The majority of monuments at Gettysburg were erected by the veterans themselves in the years following the Civil War or by the U.S. Government.
The very first monuments at Gettysburg were erected in the National Cemetery. The original landscape plan had included a grand monument erected in the center of the circular rows of graves, and in 1864, the GBMA requested design proposals for a “Soldiers’ National Monument. The selected design featured a tall column topped by the figure of Liberty, and a large base with figures representing War, Peace, History, and Plenty. It was formally dedicated in 1869. While the Soldiers National Monument was being constructed and finished, in 1867, the First Minnesota Regiment, which had been virtually annihilated on the 2nd day of battle at Gettysburg, erected a memorial urn in the National Cemetery at the site of the Minnesota plot.
The first monument outside the National Cemetery – a marble memorial stone on Little Round Top to Colonel Strong Vincent — was erected in 1878 by a GAR post in Erie, Pennsylvania. Then, during the summer of 1879, the 2nd Massachusetts became the first unit to erect a regimental monument on the battlefield — a bronze tablet upon a large rock on the edge of Spangler’s meadow on Culp’s Hill complete with an inscription reciting the facts connected with the historic charge of that regiment across the meadow.
But these early monuments remained relatively alone on the battlefield as at first there was little interest in erecting monuments as the country struggled to recover from the Civil War. However, as the 25th anniversary of the battle approached, the veterans turned more and more nostalgic. Eventually, the GAR gained control of the GBMA and Gettysburg — with its Northern location — became the principal site for Union veterans’ reunions. The growing attendance at these reunions, coupled with the pending anniversary of the battle, renewed interest in creating a true “Battlefield Park” at Gettysburg. To that end, the GBMA began encouraging veterans groups to place monuments on the battlefield.
Historical accuracy was always considered paramount in the placement of monuments, even in the beginning. Aiding immensely in maintaining the historical accuracy of the Park was John Batchelder, a New Hampshire artist. Visiting the field shortly after the fighting ended, Batchelder had the opportunity to speak with wounded soldiers and officers in the field hospitals around Gettysburg. Then, in the winter of 1863-1864, he traveled to the Army of the Potomac camps and interviewed surviving officers in every regiment and brigade. After the War ended, he continued to interview soldiers and officers, often touring the battlefield with these men. This led to the eventual creation of a series of maps that were instrumental in the placement of monuments and that are still referred to today.
In order to maintain historical accuracy and to better understanding of what happened at Gettysburg, the GBMA developed the “Line of Battle” rule. As later articulated the “line of battle rule” required that a regimental or battery monument be placed on the line of battle held by the brigade (unless the regiment was detached). It also required right and left flank markers made of stone not less than two feet in height. If the same line was held by other troops, the monuments were to be placed in the order in which the several commands occupied the grounds, the first being on the first line, the second at least twenty feet in the rear of it, and so on, with the inscriptions explaining the movements.
Generally, the Line of Battle Rule caused few problems, but sometimes the placement of troops (and monuments) became hotly contested. The controversy surrounding the placement of the monument to the 72nd Pennsylvania at the stonewall at the Angle eventually was decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for example. The Line of Battle rule was also partly responsible for Confederate veterans having little interest in erecting monuments at Gettysburg. The Army of the Potomac mainly fought a defensive battle at Gettysburg; the established line was typically where a regiment did the bulk of its fighting and suffered the greatest loss. The Army of Northern Virginia, however, fought a mainly offensive battle and the established lines on Seminary Ridge and elsewhere were not typically where they did the bulk of their fighting or suffered their losses. We will come back to the Confederates a little later.
With the renewed interest in the battle, and the political power of groups like the GAR, the northern states began to appropriate money towards erecting monuments to honor their regiments and batteries that fought at Gettysburg. In 1883, the state of Massachusetts became the first state to appropriate money towards placement of monuments at Gettysburg. As it would do with each state in turn, upon receiving the appropriation monies, the GBMA set about marking the location of the Massachusetts units and purchasing land upon which to allow them to erect their monuments.
Prior to 1887, other than the “Line of Battle” rule, there were no formal rules or standards for monuments. This was rarely a problem; there were not that many monuments. But as each state began to appropriate money, monuments were erected of questionable taste or construction materials. In response on July 3, 1887 the GBMA decided to issue a list of regulations, standards, and suggestions for monuments. The GBMA began by requiring all monuments or memorials hereafter erected must be of granite or real bronze — a response to the 4th Ohio erecting a monument on East Cemetery Hill made of “white bronze” – a brittle zinc compound. (Another Ohio regiment, the 55th, erected a monument made of sandstone that is slowly eroding away because it is a much softer stone that weathers much, much faster than harder granite.)
