GNMP Commission History
Just a few weeks after the Union and Confederate armies departed from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in early July 1863, Gettysburg attorney David McConaughy purchased portions of the land upon which the great battle was fought in order to preserve its historical integrity. Soon after his purchase he and a group of other citizens founded the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMA)—incorporated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on April 30, 1864. Within a few years, the GBMA owned plots of land all over the battlefield. As GBMA real estate holdings grew in the following decades, so did the number of memorials around the battlefield. The GBMA established strict rules pertaining to the erection of memorials on its land. These ranged from location, to materials, to size and to methods for ensuring historical accuracy in inscriptions.
In 1889 the Pennsylvania Legislature “formally invited the Unites States to purchase Land and occupy the field of Gettysburg” in order to create a national park. In 1892 a Congressional bill was introduced which proposed the establishment of such a park. The following year, the three-man Gettysburg National Park Commission (GNPC) arrived in Gettysburg to survey, locate, and preserve the lines of battle at Gettysburg. On February 1, 1895, an act of Congress authorized the acquisition of all GBMA assets and the creation of the Gettysburg National Military Park (GNMP). In addition to road construction, park maintenance, and marking the lines of battle, the GNPC, like its predecessor, managed the erection of memorials on the field according to a strict set of rules and regulations
John P. Nicholson of Pennsylvania (chairman), John B. Bachelder of Massachusetts, and William H. Forney of Alabama made up the first of many GNPCs through the years. To conduct the necessary work, the GNPC selected Major Emmor Bradley Cope as topographical engineer.
Cope was a particularly good choice for the work ahead. He served as a sergeant in the Battle of Gettysburg under the Army of the Potomac’s Chief Engineer, General Gouverneur K. Warren. After the battle, he was put in charge of the first survey and cartographic depiction of the Gettysburg Battlefield. This “Cope Map” remains an indispensable tool for historians of the early battlefield. All of the early work of the GNPC involved E.B. Cope--surveying land, constructing roads, marking positions, and erecting observation towers. Cope commenced his work with the GNPC in July 1893 with great energy.. He corresponded with iron foundries, construction companies, elected officials and, of course, Civil War veterans.
Using text developed through Commissioner John Bachelder’s correspondence and interviews with veterans, Cope worked to place itinerary tablets in various locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania to denote important phases of the Gettysburg Campaign. On a more detailed level, Cope worked with the GNPC as bronze plaques were erected for every Union and Confederate battery, brigade, division, corps, and army that participated in the Battle of Gettysburg. He also assisted with the placement of itinerary tablets for both armies during the battle.
In 1922, upon the death of John Nicholson, Cope was appointed the first superintendent of the GNMP. He served in that capacity until his death at age 92 in 1927. In 1933, the National Park Service acquired stewardship over the GNMP.
The GNPC issued annual reports from its creation in 1893 until stewardship was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. The reports, issued each November, covering that year through October, outlined the work of the GNPC for that year. Reports from 1893-1901 were bound into one volume with the photographs that accompanied each report (a practice started with the 1895 report) printed en masse after the text. In 1905, a larger version, which encompassed 1893-1904, was printed in the same manner. (It is the photographs in this version that are included on this CD.) This was the last time the reports were bound in a comprehensive fashion—thereafter they were bound individually by year only.
Not long after the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, people began to memorialize the actions of those who struggled there. Other than headstones for the fallen, the first known memorials were inscriptions on boulders or trees. Some of these, carved as early as 1864, remain today. In 1865 the first physical, permanent, memorial was dedicated at Gettysburg with the laying of the cornerstone of the Soldiers’ National Monument in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. The monument was completed four years later. In 1867, survivors of the 1st Minnesota regiment placed a memorial urn in the Cemetery to honor the dead from that state. In 1871, a bronze statue of Union General John F. Reynolds was erected in the Cemetery.
It was not until 1878 that a granite or bronze memorial was erected on the battlefield outside the National Cemetery. That year, memorials to two Union colonels were placed to mark the spots where they were killed or mortally wounded. With the erection of the 2nd Massachusetts monument in 1879, the era of memorializing specific units that fought at Gettysburg began. Within a decade most northern states had allocated funds to regiments that fought at Gettysburg for the erection of memorials. The 1880s saw hundreds regimental monuments erected at Gettysburg. Almost all of these were to Union regiments. Regimental memorialization thrived throughout the 1890s and continues to the present day. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, the larger military units (brigade, division, corps, and army) from the north and the south as well as the “regular” or United States units were memorialized with plaques and tablets of various sizes. Today, some 1,400 monuments, markets, and tablets adorn the Gettysburg National Military Park.
