A Photographic Tribute to America's Civil War Battlefields
de Violet T. Clark
On any given day, hundreds of people visit these places - looking at monuments, reading signs, and visiting museums. Some visitors have come to the park because of the interest of a friend or a loved one. After a few minutes of observation, you can tell that they are bored to the point of tears, just praying that their companion will hurry so they can move on to more exciting things. Other visitors come to hallowed ground to experience America’s greatest conflict. You can see the desire in their eyes, as they try so hard to envision the tragedy with their mind’s eye. They see monuments, buildings, and landscapes that are pieces of a story, but they fail to realize what these places and special spots encompass. Imagination is not enough to completely understand the story.
Civil War battlefield photographers see hallowed ground with a different set of eyes than the casual visitor. A Civil War battlefield photographer sees something special at every turn– a small, but moving, element of a monument, the fiery colors of a sunset that reminds them of a story of a battle. We want to the image to convey a story without words, just as we see it in that moment when the shutter snaps. Even the best author cannot replicate the raw emotion invoked by a photograph -- a landscape so beautiful, yet once such a field of carnage, that makes the heart ache in pain for those who witnessed it. Score of historians write scores of books that are published every year about Civil War. They tell of epic battles and brave men, but they fail to provide anything more than words on paper. These hallowed grounds give life to the lifeless words. I hope that every person who views the photographs in this work will find themselves left with a curiosity and desire to see these places for themselves. Once you have experienced a place like Little Round Top or the Crater, you will never be the same again.
It would be hard for any of us to imagine that our nation’s hallowed ground would ever disappear – after all, places like Gettysburg and Antietam are staples of America’s treasured past. Sadly, America’s Civil War battlefields are being ignored by our generation. The short attention span of the American populous allows the passage of time to block the gaps between the modern and the past. In order to maintain personal conveniences, we ignore the cries of desecrated hallowed grounds that are being bulldozed for strip malls and fast food restaurants. Rather than defend our history, we step aside in the name of progress. We are no longer listening to the stories of our history, choosing instead to drown them out with French fries and six lane highways.
Some of America’s most hallowed sites are disappearing under the demands of more pavement, rural development, and urban/suburban sprawl. Over the last three decades, battlefields have faced the enormous pressure of developers and city administrators who wish to pave over the lands as a means of community expansion. Local governments throughout the United States struggle with the issues of community growth and development, as well as the quality of life residents’ experience. Community leaders often ignore the historic aspects of preservation for the want and need of more tax revenues to fund cash-strapped budgets. Intrinsic motivation and an appreciation of the past are not convincing arguments in the face of rising costs and growing needs.
A 1993 Congressional study found that approximately 10,500 sites across the United States were battlegrounds of the Civil War. It was determined that 384 of those sites were significant to the outcome of the war. Sadly, 75 battlefields are lost, and only 15% of those that remain are protected under state and/or federal law. The majority of battlefield lands that remain are owned by private citizens, with commercial and industrial development imminent threats to the historical integrity of landscape.
It is my earnest belief that when we forget our past, we simply can’t understand the present or have a hope for the future. Each battlefield paints a defining scene of what it means to be an American. Our bucolic fields and pastures across the nation call out to us to listen to their stories so that we can learn, share, and understand the cost of freedom and liberty. Our heroes – the citizen-soldiers – left legacies that allow us today to enjoy the fruits of liberty and prosperity. Our ancestors deserve to be honored and the lands where they took their last breath preserved for perpetuity.
This photographic tribute was created to showcase hallowed ground through the eyes of an amateur photographer and equally amateur historian, who appreciates these places as more than just a tourist destination. Each photograph, along with the quotes, poems, and lyrics, are intended to invoke raw emotions – sadness, joy, grief, patriotism, and pride in our shared national heritage. I hope these images and words stir your soul and peak your interest. Most importantly, I hope that you will realize that we all have a stake in the preservation of our history, and that you will join the in the fight to preserve and protect it.