Saturday, July 7, 2012

Gettysburg Week 7: Resource Management

Gettysburg National Military Park
Week 7: Resource Management

This week saw a chance for me to work in Resource Management, the department responsible for researching, cataloging, and conserving the various natural and historic resources at Gettysburg National Military Park. I was assigned to the archives where I was given a tour of the numerous historical records and artifacts stored here by the National Park Service. As a historian, I was honored to be able to get close and physically touch these treasures from the past. I was like a kid in a candy store as I perused everything from the frock coat of General James J. Pettigrew to furniture with bullets still lodged in them from the battle. My personal favorite was the gun collection. I handled an extremely rare Civil War sniper rifle as well as several pistols, including the infamous Colt Dragoon: a six-shot, 44-caliber pistol that weighs over four pounds!

After checking out the archives, I was assigned to transcribe the journal entries of Union Private Edward Melcher, a soldier in the 155th PA Infantry. It was fascinating to hold a man's 150 year old journal and read his day-by-day account of the Civil War. I was surprised that he recorded so many mundane things, such as the weather, food, and marching orders. Transcribing involved carefully reading the diary and copying his words into a computer database. This was not easy as his writing was often hard to read and he had a habit of misspelling words or using language from his times. I was excited reading his accounts of the Battle of North Anna in 1864 and would have loved to finish his narrative. Sadly, Private Melcher did not survive the war, as he died from wounds he suffered at the Battle of Five Forks in 1865.

One final note on resource management actually occurred during my first week here at Gettysburg. I was given a tour of the various departments when I stopped by the "cannon shop." The cannon shop is a maintenance facility where the 370 Civil War cannons located on the battlefield are repaired. Each cannon is placed on an all-steel carriage based on the wooden originals from the Civil War. These carriages are undergoing constant maintenance as they crack, rust, and are worn down by tourists climbing and sitting on them. Cannon-expert Michael Wright walked me through the process of repairing each cannon's carriage. First, the carriage's paint is stripped and any cracks are welded to repair the breaks in the steel frame. Next, the weld is sanded down smooth and a layer of waterproof paint is applied to the frame. This paint is specially designed to resemble wood and helps protect the steel carriage from rust. After the paint dries, the carriage is returned to the battlefield. The entire process takes days to complete, and by the time every cannon is serviced, another one needs repair. I was impressed to know that the vast majority of the cannons on the battlefield date back to the Civil War and were used in combat.

Resource management is a key component of battlefield preservation. Every individual I met held their work in high regard and spoke of how people noticed the far-reaching effects of their research. Historians, students, and visitors can find inspiration from artifacts like the diary of a Civil War soldier or observing the many historic cannons on the battlefield. These resources help preserve the historic value of Gettysburg National Military Park for generations to come.

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