source of really valuable information, but given that von Koenig was a German baron, I don’t expect there to be a pension file in his case.

So, I want to invite you, my readers, to see if any of you have ever heard of Capt. Paul, Baron von Koenig, and, if you have, if you have any information as to how he came to serve with William Woods Averell’s Fourth Separate Brigade in August 1863. Thanks–I hope someone knows something about this forgotten officer.

These are the stories/mysteries that keep me coming back to continue doing this sort of work, and solving them is always the most rewarding part of what I do.

UPDATE, MAY 11, 2010: Well, the mystery of why he was there has been solved. I just got von Koenig’s service records from the National Archives, and those service records provided the answer.

In September 1862, von Koenig was assigned to serve as the ordnance officer to Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz’s Third Division, 11th Corps. In March 1863, just after the formation of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, von Koenig was assigned to serve as an aide-de-camp on the staff of Brig. Gen. William W. Averell, then commanding the Army of the Potomac’s Second Cavalry Division. When Averell was relieved of command in May 1863 and sent west to take command of the Fourth Independent Brigade (the command he led at White Sulphur Springs), he took von Koenig with him.

That is the answer to the question as to why von Koenig was there. It was a really interesting puzzle to unravel. The next mystery, which I really doubt that I will be able to solve, is why von Koenig joined the staff of Averell in March 1863.

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The web site for selling my books, which can be found here, has been completely re-designed and re-launched. Best of all, the broken shopping cart function has been fixed, and I can now take orders on-line once more. Please check it out. I welcome feedback and suggestions about how to make it better.

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Well, I had an excellent visit to the White Sulphur Springs battlefield not long ago. I had a chance to walk the entire Confederate battle line with West Virginia Civil War historian extraordinaire Terry Lowry, and saw most of the Union line as well. Most of the Confederate line is now a large cow pasture, and it’s filled with land mines. Not the sort that explode, but not the sort you want to step on, either. I had to watch every step I took, but it was worth it. Terry’s a relic hunter, and he’s relic-hunted the entire battlefield. Consequently, he knows were the relics show the action was, and I now understand that battlefield. We recently bought a digital SLR camera, and the tour of the battlefield provided my first opportunity to use it.

We then went to the grounds of The Greenbrier, where sixteen Confederate battle dead are buried in an unmarked mass grave that’s situated in a family cemetery. The management of The Greenbrier has taken steps to hide the cemetery, and even though we generally knew where it could be found, it still took us an hour to find it. There’s a small monument there to commemorate the dead soldiers, and I finally got a photo of it.

The tour ended with a visit to the Greenbrier County seat, which is the nearby town of Lewisburg. I got a shot of the county courthouse, which was the object of Averell’s failed raid, and that completed my trip. I then drove the five hours home to Columbus.

I am very glad that I walked the ground with Terry. Once more, the truth of the maxim that the ground is THE primary source is proven true. I now understand the terrain, and I now understand how the terrain drove the action. Without having access to private property and having Terry as a guide, I would not have gotten the perspective that I got from walking the ground.

Terry has also offered to provide me with his extensive file of primary source material on the battle from the West Virginia State Archives, and old friend and fellow cavalry nut Steve Cunningham has offered to share his twenty years of research on the 7th West Virginia Cavalry. Brian Kesterson and his friend Terry McVay have also come forward to offer their assistance with primary source material. The upshot is that I’m going to have material that no other account of the battle has ever used. I think it’s going to be a good project, and I am again plowing new ground. I enjoy that.

I’m in the middle of editing a book manuscript for a friend (just about halfway done), and when I’m finished with it, it’s time to begin writing.

Sit tight. I will keep everyone posted as to my progress. And thanks for all of your support and assistance. I’m a lucky guy.

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Back in March, Nick Redding of the CWPT filmed me on South Cavalry Field at Gettysburg, talking about the reasons why the proposed site for the casino is such a bad one. It rained heavily that day, and there are issues with traffic sloshing through the rain. However, the video is now posted here. Scroll down the page, and you will find a button for the video. Please take the five minutes to watch it–one half mile south of the park boundary, on battlefield land–is NO place for a casino.

Thanks to all of you who have been involved in fighting the plan to place this unwanted and unneeded casino on battlefield land at Gettysburg.

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Yesterday, I signed a contract with The History Press for a volume on Averell’s August 1863 Law Book Raid, which led to the August 26-27, 1863 Battle of White Sulphur Springs. Averell’s West Virginia and western Pennsylvania cavalry fought the infantry brigade of Col. George S. Patton in White Sulphur Springs, a couple of miles from The Greenbrier.

It’s never had any sort of a book-length study, and it’s probably overdue for one. Terry Lowry, who has done some good work on the Civil War in West Virginia, has agreed to show me the battlefield, and lots of people are helping me with it.

Unfortunately, the battlefield has been largely obliterated. A strip shopping center occupies most of the battlefield, and the three monuments that were previously in an open field are now in the parking lot to a Hardee’s fast food restaurant.

Stay tuned. I will keep everyone posted as to my progress. I’m nearly finished with the research.

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