Chancellorsville 150: Day One field report, live blogging

Yesterday’s Chancellorsville 150 First Day events kicked off the sesquicentennial observances in good order.  Took me a few minutes to “knock the rust” off my on the field tweeting practices.  But the NPS staff at Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania picked up as if there had been no long winter break… and the crowds likewise seemed to have followed en-mass from the December activities.  A half-hour before the event kickoff, we had standing-room-only at the event tent.

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Several important points from the introductory remarks from historian John Hennessy, park superintendent Russel Smith, and Civil War Trust president Jim Lighthizer.  But the best, in my opinion, was Mr. Smith’s point comparing the centennial to the sesquicentennial.  We have a good reason to celebrate at the 150th – the preservation of the fields where we stood to remember the events.

And I would add that our form of “celebration” in the sesquicentennial tends to take the form of devoted interpretive tours.

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If that’s our legacy from the 150th – our focus on factual, detailed, and timely interpretive tours to achieve the “experience” – then I’d say we are doing right.

The day’s activities closed with a recreation of the Lee-Jackson bivouac. Hennessy along with fellow park historians Frank O’Reilly and Greg Mertz enlightened the remarkably large crowd on the details surrounding the last meetings of Generals Lee and Jackson.  John Hennessy posted a wide view of the crowd on his twitter feed:

Macro and micro level treatment of the meeting, I would add.  Such is, again, what the sesquicentennial crowd wants to hear – put us at the place, at 150 years from the time, and talk about what happened.  No need for the romantic fluff.  We can set aside the baggage left over from other generations.  Take us right down to the fireside and share the story.

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To that point, Hennessy tweeted earlier on May 1 that while some complained Fredericksburg 150 was “too much Yankee,” people might well complain that Chancellorsville 150 will be “too much Lee-Jackson.”  He added, “Fact is: moving parts get the attention.”  And tonight’s events running into the evening promise to continue following the course of the battle with a focus on those two leading figures.

As I left yesterday evening, the sun had set and I watched civil twilight turn to nautical twilight. Photos do not do justice to the “painted sky” yesterday evening.

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Last year I was blessed with some great sunrises and sunsets associated with sesquicentennial events.  I hope this is a sign that trend will continue.  The photo was taken from the “Flank Attack” tour stop west of the visitor center.  The park’s tour events pick up there this afternoon and we’ll follow Jackson’s attack and his mortal wounding.

If the cellular connection cooperates, I’ll add some photos from the field here later.  Please check back and follow on twitter (


Cool Springs Battlefield preservation: A win all around

From the Civil War Trust:

Commonwealth of Virginia, Civil War Trust and Shenandoah University Announce Public-Private Partnership to Protect Cool Spring Battlefield

Former golf course will become outdoor classroom offering university students hands-on experience in outdoor leadership and education, history and environmental studies; public will retain access to scenic property

(Clarke County, Va.) – This morning, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech joined representatives of the Civil War Trust and Shenandoah University to celebrate the successful completion of a public-private partnership to permanently protect 195 acres along the Shenandoah River that played a crucial role in the July 18, 1864, Battle of Cool Spring.” The event was part of the Commonwealth’s celebration of Earth Week 2013 and highlighted the project’s unique intersection of environmental benefit, educational opportunity and economic growth potential.

“I can think of no better way to honor the Commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring the protection and care of our state’s natural resources this Earth Week than by celebrating our partnership to conserve this site,” said Secretary Domenech. “With its sweeping views of the Virginia countryside, Shenandoah River access and historic pedigree, this land will be appreciated and enjoyed for generations to come.”

Virginia Director of Historic Resources Kathleen Kilpatrick agreed, adding, “Through this preservation partnership, the Cool Spring Battlefield will be far more than a passive historic site — this land is poised to become a dynamic, multi-faceted learning environment that will enhance educational opportunities in a variety of fields.” (Full Story Here)

And how did this all come together?

This portion of the Cool Springs Battlefield was part of the Virginia National Country Club (the other side of the battlefield, where some of the most significant fighting took place, is part of the Holy Cross Abby). When the country club fell into bankruptcy, the Trust and other parties first proposed adding the facility to the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority (NVRPA)system. The plan dropped when the Clarke County Board of Supervisors voted down the option to join NVRPA in March of last year. At the time, the supervisors left open other options to preserve the portion of the battlefield in question. I hoped that was the opening needed to follow through with another preservation plan.