The GBMA also decided to require that the front of each monument contain the number of the regiment or battery, State, brigade, division, and corps, in letters not less than four inches long, and, in addition thereto, the time the regiment held the position, and a brief statement of any important movement it made. All lettering was required to be deeply and distinctly cut so as to survive “the ravages of time.” The GBMA further required that a monument list a regiment’s effective strength and casualties in accordance with the Official Records of the War Department. Also recognizing that “the memorials erected upon this field will not only mark the positions held by the several commands, but will also be regimental or battery monuments, and in most instances the only ones ever erected by them,” the GBMA recommended that detail be provided about what the regiment did at Gettysburg. Finally, with an eye towards the future and understanding that in subsequent years “when the identity of the regiment shall have been merged in the history of the battle, the visitor to this great battle-field will be interested to know just where the troops from his city or county fought, and to learn something of the services rendered by them,” the GBMA requested that each monument contain information about “the regiment was recruited, dates of muster in and muster out, total strength and losses during its service, and the battles in which it participated.”
With each state appropriating money, eventually nearly every state-designated regiment or battery that fought at Gettysburg had a monument placed by the time the GBMA deeded over control of the park to the Federal government in 1895. The various state monuments were usually designed by the veterans and as such they reflect the time and sentiments of their designers. The monuments vary greatly in design from very simple geometric stones to elaborate pieces.
With the transfer of the battlefield from the GBMA to the Federal Government in 1895, care of the battlefield and subsequent memorialization efforts fell to the War Department. One of the stated purposes of the Government in taking control of the field was to “have the positions and evolutions of both the contending armies carefully ascertained and suitably marked,” something that had been already accomplished in large part by the already erected monuments to the various volunteer regiments and batteries of each state. However, there still remained the task of marking the Confederate positions and the positions held by the U.S. Regular troops who fought with the Army of the Potomac.
Led by E.B. Cope , who as a young engineer officer had done a map survey of Gettysburg in 1863, and John Nicholson who had fought in the 28th Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, the War Department began “to place the principal tablet or monument of each command at the position occupied by the command in the main line of battle, and to mark the several important positions subsequently reached by each command in the course of the battle by subordinate and ancillary tablets, with appropriate brief inscriptions giving interesting details and occurrences and noting the day and hour as nearly as possible.” These efforts were eventually completed around 1921.
We’ve discussed the Union monuments, what about those to the Southern army? Well, there was at first very little interest to erecting monuments to the Confederacy. Especially in the early days, the GAR-controlled GBMA was hostile towards the idea of allowing their enemies to erect monuments at Gettysburg. And the war-torn South showed little interest in erecting monuments at the site of a defeat, particularly in a northern state. With the growing sentiment of reunion, however, the resistance to Confederate monuments began to fade. Still, most of the land upon which the Confederates had their battle lines remained in private hands until the War Department gained control of the Park. But with the power of condemnation, the War Department began adding the Confederate positions to the park, and surviving Confederate officers and soldiers joined in the marking of the field to the point that the Park Commission felt “sure” that they would be able to “determine and mark with very great accuracy the positions and evolutions of all the various commands of the Confederate army on this field.”
Yet, up until 1917 when Virginia erected a large monument at the Point of Woods where Lee had watched the stragglers of Pickett’s Charge stream back, the only Confederate monuments at Gettysburg other than War Department tablets were the marker where General Armistead fell within the inner Angle and a monument and position stone to the 1st Maryland Battalion on Culp’s Hill. Because of resistance from Union veterans groups that did not want the 1st Maryland Potomac Home or 1st Maryland Eastern Shore confused with the Confederate unit, the 1st Maryland was forced to use the designation 2nd Maryland.
North Carolina and Alabama eventually followed Virginia in erecting state monuments. But the rest of the Confederate states present at Gettysburg did not erect monuments until the Centennial renewed interest in the War in the 1960s. Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia all erected state monuments around this time. In the 1970s, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas followed, and in 1982, Tennessee erected a monument — the only state monument built with private funds.
Monuments have continued to be placed at Gettysburg. During the 75th Reunion in 1938, the Peace Light Monument was dedicated on Oak Hill. Indiana and Delaware have placed state monuments, and several Confederate monuments, including stones to the 26th North Carolina and 43rd North Carolina and a monument to the 11th Mississippi have been erected. Monuments have been added to commanders as well; the bronze portraits of John Gibbon and Samuel Crawford are relatively recent additions and so too is an equestrian statue to General Longstreet. The battlefield’s most recent addition is a monument to Lincoln that was placed at the new Visitor Center.