The First Day’s Field
Cemetery Ridge and west Cemetery Hill
East Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill
East Cavalry Field
The Commission first met on May 31, 1893. At that time, the Gettysburg Electric Railway was constructing a trolley line upon some of the most sensitive portions of the battlefield. Many veterans were horrified as portions of the field of Pickett’s Charge, Devil’s Den, the Rose Woods, and Little Round Top, were graded and forever altered. The Commission quickly entered into negotiations with the president of the railway, Mr. Edward M. Hoffer. While the Commission was successful in slowing the construction of the electric trolley line, Hoffer proved to be a tough and slippery businessman. The Gettysburg Electric Railway opened for business on July 13, 1893. While the Commission attempted, by various means, to “derail” the trolley, the tracks would not be pulled up for twenty years after condemnation proceedings which involved the Pennsylvania attorney general, the U.S. District Court, the Supreme Court, Congress, and a host of other parties.
While the Gettysburg Electric Railway constituted the largest threat to the character of the battlefield, there was much work to be done in other areas. The first thing the Commission did was survey and map the battlefield. By November 1893, most of the surveying was completed, including some 20 miles of avenues. In addition, land had been acquired, and much more was under negotiation.
On February 11, 1895, an act of Congress authorized the acquisition of all GBMA assets and the creation of the Gettysburg National Military Park. This act was introduced by Gettysburg veteran and U.S. Congressman from New York, General Daniel Edgar Sickles. The “Sickles Bill” provided for the supervision of the park under the U.S. War Department. The Commission, already in place, would disperse annual funds for the improvement and management of the park.
In 1895, five impressive observation towers were built at important points on the battlefield. Sixty-foot towers were erected on Culp’s Hill and Big Round Top. Seventy five-foot towers were built on Cemetery Ridge, Oak Ridge, and Seminary Ridge. Of the five, the towers on Culp’s Hill and Seminary Ridge remain in their original state. The tower on Oak Ridge is considerably shorter than it was in 1895. The observatory on Cemetery Ridge was removed to make room for the Cyclorama building and the tower on Big Round Top was removed in the late 1960s due to problems with vultures nesting atop its corrugated roof. The remaining towers still provide, by far, the best views of the battlefield.
Of all construction projects, however, none occupied as much of the Commission’s time as the construction of military avenues, named after prominent officers from the battle. Indeed, every report of the Commission from 1895 to 1904 begins with a discussion of these projects. All Commission roads were constructed on the Telford system. One report described the process.
The stone used is syenitic granite and ironstone, very hard and of excellent quality. A foundation pavement is laid of 8-inch wedgelike stones set on edge and well knapped and chinked; on this 4 inches of stone 1 1/2 inches in size; then a slight layer of clay as a binder, and finally a top dressing of 1 or 2 inches of quarter-inch stone screenings; the whole rolled thoroughly with a steam roller weighing 14 tons; side and under drains are placed where needed.
The pride felt by the Commission in the construction of these roads cannot be overestimated. They wrote of them with praise and photographically documented stages of the construction of many roads. The steamroller of the Commission appears prominently in several views.
While providing increased access to battle areas, the Commission also labored to make the movements and deeds of the units involved in the battle more understandable. In 1895, the Commission commenced the systematic marking of the battlefield. Before they were done, every Union and Confederate brigade, battery, division, corps, and army was represented with a bronze plaque. The intent was to provide “the utmost possible historic accuracy with regard to” each unit. In addition, the Commission commenced the systematic placing of memorial cannon at the site of each battery plaque, complete with the type of guns and ammunition that were used by that battery. Finally, all United States Regulars regiments were also recognized with plaques as these units were less likely to erect their own memorials.
The Commission labored to make the park attractive while retaining its 1863 character as much as possible. Stone walls were rebuilt, trees were replanted, and grounds were beautified. The other projects of the Commission are too numerous to mention, but evidence of such improvements is visible in the accompanying photographs.
Over the years, the members of the Commission changed. While John P. Nicholson remained the able chairman throughout the years of this study, the two other original commissioners, Bachelder and Forney, died soon after their appointments. The men who filled their places included a Southerner, William Robbins formerly of the 4th Alabama and Charles A. Richardson. At the outset, Emmor B. Cope was selected as the engineer for the Commission and served in that position until 1922, when he himself became superintendent upon Nicholson’s death.
