Tag Archives: Pickett’s Charge

It’s Okay to Feel Bad about the Gettysburg Cyclorama Building

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The Gettysburg Cyclorama building, which housed the Paul Philippoteaux 1883 cyclorama painting depicting the Pickett-Pettigerew assault, stood in Ziegler’s grove for 50 years. It’s gone now, the “victim” as some might say, of over a decade of rigorous campaigning by proponents of battlefield restoration. There is no need to retell the story of the building’s 2013 demise – plenty have done that before me. Suffice it to say that the battlefield preservationists who wanted to restore that section of the Union line to its 1863 condition were met with stiff opposition from a very vocal group of people who deemed the building a significant historical landmark. I belong to the former group. I found the building to be an intrusive distraction in terms of battlefield interpretation, much like the old observation tower – the Gettysburg National Tower – that came down in 2000.

But I’ll admit that the building had its merits. For one, it was a beautiful example of mid-century architecture, designed by none other that Richard Neutra. Let’s just say that I am a fan of his work and aspire to one day own one of his creations. Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 10.54.55 AMSecond, this building was in some ways part of the Gettysburg commemorative landscape, playing a vital role in how Americans (read: tourists) interpreted the battle. If you’ve read my work you will know that I find commemorative efforts fundamentally significant in terms of national memory.

But despite its many virtues,  I still interpreted the building as more in line with the Gettysburg commercial landscape – like the National Tower, the old rail system that moved people around the park, and various other attractions that generated revenue while altering the terrain and vistas…many of which are long (and rightfully) gone. Still…in some ways (not all) I was sad to see the Gettysburg cyclorama building go. I have some very fond memories of that place – I wrote part of my UCLA senior thesis within its walls. I used to enjoy sitting on the observation deck admiring both the spectacular views and the mid-century modern styling of the building itself.  I guess I just have a sentimental weakness for cool looking buildings. But in the end, the Gettysburg NMP is better off without it. I think there is room for one more ghost on that ridge – and now students of the battle can better grasp how the terrain looked in July 1863, and thus better understand the history of those bloodiest of days.

With compliments,

Keith

 

Is There Any Other “Copse” of Trees?

Screen shot 2014-04-28 at 4.27.32 PMMention the copse to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Civil War and that person will know precisely to what you are referring. The copse…or rather, Copse of Trees is of course the culminating point of Longstreet’s famed assault – known to most as Pickett’s Charge – on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg…what many believe was the turning point of the Civil War.

But why copse? Why not “patch” or “grove” or “thicket” or something like that? It seems that the word was selected for this particular growth of trees by historian/artist John B. Bachelder back in 1870 – in a book detailing a painting on the repulse of Longstreet’s Assault (at least that is the earliest reference that I am aware of). And the name stuck. As the Battle of Gettysburg ascended higher and higher again into American lore and legend, the copse became The Copse of mythic proportions.

So by my estimation, this little stand of trees has ruined the word for any other copses out there. That is all well and good, I suppose. I mean, no one really uses the word any more to refer to other trees…so what’s the trouble with having only one copse? Maybe other small groves of trees should go by the term “coppice.” It’s almost the same and such a reference won’t confuse any Civil War enthusiasts who happen to be nearby.

With compliments,

Keith