Battle monuments tell curious tales

Remembrance: Professor devotes his time to teaching people about the meanings of the 1,300 markers on the field at Gettysburg

June 25, 2000|By Monica Leal | Monica Leal,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As official remembrance protocol, Civil War monuments cover the Gettysburg National Park, their stories and those of the men and women they honor unknown to the thousands of visitors who drive past.

Trying to recapture some of those memories that truly represent the personal side of the war, James Schmick, founder of the Camp Curtin Historical Society in Harrisburg, Pa., has dedicated his time to teaching people about the monuments and the stories behind them.

As part of an afternoon-long seminar at the Harrisburg Area Community College, Schmick has put together a 200-slide presentation covering 35 to 40 of the 1,300 monuments at the Gettysburg Battlefield. "Many 0f these monuments were designed before there was cars, and now people drive by them and miss the interesting things about them," said Schmick.

Most people never notice that the Tennessee State Memorial's base is in the shape of the state because it is covered by a stone wall that runs along the road. Or that each corps has its own symbol such as a full moon for the 1st Corps and a star for the 12th Corps.

Neither do they know that the 151st Pennsylvania Regiment was later called the schoolteacher's regiment because of its 113 volunteer schoolteachers and a school principal commanding officer, George McFarland. The monument was dedicated on July 1, 1888, 25 years to the hour of the heavy fighting they encountered at the first day of Gettysburg, said Michael Dreese, author of "151st Pennsylvania Volunteers at Gettysburg: Like Ripe Apples in a Storm."

Self-taught through books, Schmick has had a passion for the Civil War since he was 2 years when his father first took him to the Gettysburg Battlefield. Now at 46 he says he wants to "help people understand how this country made it through the most dangerous time in its history."

Among his favorite stories is that of the 13th Vermont Infantry's Lt. Steven Brown who appears on the monument holding the sword of a captured Confederate soldier by the blade and standing on a hatchet. Brown was arrested for going to get water without permission and had his sword taken away. When the fighting began he grabbed a hatchet to protect himself. Surprised by the hatchet a Confederate soldier surrendered to him. Brown wanted to be represented holding the hatchet in his other hand, but was not allowed because he had disobeyed orders so he settled for standing on it instead.

Another is that of the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry because it captures the humanity of the soldiers. Consisting of a bronze tree stump with a cannon ball sticking out the top and a bird nest on half a tree branch, the monument retells the true story of soldiers who replaced a fallen robin's nest to its bow in the middle of combat.

"To think of all the trouble the infantries went through to place their monuments, the government should take better care of them," said Schmick. Costing thousands of dollars in the 19th century these monuments were crafted with great care. The bones of Confederate Gen. Robert E Lee's horse, Traveler, were measured to obtain the exact size for the Virginia State Memorial, and the North Carolina State Memorial, designed by Gutzon Borglum, who also designed Mount Rushmore, cost $50,00 in 1917.

According to Schmick, more people are beginning to learn about the monuments as campaigns to restore them are launched. House Representative Harry Reedshaw of Pennsylvania began the Pennsylvania Monuments at Gettysburg Restoration Project raising millions of dollars to restore the 145 state monuments. The state of New Jersey also recently had all of its monuments restored.

The all-day seminar, which provides breakfast and lunch, includes topics such as 19th-century medicine, slavery, flags, railroads, and artillery. The topics are covered by 20 seminar leaders

For information on this year's seminar, call 717-780-2587.

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