Gettysburg maps sesquicentennial strategy

Civil War battle strategy can be tricky enough itself to convey, but that wasn’t what was giving German journalist Hermann Schmid problems in Gettysburg last fall.

At issue was how to convince the people back home that America is gearing up to “celebrate” the anniversary of the great national tragedy.

Given Germany’s wartime track record of the last century, Schmid said there’s a greater national desire to forget, rather than remember, great battles.

Yet here in Gettysburg was an expansive visitor center, a forest of monuments and a press conference announcing a special Web site designed to attract and educate visitors over the next four years. (Never mind trying to explain the idea of reenactors.)

Still, Schmid sees the merits of learning from history and says that his home city of Augsburg has some tentative plans for its own battlefield commemorations. But you have to go back a while for what has been deemed proper subject matter—the Battle of Lechfeld, in which Otto I defeated the invading Magyars of Western Europe in 955.

Pennsylvania, for its part, is one of a number of states (mostly Southern) gearing up for the Civil War’s 150th. Although the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg won’t occur until 2013, the town of Gettysburg and the state of Pennsylvania are viewing these next four years as their “Olympic moment,” which will attract 4 million visitors (a 25 percent increase in tourism) with a $400 million economic impact on Adams County alone.

Calling it “one of the most comprehensive organizations
of any event in Pennsylvania,” historians and enthusiasts statewide hope to create education initiatives and an interactive dialogue through the Web site, which will highlight not just military aspects, but the war’s effects on everyday people in the state.

One early Web site visitor from Pittsburgh, for example, added this tidbit to the community discussion: “My great, great, great, Grandfather, Major Edward A. Montooth, Adjutant, 155th Pennsylvanians Volunteers, under the Maltese Cross, fought at the battle of the Little Roundtop and survived. Soon thereafter, the Governor of Pennsylvania, appointed him as the Adjutant of the State of Pennsylvania. At the end of the war, Maj. Montooth ran for Governor of the State and died of a heart attack in the process.”

Survived the war, it seems, but not politics.

One Response

  1. Gregg Jones

    This is great news. At last we are seeing some action in getting the Sesquicentennial started. So far, in my opinion, this has been bogged down in the molasses of political correctness. The Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission has done nothing but wave a little blue book over their heads that shows all the mistakes of the Centennial (1961-1961). At that time segregationalists and integrationalists were involved in the Civil Rights movement. Each had their own agenda for how the Centennial would be run. Now there is a fear that reenactments are bad. Just as your German, Mr. Schmid, is uneasy about remembering battles in Germany after the events of the first and second World Wars, we too are scared that we could be politically incorrect. Reenacting is becoming an issue that needs to be settled now before 2011. If you want to just educate all the people about the American Civil War you are going to bore them to death. If you also try to entertain them you will see the tourist dollar. Use reenactments and they will come to your events. You will see that $400,000 infusion into Gettysburg. Is you don’t there will be people but not in the numbers you seek. Don’t be too cerebral that you forget to celebrate. History should never be confused with nostalgia. It is not to glorify the dead but to teach and inspire the living to new and better things. It is our cultural bloodstream. It is the secret 11 different herbs and spices that define who we are and what we are capable of. It tells us let go of the past even as we honor it. We should lament what is lamentable and celebrate what should be celebrated. And if history reveals itself as a patriot, so be it.”


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