Gettysburg National Military ParkVandalized
The first signs of the destruction wrought by vandals came into view just after dawn. Almost simultaneously, several calls came into the National Park Service office at Gettysburg National Military Park. That was 12 days ago and the park service since has calculated the cost to repair and restore the monuments at just over $61,000. It was the worst case of vandalism at the park in 93 years.
A coalition of Gettysburg-area groups and individuals has put up a reward totaling $36,000 for the arrest of the perpetrators. Monuments to the 4th New York Independent Battery and 11th Massachusetts and 114th Pennsylvania regiments were damaged.
"It infuriates me, it absolutely infuriates me, and I think I speak for just about everybody," said Charles Kuhn, junior vice-commander-in-chief of the Sons of Union Veterans, a descendant of Civil War veterans who grew up in Gettysburg and lives in nearby East Berlin. "The first feeling I had was a sick feeling. Then all of a sudden that sick feeling becomes anger."
The sense of outrage over the deliberate desecration of monuments has deep roots. The last time there was such widespread damage was 1913, when nine Gettysburg monuments were vandalized. At the time, R.B. Reath closed a letter to the park's superintendent with the following:
"We all hope you will secure the maniac who injured the monuments. Unless he was insane, a rope's end would be the proper thing for him."
Though this is the third time in the past 18 months that Gettysburg monuments have been vandalized, instances of vandalism at the country's Civil War battlefields are relatively rare, said Dennis Burnett, a law enforcement administrator with the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. Fewer than a dozen incidents are reported a year, and most involve relatively minor damage, he said.
Not since 1998 and 1999 had there been damage to several monuments at once. In a series of incidents then, vegetable oil was sprayed on battlefield monuments in Vicksburg, Miss.; Shiloh in Tennessee, Antietam in Maryland and Gettysburg.
Three Indiana men arrested in the 1998 incidents said they put vegetable oil on Vicksburg monuments at God's direction as part of a ritual that would unite the North and South. They received five years of probation and had to pay more than $5,600 in restitution to the park service.
If there are arrests for the recent damage at Gettysburg, the defendants could be prosecuted under the Archeological Resources Protection Act because the damaged monuments are more than 100 years old. A newer federal law, the Veterans Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003, could also apply. Both laws carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and fines of $100,000 to $250,000.
State Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick, who has raised more than $360,000 in the past few years to restore Pennsylvania monuments at Gettysburg, plans to introduce a resolution to ask his federal counterparts to pay for the damage and to increase minimum penalties for those convicted of vandalism. The state resolution has no bearing on Congress, but Mr. Readshaw said it is designed to get the attention of federal legislators.
"I'm realistic enough to know it may be thrown in the garbage can once it passes, but I'm hoping we can contact federal officials and draw their attention to this," he said.
Civil War afficionados, including former professional wrestler Ric Savage of New Jersey, as well as park officials, are convinced the damage at Gettysburg overnight between Feb. 15 and Feb. 16 was the work of vandals and not collectors because the pieces of the monuments that were taken have almost no resale value.
The monuments that were damaged were constructed from 1885 to 1888 with Union veterans of the battle present at the dedication. The monuments predate Gettysburg's designation as a national park, which occurred in 1895. The three damaged monuments commemorate units from the ill-fated Third Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, who lost a leg during the battle after he moved his troops forward to a salient along the Emmittsburg Road.
The three-day battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War with 51,000 casualties and is considered by many Civil War historians as the turning point in the conflict, as well as the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy."
Gettysburg spokeswoman Katie Lawhon was one of the first people to view the damage as she was on her way to work shortly before 7 a.m. on Feb. 16.
"I was very, very upset," she said. "It's just hard to understand why someone would do something like this. It was just too much destruction for it to be for anyone interested in resale."
The $36,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the vandals is comprised of $30,000 from four organizations, $5,000 from Gettysburg businessman David Levan and $1,000 from the Adams County Crime Stoppers. The four organizations offering the bulk of the reward are the Gettysburg National Battlefield Museum Foundation, the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, the Gettysburg Civil War Roundtable and the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg, said Dru Anne Neil, spokeswoman for the Friends group.
"Maybe [the reward] will be an incentive in case someone shows something to someone or brags about it," Ms. Neil said. "We're just hoping someone saw something somewhere."
The instances of vandalism occurred at a time when the National Park Service's law enforcement staff is smaller than it has been in the past 25 years. Gettysburg is not patrolled 24 hours a day and the park relies on a citizen patrol to supplement its ranger patrols of the park's 36 miles of roads and more than 1,300 monuments, Ms. Lawhon said.
Other national battlefields rely on similar resources to keep an eye on what many people consider hallowed ground.
"From the park's perspective, we often talk about our mission here being about remembering the people who fought here and these monuments are the symbols of the men who fought here," Ms. Lawhon said. "The nice thing about Gettysburg is that when you work here you run into people who really appreciate the sacrifice. It's a place that really has meaning for a lot of people and when something like this happens, people come into the park and tell you what it means to them."
comments powered by Disqus