Indeed, it was. In September, the Trust announced that Cool Springs was among seven battlefields benefiting from a generous state grant. Funding remained incomplete, so the Trust worked their magic:

Protection of the Cool Spring site was made possible through generous, competitively awarded preservation matching grants from both the federal and state governments. The American Battlefield Protection Program, administered by the National Park Service, contributed $200,000 toward the $2 million total purchase price, while the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund — the most successful state level grant program of its kind in the nation — put forward another $800,000. Remaining funding was secured through a significant landowner donation and contributions from Trust members.

But this won’t be just some battlefield park with associated overhead costs. Instead, the battlefield, while remaining open to the public, was transferred over to Shenandoah University:

In 2012, the Civil War Trust negotiated to acquire the 195-acre former Virginia National Country Club following its bankruptcy. Recognizing the site’s unique potential as a community resource, the Trust began investigating a variety of partnership opportunities for long-term stewardship of the battlefield, before settling on what Lighthizer calls the “perfect solution” — transferring the property to Shenandoah University….

The university is currently evaluating options and developing proposals for specific programming to take place at the Cool Spring site. The property and surrounding environment has the potential to serve as an experiential learning campus for academic programs in the fields of outdoor leadership and education, environmental studies and history.

In addition, numerous possibilities are being considered to integrate the campus community as a whole through opportunities developed and implemented by Shenandoah University’s Division of Student Life. These co-curricular pieces are fundamental for enhancing a connection to the region, while promoting environmental stewardship. Furthermore, the Cool Spring site will afford local schools and the public at large with opportunities to explore the region through historical and natural interpretation.

At a minimum, this is a win for all concerned. What I do hope is this is further transformed into a greater victory with the university’s use of this property as an educational resource. Hopefully the curriculum which leverages Cool Springs will aid the development of preservation and conservation oriented planners.

Fort Pulaski is a $21m local economic benefit, but is the 150th having an impact?

From the Fort Pulaski National Monument website:

Fort Pulaski National Monument Tourism Creates $21,605,000 in Local Economic Benefit

Savannah, GA – A new National Park Service (NPS) report for 2011 shows that the 408,104 visitors to Fort Pulaski National Monument spent $21,605,000 in communities surrounding the park. This spending supported 312 jobs in the local area.

“Fort Pulaski is one of the most well-preserved historic and natural resources in the United States,” said Interim Superintendent, Terri Wales. “The story of Fort Pulaski appeals to a wide range of visitors. It is the site of Robert E. Lee’s first assignment, of John Wesley’s first sermon in the New World, of a Civil War battle at which rifled cannons first successfully breached masonry fortifications – signaling the obsolescence of such fortifications for coastal defenses. It is also the site where, in 1862, U.S. General David Hunter issued an unauthorized order to emancipate slaves in 3 states. Additionally, the National Monument contains one of the largest federally protected salt marshes in the United States.”

“Visitors from across the U.S. and around the world come here to experience the beauty and history of the park, Savannah, and Tybee Island and then spend time and money enjoying the services provided by our neighboring communities and getting to know this amazing part of the country. The National Park Service is proud to have been entrusted with the care of America’s most treasured places and delighted that the visitors we welcome generate significant contributions to the local, state, and national economy.”

The information on Fort Pulaski is part of a peer-reviewed spending analysis of national park visitors across the country conducted by Michigan State University for the National Park Service. For 2011, that report shows $13 billion of direct spending by 279 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. That visitor spending had a $30 billion impact on the entire U.S. economy and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide.

Most visitor spending supports jobs in lodging, food, and beverage service (63 percent) followed by recreation and entertainment (17 percent), other retail (11percent), transportation and fuel (7 percent) and wholesale and manufacturing (2 percent.)

To download the report, visit and click on Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation, 2011. The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.

(Full story here)

As the article mentions, the full report for 2011 is available on the National Park Service site. The report details how the report was complied and where the numbers came from.

