Moderated by Rick Badie
Today, we address preservation of the state’s Civil War battlefields and other sites tied to the conflict. A Georgia Historical Society executive updates us on a project to erect historical markers that offer a broader view of the struggle, while an official with the Georgia Battlefields Association writes about the need to save landmarks. Finally, in honor of July 4, a public affairs executive challenges us to serve.
Save Civil War sites
By Charlie Crawford
In 1998, researchers for the Georgia Civil War Commission compiled a database of almost 400 Civil War sites in the state. Some were the scene of major battles. Others were where a few dozen men camped for a few weeks. While most people are aware Georgia played a significant role in the Civil War, the 1998 survey provided a way to quantify the physical legacy.
Despite this abundance of sites, Georgia has only four Civil War-related national parks: Chickamauga, Kennesaw Mountain, Andersonville, and Fort Pulaski. State government protects about a dozen sites, including Pickett’s Mill, Griswoldville and Fort McAllister. City and county governments protect another dozen or so, such as the River Line, Fort Walker and Nash Farm. A few sites are protected by non-governmental organizations, such as the Atlanta History Center’s ownership of the Gilgal Church battlefield land and the Georgia Battlefields Association’s preservation of a parcel near New Hope Church.
This leaves more than 350 sites in private hands. During the housing boom, earthworks and original terrain at many sites were damaged or destroyed. This was especially true in the northwest Georgia corridor, where three significant campaigns occurred. The significance of a site is no guarantee of its preservation. The 1993 National Civil War Sites Advisory Commission report characterized only two battles in Georgia as decisive: Chickamauga is protected as a National Military Park, but Jonesboro has no protection and no semblance of its battlefield remains.
Governments never have enough money to create parks at all sites that should be preserved. Private preservation groups try to compensate. Several sites have support groups (Kennesaw Mountain Historical Association, for example). At the state level, the Georgia Battlefields Association tries to influence rezoning hearings, communicates with legislators, educates the public through presentations and tours, sponsors historical markers, owns small parcels of battlefield land and raises money to purchase sites.
Why do we need to save these Civil War sites?
First, we honor the sacrifice of people on both sides if we preserve the places where they camped, fought and died. In some cases, they are our direct ancestors; in all cases, they helped shape the nation in which we live, even if you’re a first-generation American.
Second, the jobs that historic sites create don’t get exported. The park ranger and the maintenance crew normally live nearby. People who come to visit these sites tend to stay longer and spend more than the average tourist.
Third, we understand better what happened at a place if we can see why a certain hill was important or why a steep-banked creek was an obstacle. If we understand better, we’re less susceptible to inaccurate characterizations of what happened.
Finally, these sites help make a better citizenry. If these sites — these learning tools — help us understand the greatest crisis in our nation’s history, we’ll be better prepared to help the country cope with the lesser challenges that always arise.
Charlie Crawford is president of the Georgia Battlefields Association.
Build heritage tourism
By W. Todd Groce
In 2009, the Georgia Historical Society (GHS) launched the Civil War 150 Historical Marker Project, a partnership between the society and the Georgia Department of Economic Development. GHS had additional support from the Georgia Battlefields Association and the Georgia Department of Labor.
Using an old form of public history — historical markers — and coupling it with recent scholarship and online technology, this nationally recognized initiative builds heritage tourism and promotes a better understanding of the conflict.
More than 90 percent of Georgia’s 1,000 Civil War markers erected in the 1950s for the Civil War Centennial are narrowly focused on battles and leaders. There was nothing on African-Americans and women, Unionists and opposition to the Confederacy, the home front and slavery’s role in causing and shaping the conflict.
To address this, GHS installed 15 new markers that offer a broader, more complete picture of the war than was possible half-century ago. An innovative website and free smart-phone application allow visitors to use markers along with Google maps to create driving tours based on topics of their interest.
These markers are changing perceptions about the war. Our willingness to incorporate new scholarship and tackle controversial topics has sparked a dialogue about the relevance and meaning of the past, which is what public history institutions like GHS are supposed to do.
Markers on the link between slavery and the 1861 secession convention; the U.S. Army’s Civil War quartermaster general born in Augusta; the return to slavery of U.S. Colored Troop POWs by Confederate authorities, and how the fall of Atlanta assured Lincoln’s re-election and the United States’ victory in the war challenge the public to stand on new ground and see the past and, hence, the present in a new way.
A prime example is the “Burning of Atlanta” marker, which triggered opposition from the NAACP because it was erected where the destruction began on present-day Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Still equating the Civil War with glorification of the Confederacy, the NAACP considered the marker an insult to the memory of the slain civil rights leader.
But a marker at that location about the end of the Confederacy — and slavery — was eminently appropriate for people, black and white, who see the war’s legacy as preservation of the United States, vindication of constitutional government and African-American liberation. For weeks, this welcomed and beneficial discussion was carried on in the media, leading many to a new understanding of why the Civil War matters in the 21st century.
The ongoing debate about the meaning and legacy of the Civil War demonstrates that topics like secession, states’ rights, federal power and race are as crucial today as they were 150 years ago. By taking an honest and inclusive look at the past, the historical society helps Americans gain a better understanding of the present and find answers to the vexing questions that still face us in our quest to form a more perfect Union.
W. Todd Groce is president and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society.
Restore our sense of duty
By Eric Tanenblatt
Independence Day is a time to celebrate our great country, from our freedoms, liberties and diversity to our innovative spirit. It’s also a time to honor the giants of the past who helped steer our nation through the good times and the challenging ones.
From George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan and others, each played a role in advancing the promise of America.
July 4th is more than that. It’s an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with our connection to the country’s values and principles, to re-energize ourselves toward thoughts of the common good rather than individual needs, and to ask how each of us will contribute.
Last week, I joined Gen. Stanley McChrystal and 250 leaders at the Aspen Institute for a summit on the Franklin Project, an initiative that calls for 1 million people ages 18 to 28 to serve each year in the Armed Forces or AmeriCorps or with nonprofit organizations. This renewed call to service will build upon the strong foundation of AmeriCorps, which has engaged more than 820,000 Americans in national service over the past two decades.
This proposal comes at a time our country has fallen victim to a period of hyper-partisanship. We seem to have lost sight of the importance, indeed the benefit, of engaging in respectful, civic-minded dialogue with those with whom we disagree. We should not fear engaging out of our comfort zone. It can open one’s eyes and expand one’s perspective. Americans are craving a stop to vitriolic rhetoric that too often is a substitute for meaningful debate.
National service can help us get beyond the partisan politics of today. It can help build a foundation for tomorrow by bringing people together from many different walks of life and backgrounds to join in common purpose.
Our soldiers in battle don’t ask their fellow servicemen and women if they are Democrats or Republicans. The 3,600 AmeriCorps members who assisted with disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy didn’t ask the victims of the storm who they voted for in previous elections. Teach For America teachers working in at-risk schools don’t choose students based on the candidates their mothers or fathers support. Helping one’s neighbor and giving back to one’s community is part of the ethos of what it is to be an American.
Let us bring about a time when, as Gen. McChrystal envisions, “People will meet, and they’ll ask each other, ‘Where did you serve?’”
As we celebrate July 4th, we have much to be grateful for, but we should also strive to restore and enhance a sense of citizenship and fellow feeling among Americans — for that’s what has made our country so remarkable.
Eric J. Tanenblatt is a senior managing director at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP and vice chair of the board for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency that oversees AmeriCorps.