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Confederate statues on Gettysburg's battlefields are history lessons, park official says

The Alabama memorial at the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By CHRIS PASTRICK | The Tribune-Review | Published: June 22, 2020

GETTYSBURG, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — In recent weeks, a number of Confederate statues and monuments have been targeted by protesters as symbols of racism and slavery.

As a result, a number of them are no longer standing.

When it comes to Confederate markers, you’re unlikely to find a place with as many such examples than in Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg National Military Park.

On Seminary Ridge alone, there are 13 statues to Confederate figures, such as the Virginia Monument with Gen. Robert E. Lee atop his horse.

In addition, there are hundreds of other monuments, plaques and markers with Confederate ties scattered around the park.

But unlike many Confederate statues across the country, the ones at Gettysburg were erected not as a way to honor those who fought for the South’s cause but as a lesson to be learned, said the park’s acting public affairs officer.

“The battlefield is one huge classroom.” Jason Martz said. “You can have a textbook in a classroom. But the battlefield makes that textbook come alive.”

The history lesson is an important one, Martz said.

It tells the story of the massive three-day battle that helped turn the Civil War toward a northern victory.

Seminary Ridge has so many Confederate statues because it’s the location where Gen. Robert E. Lee set up his headquarters. It became the Confederate line of battle for the attacks against the Union Army.

Despite the historical lessons the statues at Gettysburg teach, Martz acknowledged vandalism is not only possible but inevitable.

“We’re concerned about (the statues) all of the time,” he said. “We’ve had a number of things happen to them since they were put in.”

Whether it’s having a bayonet mended or a stone corner repaired, Martz said making repairs to historical markers is nothing new.

It’s just part of the job of continuing to tell the story of our nation — good and bad.

“Whether it’s a pleasant story or an unpleasant story, it’s still part of the American fabric,” Martz recently told WHP-TV in Harrisburg.

“That’s what our job is: to tell that story,” Martz said, “the good, the bad and the ugly, because that’s all to some degree still happening.”

Rather than a contentious space, Martz says, he hopes Gettysburg’s battlefields would be a place of reflection.

In fact, he says most are doing just that.

“With all of the things that are happening in our country, (Gettysburg) is one of those places where people come to think about those things,” Martz said.

And that, he said, is worth preserving.

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Confederate Avenue at the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

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