The news release did not mention Fort Pulaski’s figures for 2010, as a comparison. The 2010 report is on file at Money Generation Model website. The comparison in numbers of visitors is 416,292 in 2010, down to 408,404 in 2011. Visitor spending went from $20.7M in 2010, up to $21.6M in 2011. And job impacts went from 295 in 2010, down slightly to 293 in 2011.

However, 2011 was NOT the big year for Fort Pulaski with respect to the sesquicentennial. We’ll have to wait for the 2012 report to see what impact that event may have had (or likewise for Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Richmond Battlefields, Manassas (2nd), Antietam, and Fredericksburg).

But Fort Sumter did have a major sesquicentennial event during the two reporting periods. For 2010, Fort Sumter had 797,713 visitors, with spending estimates at $18.4M. For 2011, Fort Sumter’s numbers were 857,883 visitors, spending $21,6M according to the estimates.

How about Manassas, which also had a sesquicentennial event? In 2010 that Virginia park logged 612,490 visitors, spending an estimated $8,2M. In 2011 park visitors numbered 659,740, spending $9.6M.

Or a non-Civil War site with a bicentennial on the way – Fort McHenry. Visitor totals up from 611,582 to 641,254 over the two years. Spending up from $39.8M to $44.1M.

Looks like the NPS is seeing modest gains across the board at historical venues. Nor enough data to call out sesquicentenial trends. But what I still can’t figure out is how Fort Pulaski generates more visitor spending, indeed over double spending, than Manassas, even with fewer visitors. Maybe the Tybee Island beach traffic has more cash in pocket?

The Gettysburg National Tower – What was the preservationist strategy?

A recent news article concerning a preservation effort got me to thinking back to some earlier successes.  I’ll admit there’s a radical streak in me when it comes to battlefield preservation.  But there are practicalities to consider, which of course serve to moderate the situation.  That’s why I often look back to “the history of preservation” for lessons learned and insight, while putting the practicalities and purpose in perspective.

Consider the old Gettysburg National Tower.  I am showing my age to say I remember the days when it stood over the field.  Yes it has been almost 13 years, hasn’t it?

Last day for the Gettysburg Tower, late afternoon July 2, 2000

But I’m also showing my youth to say I don’t recall, first hand, the controversies that surrounded its erection.  The tower’s story is one of the sparks that ignited the modern preservation movement.  Civil War News offered coverage of the demolition, noting the background and schedule for demolition, back in 2000.

Thomas R. Ottenstein went public with plans for a 300-foot observation tower in 1970.  When several governmental and private organizations pushed back at the original proposed location, Ottenstein set his eyes on a new location.  Just east of the Taneytown Road and south of the National Cemetery was privately owned ground offering a spot for the tower.  After some negotiations, Ottenstein’s company struck a deal, which was not all-together on the up-and-up, with the Department of the Interior.  The government granted an easement and consented to the placement (and in return the some proceeds from the tower were supposed to go towards preservation, but for several reasons never did).

But the deal didn’t clear the way by a long sight.  Citing the National Historic Preservation Act, opponents – which included the state of Pennsylvania – fought a running legal battle against the tower.  But preservationists and allies lost in the courtrooms.  By 1974 the tower was reality, and visible from almost every corner of the battlefield.

The Tower, from Culp's Hill observation tower

Of course the story didn’t end there.  The National Park Service “regrouped,” you might say.  In 1990, with no small pressure, a law extended the boundaries of Gettysburg National Military Park to include the ground where the tower stood.  But of course that line on the map didn’t mean a thing without ownership of the property.

An appraisal of the tower and grounds put the value at $6.6 million.  That, you must agree, would be a sizable sum even today.  So in 1993, the National Park Service balked at the price.  Not until 1999 did funding appear for the project.  Still legal issues dogged closure.  Eventually the government condemned the property, opting to arbitrate the final price out in the courts. That action, of course, allowed the implosion of the tower on July 3, 2000, using about $1 million in donated time and materials from  Controlled Demolition Inc.

