Gettysburg

During the summer of 1863 the fate of the United States was still enormously unclear, both sides of the war desperately needed a large victory to cope with their uncertainty and war weariness. During three days in July one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War was fought, the Battle of Gettysburg. Gen. Meade was able to force Gen. Lee’s army to retreat to Virginia, but Meade’s army failed to pursue Lee’s and finish them off (4). Despite Meade’s failure to completely defeat Lee, the Battle of Gettysburg was politically advertised as a huge Union victory and ultimately started the downfall of Confederate hopes for independence. The battle was of enormous military and political importance, but it also had a large environmental effect on the surrounding area. It is said that every farm and field was turned in to a graveyard and that the land was riddled with wounded soldiers for miles (46). One woman notes in her diary that within the first night of battle the rebels burned twenty-seven houses and thirty-six families were made homeless by the flames (40). She recounts a party of men, including her husband, cutting down trees in the mountains to obstruct the advance of the rebels, but this was ultimately ineffective and the rebels made it through the mountain pass where they “stole all the horses and cattle they could find”(40).

The Battle of Gettysburg was enormously destructive to the environment, like many other battles during the Civil War; fields and houses were burned, forests were destroyed, and livestock was stolen. The Battle of Gettysburg did have a positive outcome for the surrounding environment in the long run, however, due to the motivation of Gettysburg residents to create a proper final resting place for the Union soldiers who lost their lives in the battle. In 1864, the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association was founded by a group of citizens who wanted to preserve the battlefield as a memorial to the Union army (46). By 1895 the Federal Government designated the memorial a National Military Park that honored both armies. The National Park Service has emphasized the maintenance of the historical vegetative landscape that was present when the battle was originally fought, which is valuable for both understanding military strategy and preserving the historical ecology of the area (10). The park has a wide variety of habitats on more than 1,900 acres of mature woodlands, and 2,300 acres of pasturelands and grasslands. These habitats support many species, including some rare, threatened or endangered species such as the black-throated blue warbler, ospreys, bald eagles, and the elusive northern myotis bat (19). The battlefield serves as an important stopover point for migrating species that are particularly threatened by habitat fragmentation, such as monarch and painted lady butterflies, and countless migrating birds (19). These migrating species are important for agriculture and conservation of native plants because they provide the vital ecosystem services of pollination and seed dispersal. Gettysburg National Memorial Park has a huge population of white-tailed deer, which is an important species for hunters and wildlife viewers, and the herd living in the park has provided a wealth of valuable knowledge to deer managers and wildlife biologists throughout the years (13).

Gettysburg was not the only protected area created during the Civil War. On June 30, 1864 president Abraham Lincoln gave the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation” (47). This piece of legislation marked the first time the federal government set aside a natural area to protect it from development and preserve it for public use. The beginning of legislation to protect natural landscapes represents a shift in American ideology about the environment. Prior to the war, many Americans discuss the need to harness nature or dominate it, but towards the end of the war more people begin expressing the desire to preserve nature as it was before European settlement. Galen Clark, guardian of the Yosemite Grant, describes the way Yosemite Valley effects its visitors, “I have seen persons of emotional temperament stand with tearful eyes, spellbound and dumb with awe, as they got their first view of the Valley from Inspiration Point, overwhelmed in the sudden presence of the unspeakable, stupendous grandeur” (47). Perhaps a combination of the movement westward that exposed new and glorious natural wonders, and the enormous destruction caused by the Civil War stirred up a strong desire and political movement to preserve the precious ecosystems found with in the United States.