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Why Save Civil War Battlefields
by David Fraley

"In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.

And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; and lo! The shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls."

-- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain - October 3, 1889 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, upon receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in the American Civil War


The above words were spoken over 113 years ago on a hallowed field in rural Pennsylvania where brave Americans, on both sides of the conflict, once fought an incredible battle in 1863. Today, one can return to that very “deathless field to ponder and dream,” as long as one can do so over the sound of passing trucks on a nearby highway.

There also exist hallowed fields in Franklin, Tennessee, where another battle took place on the 30th of November 1864. That particular fight would comprise perhaps the bloodiest moments and hours in American military history. Most of the ten thousand casualties that fell there literally fell in mere moments. Yet today little remains of this sacred plot that is not commercially developed and suffocated by pavement and concrete. And the few remaining open parcels of our battlefields are threatened with a similar fate.

A wise philosopher once postulated that if we forget our collective past, we are likely, indeed doomed, to repeat it. Ponder his advice, and then consider your own past as an American. Were you born in the 1920’s, 1930’s or 1940’s? If so, you no doubt recall the horrors of the Second World War and the Korean Conflict. Were you born in the 1950’s or 1960’s? Then perhaps you recall the Vietnam Conflict. Were you born in the 1970’s or 1980’s? Then the Persian Gulf War must be an event that you remember.

Some would speculate that on September 10, 2001, many in this country had collectively forgotten Pearl Harbor, only to be tragically reminded the following day when terrorists again struck America by surprise. Whatever the case, we can perhaps all agree that while warfare is sadly sometimes necessary to defend our way of life, we certainly have no wish to unnecessarily revisit those days darkened by war. Simply put, we must remember and learn from our past to keep from repeating it.

Our battlefields are disappearing quickly, and with them go our history. This does not have to happen! Planned development and historic preservation can co-exist, but only when civic duty and patriotism become more compelling than greed and personal gain.

I am an historic preservationist because I believe that it is my duty as an American. I further believe that being an American is a great privilege, and that such a privilege must never be taken for granted. I literally stand in awe at the recollection of the brave men and women who fought and often died to make this amazing, though never perfect, nation what it is today. Reading about these brave souls inspires me greatly-but visiting the actual places, the battlefields both here and abroad where these events once transpired, is so much more meaningful.

Preserving this hallowed ground upon which our nation was forged, and by doing so remembering our past, is vital, now more than ever. Just look at today’s headlines in your newspapers and ask yourselves if you’d like your children and grandchildren to repeat such tragic events as those we’re now experiencing?

Please do your part, indeed, your duty, as an American. Please save and preserve our hallowed battlefields!

- David Fraley

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