Great, you say.  Preservation win by undoing development.  Most will agree in the absence of that tower the world is a better place.  But why do I bring this up? Well consider one of the lessons learned mentioned by John Latschar, the Gettysburg park superintendent at the time of the tower’s removal:

… Simply put, it’s worth the time and effort to do things right the first time – even though the cost or the effort “doing right” may often seem daunting.  If NPS and the Department of the Interior had stood more strongly against the building of the tower in the early days, it might not have happened.  However, instead of standing on our collective principles, we opted for “compromise,” with disastrous results.  In trying to explain … why NPS had abandoned the fight against the tower, the agency explained that its agreement with Ottenstein was based upon the belief that it could do nothing to stop the tower.

The lesson mentioned by Latschar speaks directly to the “strategy” employed by preservationists in their efforts.  Should preservation efforts stand firm against development efforts in the courts – of both law and public opinion – in an effort to secure historical resources?  Should those efforts leverage the laws on the books, to include environmental and preservation laws, to impede development?

Or should preservationists be amenable, accommodating while looking for an opportunity?  And then, should preservationists simply “pick up the pieces” where development has occurred to make the best of it?

If you pick up a copy of Civil War News today, you will notice a story in the February edition which I think has some common elements with the Gettysburg National Tower story.  I’ll not name any names or particulars.  Decide for yourself as to the resonance.

The Sesquicentennial and Social Media: The NPS scores a win

I’ve got my sesquicentennial creds by golly!  Been out there on the fields, in the early mornings… and those warm evenings.  And I’ve seen many of you out there too!

And those of you who’ve walked the guided tours and attended the events, have seen a lot of the NPS Social Media team.  The park service explained the role of this team in a press release earlier this year:

Social Media Team Helps Tell Sesquicentennial Stories

Since April of last year, the National Park Service has focused efforts on commemorating significant events of the Civil War on their 150th anniversaries. With dozens of battlefields and historical sites dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of sites relevant to this critical time period, this is an opportune moment to tell compelling stories, connect the public to the past, and show the importance of the NPS as caretakers of our history.

Beyond traditional onsite interpretation and visitor-ranger interactions, the NPS has begun to embrace new technology to improve visitor experiences. Social media, in particular, have proven to be a valuable resource for reaching our goals of increasing visitation, reaching diverse audiences, and providing better pre- and post- visit interactions between visitors and parks.

By dedicating knowledgeable staff and taking advantage of new Servicewide guidelines, the NPS can create and maintain a vast online cadre of “followers,” “fans,” and “virtual visitors.” With less than three man-hours a week, a typical park can proactively post interpretive content, advertise upcoming events, share park project updates, and provide an interested supporter with information about anything the park wants to release. Providing this everyday content will increase the park’s fan base and grow their overall presence online so that when special events are held, more people will be interested and informed about them.

To make the most of these new resources, National Capital Region created an interpretive media team to support parks involved in the Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration. Helping the parks to start and grow Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr pages, the team has dramatically improved the virtual outreach of the region’s Civil War parks.

An especially effective area has been event coverage. With a dedicated team on the ground at large commemorative events, the team can capture and share thousands of images, post interpretive articles and live tweet speeches and presentations, answer online inquiries, and provide a quality experience to people unable to attend events. By making people limited by accessibility issues, geographic distances, or previously uninformed into “virtual visitors,” the team can form a positive connection between people and parks.

The tactics used by the team at the CW150 events at Manassas National Battlefield Park and Shiloh National Military Park have shown great success as far as numbers of people interacting online with NPS sites. By using the momentum gained through the documentation and online presentation of these events, future events can benefit greatly.

The NCR interpretive media team has been working closely with parks inside and outside the region, planning for the 150th anniversary events of the Peninsula Campaign, Second Manassas, and the Maryland Campaign. Building on past successes, the team’s efforts are expected to push visitation and “virtual visitor” numbers even higher. The unique format of social media allows for a great deal of information sharing between parks, helping us to create a seamless experience for our visitors and using interest in one park to increase the online presence of many sister parks….

This has been, in my humble opinion, a major win for the park service, the event, and overall for awareness of the sesquicentennial.  “Tactics” are perhaps the right word to describe the mode of operation.  As my good friend and college buddy Ed Peterson will tell you, social media is not just sticking some tweet on the internet.  You need a plan and a goal in order to “sell” your product. And the folks working with these social media resources have that down to a science.

I’ve seen these folks work (I think Ranger Garrett Radke has a camera permanently affixed to his left hand).  And while most of us out there are enjoying the events, they are out there working on photo angles, filming the interpretation, catching sound bytes for tweets, or uploading content to the social media platforms.

