18 November 2007 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 10 comments

I know that what I’m about to say won’t sit well with some of my friends/peers in the preservation community. As I have said here previously, I very much take a pragmatic approach to battlefield preservation, recognizing that not every inch of battlefield land can possibly be preserved. Given that fact, I believe that it makes sense to pick preservation fights wisely.

This post stems directly from an excellent comment posted here today by Charles Kann. I got to thinking about Charles’ post and, after responding to him, decided to expand my response into a full-blown post here. Again, I know that what I’m about to say will rankle some of my colleagues in the preservation community, but it can’t be helped. This is something I feel strongly about.

There’s been a lot of discussion–blowing and cussing, in many instances–about proposals to build a Target store on the site of Camp Letterman in Gettysburg. Camp Letterman, named for the chief medical officer of the Army of the Potomac, was the main U.S. Army military hospital in Gettysburg, developed AFTER the battle. The land where Camp Letterman sat was not part of the battlefield proper and did not see any significant fighting. It also happens to be located on U.S. Route 30 (also known as the York Pike), and is PRIME commercial development land. Part of it has already been developed for commercial usage.

It therefore seems obvious to me that the remaining portion of the Camp Letterman site was bound to be developed sooner or later. It had little to do with the actual battle; what happened there was post-battle. Consequently, I don’t feel particularly strongly about its preservation. If it was bound to be developed sooner or later, why wasn’t that site chosen for the new visitor’s center? It might not have been preserved perfectly, but at least some of it would have been preserved in a fashion that emphasized its historic past, and it would not have placed the new visitor’s center on important battlefield ground in the form of Kinzie’s Knoll. It seems to me that a great opportunity was lost to do something to recognize the historic nature of that ground and to make it possible to have some commemoration of what happened there was lost.

Just a thought. I know that the good folks of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association are vehemently opposed to the development of the Camp Letterman site. I respect their activities a great deal; this organization is solely responsible for saving the important Daniel Lady Farm site. However, I tend to find its somewhat extreme point of view of resisting EVERY development idea to be counterproductive. I know that they will not agree with me on this issue.

I just think that preservation needs to be pursued pragmatically, not as a crusade. I view this as a prime example of how a pragmatic approach might have accomplished something important for battlefield preservation. It’s entirely possible that I will get hate mail for this post–and I hope I don’t–but this is something that I firmly believe.

Scridb filter


  1. Sun 18th Nov 2007 at 10:16 pm

    Storm clouds comin!

    Eric, tell the truth and shame the devil (in a pragmatic sense).


  2. Sun 18th Nov 2007 at 10:18 pm


    You know me well enough by now to know that I’m not the shy and retiring sort….


  3. Paul Taylor
    Mon 19th Nov 2007 at 9:41 am


    It’s hard to argue with your position. Sadly, it seems to me that nowadays partisans on both sides of any issue dealing with anything of a political nature operate under the belief that if you give the other side an inch, they’ll take a mile. Further, compromise is construed as a sign of weakness. It wasn’t always this way.


  4. Brian S.
    Mon 19th Nov 2007 at 10:30 am


    Just my two cents worth…York Pike was “lost” to development years and years ago. I don’t want the battlefield to be “fenced in” by development all around it though. It might get to a point where it looks just like a park in the middle of a town, just surrounded by stores, sub-divisions and stop lights. Not good. But you are right, we need to think about smart preservation that is within our means to attain. We don’t have the clout and/or money to compete with development. It’s a bitter truth to face but we do need to be a lot more realistic. Brian

  5. Brian S.
    Mon 19th Nov 2007 at 10:32 am

    …also not all developers are evil either 🙂 Brian

  6. Phil L.
    Mon 19th Nov 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Eric –

    I agree wholeheartedly with you. The fact is that the money for preservation efforts doesn’t come from a never-ending cornucopia. Priorities have to be set. Groups like the Civil War Preservation Trust, Richmond Battlefields Association, et al are engaged in big projects right now, and more are just around the corner. All of us as preservationists, donors, activists – whatever – have to make a sober assessment of where and how to allocate our resources of time and money.
    Also, it’s important to remember Brian’s follow-on comment above. A number of successful preservation efforts wouldn’t have happened without the cooperation of development companies that were willing to work out solutions with preservation groups – sometimes leaving money on the table to do so. To paint developers as a monolithic evil force, and paint ourselves (those interested in preservation) as an unyielding group with non-negotiable demands is counterproductive to say the least.

  7. Mon 19th Nov 2007 at 2:05 pm


    Thanks for the post and – despite my special interest in Civil War medicine – this reply is certainly not “hate mail.” As “devil’s advocate” the only point I’d like to add is that while it’s certainly true there was no fighting (your interest) at Camp Letterman, that’s not to say there wasn’t any dying (all of our interests), there and in that regard I think it still stands as “hallowed ground.” However – while it would be nice to preserve the land, it doesn’t really help that there aren’t any existing structures or a comprehensive plan for interpretation. In this regard, I think the Nat’l Museum for Civil War Medicine did an excellnt job w/ the Pry House but I don’t see the same utility for what *was* Camp Letterman, and in that sense I agree with your conclusion.

    All My Best,

    Jim Schmidt

    Keep up the

  8. Tue 20th Nov 2007 at 10:49 am

    I unfortunately have to agree about picking and choosing your battles. I live in California now and have not been to Gettysburg Battlefield in so long that I cannot remember its details. But I am active in preservation of Historic Roads, and US-30, or the York Pike, is also the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway in the United States, dating to 1913. As such, I respectively disagree with your assesment. Keeping the area as open space to honor any relevancy to the Battle of Gettysburg is important, because it also keeps the 1913-era appearance of the Lincoln Highway. So, as a roads historian, to me, tihs is about more than just the Gettysburg Battlefield, but also about the historic highway that runs through it and is – in a sense – named because of it.

  9. Duane
    Tue 20th Nov 2007 at 12:23 pm

    Trust me, Scott, the historic integrity of the Lincoln Highway near Camp Letterman was lost a long time ago. Development starts at the edge of town and runs out that way all the way to the Harley dealership at Cavalry Field Road. It is one intensely devloped area on both sides of the road.

    Though I personally feel that Camp Letterman should have been preserved and interpreted, the fight was lost years ago, so one more development means very little in the overall aspect. It is a fight that was lost long ago, and with very little effort to save it, I’m told.


  10. Phil
    Wed 21st Nov 2007 at 9:31 am

    OK. I’ll play devil’s advocate.

    First, the GBPA doesn’t fight every development. They’re not helping at all on the one in my back yard. 🙂 And I think I have pretty good evidence some of those cavalier type guys let their steeds go potty there. OK – I know they were in the area and I know horses go potty now and then – so I’m making a leap of faith.

    More importantly, there’s strong feelings in these here parts that they all must be fought to stop the slippery slope of Adams County becoming Frederick. The proximity of 15 and 30 make the entire corridor ripe for development, and, thankfully, most, but not all, of the Twonships have finally gotten some zoning that restricts the ugly stuff (IMHO) to those areas. I’m learning it’s not perfect, but it is better than nothing.

    In any event, I wonder if part of the effort is to win a few, lose a few rather than putting all the eggs in one basket and losing that one when you really, really need to win.

    I’m certain I’m not certain.


Comments are closed.

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress