Consecrated ground

June 11, 1991

Almost by accident, the Antietam Battlefield National Park near Sharpsburg, Md., has remained one of the best preserved Civil War battlefields in the East. Today the area still looks very much as it did on the fateful day of Sept. 17, 1862, when Gen. George B. McClellan's federal Army of the Potomac, and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, clashed in the single-bloodiest day of combat ever to occur on American soil.

Now preservationists and park officials are grappling with how to keep this historic landmark unsullied by development for the next century. One proposal would restore the field to the condition it was on the day of the battle, a task that mainly would require removing some rural roads that were built later and restoring the interiors of the original houses that occupied the site.

It may seem frivolous to spend time and resources on musty relics of a bygone era. But the Civil War was the defining event in our nation's history. Even more than the revolution of 1776, it shaped the course of everything that came after it and laid the foundation for America's emergence as a world power.

The battle of Antietam was a turning point both in the war and in the greater struggle for human rights in the New World. After the federal victory in Maryland, a previously reluctant President Lincoln was emboldened to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that foretold the end of African slavery in America.

Protecting the park that serves as memorial to those great events costs little enough. Future generations will thank us for the rich historical treasure that is their legacy.

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