Ranger Sarah Eddy filming a program at Manassas

For those who can’t be there in person, you can see their recent work at Manassas and Antietam hosted on Facebook (here and here), Twitter (here and here), YouTube (here and here), and Flickr.  As they said in the release, you can be a “virtual visitor.”  For those of us who were out on the “campaign” it’s a great way to catch up on what we missed, or recall what we saw.

I do hope the folks up at Gettysburg (not just at the park, mind you) are paying attention here.

Plans to Expand Vicksburg NMP

H/t to CW Interactive’s Newswire:

Plan would expand Vicksburg National Military Park

An official press release from Senator Thad Cochran’s office reads:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today reintroduced his legislation to authorize the expansion of the Vicksburg National Military Park in Claiborne and Hinds counties.

Cochran and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, the measure’s primary cosponsor, indicated their intent to push for Senate consideration of the Champion Hill, Port Gibson and Raymond Battlefield Addition Act.  First introduced in November, the legislation was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I am hopeful that the Senate will be able to soon consider this measure to protect more of the battlefields associated with the Vicksburg Campaign,” Cochran said.  “The battle for Vicksburg and its position on the Mississippi was a critical chapter of the Civil War.  As such, this measure was written to protect additional areas that represent an important time for the history of our nation and our state.”

“I am glad to join Senator Cochran and state and local officials in this effort to protect historic Civil War battlefields in Mississippi,” said Wicker. “Expanding the Vicksburg National Military Park is an important way we can preserve the history of our state.”

The Cochran-Wicker bill would authorize the National Park Service (NPS) to acquire—through voluntary sale, donation or exchange—approximately 10,000 acres of property determined to be significant to the preservation of historic battlefield sites.

The measure addresses three separate parcels:  the Port Gibson Unit in Claiborne County and the Raymond Unit and Champion Hill Unit, both in Hinds County.  Designated “modified core battlefield” sites by the NPS, these properties also encompass several historic homes, such as the Shaifer House at Port Gibson and the Coker House at Champion Hill.  The NPS would assume maintenance and security responsibilities for these structures once they are included in the Military Park.

The legislation was developed with input from the NPS, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the Civil War Preservation Trust and local officials.

While few so-called lands bills were enacted in the 111th Congress, both Cochran and Wicker believe the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War might help propel their legislation in the new 112th Congress.

As the release states, this plan has been submitted before.  Senator Cochran introduced the “Champions Hill, Port Gibson, and Raymond Battlefields Addition Act” (S.3952) last November, but from what I can tell it failed to get past the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

To really understand the Vicksburg Campaign, a visitor has to do a lot of driving around.  The Vicksburg National Military Park’s physical location allows only coverage of the siege operations – May 18 to July 4, 1863.  Many visitors leave there with the idea the operation was fought out in the trenches, never seeing the battlefields across central Mississippi, Southeast Arkansas, and Northeast Louisiana.

Several state and local parks preserve some of these battlefields.  Local preservation groups have done more to set aside the battlefields in the recent decades.  I would highlight the Friends of Raymond as an outstanding example of “fighting the good fight” for preservation.   And I’d also applaud work done at the Champion’s Hill, Port Gibson, and Grand Gulf sites (and a nod to my friend Bruce Schulze at Civil War Album who sends frequent updates!).  All great work by folks interested in preserving the ground for future generations.

But those local groups need more help in the preservation efforts, and beyond just more donations.  From a logical standpoint, the battlefields should be included in some larger system, managed by the National Park Service.  If for nothing else to ensure a lock on the land (need I mention a battlefield ….like… Cedar Creek here?)  But, the Park Service cannot afford, at a time when budgets are tight and will be cut further, to take on more responsibilities.

Previous generations have run their desire to preserve the land (not just battlefields, but other natural areas) against the realities measured in tax dollars.  In spite of the gratitude for their efforts, those generations backed away in enough instances to leave us lamenting that former fields are now shopping malls.  In my opinion we preservation minded folks need to look at ways to help offset the costs of maintaining the parks.  Otherwise, we too will turn away citing costs.

Perhaps we can do better.   Perhaps we should do better.