To those of us who are older, the National Park Service with its Civil War Battlefields, conjures up images of the Civil War Centennial, of living histories on hallowed ground, and of venerable old Ed Bearrs doing one of his dramatic (or melodramatic) narrations of Pickett's Charge .
Sadly, however, times have changed, and if you are anything at all of a "Civil War" devotee, you'd have to have been living in a monastery not to have heard of the Park Service's moves to “revise” its Civil War Battlefield presentations. As one news release put it, the Park Service..
"will explore new historical currents in linking the battlefield experience to such issues as the historical, social, economic, legal, cultural, and political forces and events that led to the Civil War" and “….will focus on the institution of slavery."
If this period of history is at all important to you, you would have to be living on another planet not to have heard of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s 1999 political move which mandated that the Park Service incorporate the mention of "the unique role that slavery played in the cause of the conflict" into its Civil War Battlefield Park presentations.
Recently, the Museum of the Confederacy announced its intention to lend two of its battle flags to the new visitor's center, scheduled to open in Gettysburg in 2006. A leading figure in the SCV followed up with an article in the "Confederate Veteran" which seemed to be supportive of this move. According to the MOC, both flags are in dire need of restoration, a very expensive process costing of thousands of dollars. Display of those flags in a National Park Visitor’s center that draws 1.8 million people per year would be one way to solicit donations, according to the MOC's director. It would also, he said, be a good way to “get our foot in the door” to “tell our story.”
What I hope to demonstrate in this article is that the Park Service is not the Park Service of old, they are not to be bargained with, and they are clearly, our enemy! Ed Bearrs still does his melodramatic renditions, and not every ranger or guide exhibits hostility to all things Confederate. But, the National Park Service, as a governmental agency, IS avowedly hostile, and plans to present the story of the War Between the States as a simple conflict between good and evil. (i.e., North = good and South = evil). Collaborating with them, assisting them, hoping that if we are “nice” they will be fair to “our side of the story,” is at best, a dream, and at worst, we are assisting in our own demise.
Many blame the whole thing on Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., (D) Illinois. As one who’s been following the Park Service changes for four years and who has delved extensively into the subject, I can tell you that this would be a mistake. Jackson is indeed a race-huckster and an opportunist, and his 1999 legislation did make these changes law, but if you’ve ever read his ramblings, you'll see he’s not bright enough to power up a 25 watt light bulb, much less engineer the radical changes that are coming down the pike. By his own admission, Jackson did not begin touring Civil War battlefields until 1997.
The changes that some of you are seeing in such places as Gettysburg, Corinth, Shiloh, Petersburg and elsewhere, have been in the works for two decades and perhaps longer. What you’re seeing in the National Park’s Civil War Battlefields didn't start yesterday and it has been in the works since before Jesse Jackson Jr. ever knew what the "Civil War" was!
In 2004, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Paul Hoffman said the following to the House Subcommittee on the National Parks. Note the dates 1989 and 1990 as proof that Park Service changes in its Civil War battlefield presentations have been in the works for a long time:
"As the country approaches the 150th anniversary of the war, we are mindful that it is a different country than it was fifty years ago. The sesquicentennial of the war will be commemorated within a different political and social environment from that of the centennial. The meaning of the Civil War can be explored more fully. Its causes and consequences, subjects Congress directed the National Park Service to address beginning in 1989 and 1990, can and must be a major part of the sesquicentennial."
1993 - The movie "Gettysburg" sparks national interest and the number of visitors annually to that town skyrockets from 400,000 per year to 1.8 million! In terms of numbers of visitors, Gettysburg, because of both the movie and its central location to both North and South, becomes the premier battlefield park in the NPS.
1994 - John Latschar becomes Park Superintendent at Gettysburg Battlefield Park. Shortly thereafter, in a 1995 speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of the park, Latschar said the following; "We have bent over backwards to avoid any notion of fixing blame for the war." "We are extremely reluctant to tackle that issue, partially due to our sense of fairness—which only extends to our White constituency—and partially, I would suggest, due to the still lingering affects of the 'myth of the Lost Cause." By neglecting the causes of the war, he said, the park had “failed to make itself relevant to all Americans."
(If you're wondering why he sounded so steamed, his boss had just received 1100 postcards from southern heritage defenders demanding he be fired!)
1997 - Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. begins his tours of Civil War battlefields. In 1999, he attaches “language” to the parks appropriations bill mandating that the issue of slavery be included in the presentations at all Civil War Battlefield Parks.
1998 - Nina Silber (feminist), Eric Foner (Reconstruction was wonderful), and Mr. "Battle Cry of Freedom” himself, James McPherson, visit Gettysburg at the request of John Latschar to assess the park’s presentations and to offer suggestions. The resulting 28 page report states that there is too much about battles, not enough about causes, not enough about slavery, not enough about African Americans and not enough about the role of women.
May 2000 - "Rally on the High Ground Symposium" is held. Later that year, it becomes an “online book” which can still be found on the National Park Service website for your reading displeasure. We in the southern heritage movement are sometimes loath to spend time reading books that are uncomplimentary to our point of view. The "Rally on the High Ground Book" is something that will surely make your blood boil, but it is something that should have been read by everyone in any southern organization, as it contains the blueprint for our not-so-bright future. (See list of suggested readings at the end of Part 2).
August 2000 – In reflecting on the 1998 visit by McPherson, Foner and Silber, Supt. John Latschar commented on the importance of "historical credibility" in an Organization of American Historians article. Think hard about what he is saying when you read his words! Referring to that 1998 visit, he said,
“The follow-up report that they prepared was worth its weight in gold. The support these scholars put behind our efforts sincerely impressed both the media and the Congress. Suddenly, we had credibility, and could hold our ground against the jeers of critics”.
(In case you haven’t guessed, Southern Heritage enthusiasts are the “critics” Latschar is referring to!)
The importance of this “historical credibility” is something that Southern Heritage movement people tend to overlook. To a gullible public, the sanctioning of the park service’s battlefield presentations by accredited historians, gives respectability to those presentations.
Think about it. You know little or nothing about the Civil War. You go to a battlefield park where you get the “North/good, South/bad” story. You hear complaints from Southern Heritage folks and you wonder who’s right? But then, author/historians with the title “Ph.D” after their names, whose names you recognize from the bookshelves at Borders and Barnes and Noble are right there telling you that the park service is right and that the Southern Heritage people are guilty of sour grapes or worse. Who are you going to believe? You’ll probably go with the “experts”. We have yet to realize that this is not going to be a battle over hilltops, ridges and towns, but a battle for PUBLIC OPINION!
As you can see, there’s a lot more to this than Jesse Jackson Jr. It has been going on for a long time and amazingly, few on our side have been paying much attention. “Rally on the High Ground” has been sitting on the National Park Service website for 5 years. It is the blueprint for our destruction, yet, I wonder how many of us have read it?
***Links and much more are included in PART 2 of this article.***
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