That the Commission was proud of its accomplishments is best indicated in the letters from veterans’ groups voicing resounding approval in the way the park was being managed. Throngs of people visited the park. In 1898 it was reported that “about 9,000 vehicles, carrying 36,000 tourists, passed over the Hancock avenue in a single month.” That year, the Commission proclaimed, “though not yet complete, this is already the best-marked battlefield in the world, and all who come to see it are surprised and delighted.”
At the closing of the bound Commission reports in 1904, the Gettysburg National Military Park Commission had laid more than twenty miles of Telford avenues, built more than 25 miles of fencing, rebuilt more than five miles of stone walls, mounted 324 cannons, erected 462 tablets, and planted 17,000 trees. Between 1895 and 1904, the government more than doubled the amount of land it owned, increasing its holdings to 1,380 acres.
While the Commission was productive in many ways on the field of the first day’s battle, the most documented work was the construction of the many avenues which crisscrossed that part of the field. In its first few years at Gettysburg, the Commission made plans for avenues in the vicinity of Willoughby Run and the Chambersburg Pike. Surveys were made for roads on the west side of Willoughby Run, near the former Springs Hotel, but these avenues were never completed. Before the end of the century, however, North and South Reynolds Avenues were complete. Wadsworth, Doubleday, Robinson, Seminary, and Howard Avenues had been laid. Additionally, a piked roadway had been constructed through Reynolds’ grove. Within three more years, Buford and Stone Avenues were complete. Merideth Avenue, however, could not be completed right away as the Commission ran into trouble. In 1903, the avenue ended abruptly only 800 feet from its planned junction with Reynolds Avenue. The report states that the avenue had,
been thwarted for the present by the receivers of a speculative so-called ‘land improvement company,’ who refuse to grant right of way over, or convey title to, the small strip of land needed for said avenue except upon such conditions that very likely the Commission may have to institute condemnation proceedings in order to secure title to said land for the United States.
By the end of 1904, condemnation proceedings had been successful and Merideth Avenue was complete.
The Commission was busy with other work as well. In November 1895, tower “no. 3” was completed at the northern extension of Seminary (or Oak) Ridge, at the Mummasburg Road. A horrible storm in September 1896, described as a hurricane in one account, felled trees and caused damage all over the battlefield. One of the hardest-hit areas was Reynolds Grove and the Commission labored to get the grove and the rest of the park back into shape.
In 1898, exactly 35 years after his death, the equestrian statue to General John F. Reynolds was unveiled along the Chambersburg Pike with “appropriate ceremonies.”
In 1903, a memorial to local civilian John Burns, known as the “hero of Gettysburg” for having joined the ranks of the Union Army during the fight on July 1, was dedicated along Stone Avenue. At the same time, the Commission was receiving bids on “constructing an iron bridge, of ample span and height over the Western Maryland Railroad on Reynolds Avenue.”
On the first page of its first report, the commissioners began discussion of an avenue which would follow the Confederate line. This project was pervasive throughout the reports for the next seven years. The Commission bartered, labored, and utilized the judicial system to accomplish this important goal.
The first road to be surveyed traversed Seminary Ridge from the Fairfield Road to Little Round Top. The proposed avenue was divided into seven sections. Sections 1-5 (from the Fairfield Road to just south of the Emmitsburg Road) were simply known as Confederate Avenue, while sections 6 and 7 were temporarily named the “Outside Wheatfield Avenue.”
The Commission was careful to recognize the importance of preservation, even in the midst of destroying swaths of land for the building of roads:
Upon this avenue, and in rear of it, there remain many traces of the Confederate breastworks, and in all cases where stone walls were remaining that were known to have been used for definitive purposes, they were included with the avenue.
In 1894, the Commission began accepting bids for the road construction and things progressed nicely from there. By 1896, sections 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7, over three miles of road, were complete. Additionally, a road, designated “Seminary Avenue,” extended section 1 northward to the Chambersburg Pike.
Unfortunately, because of land speculators, the two-mile gap which existed between the completed avenues would not be closed for more than six years. Condemnation proceedings began in 1896. They dragged on. By 1897, the Commission lamented:
no part of this battlefield is more interesting than the part covered by that gap in the Confederate avenue. Not only did important movements of the second day’s battle originate there, but it was there the Confederate column of the third day under Longstreet was formed and began its advance on that final charge led by Pickett, so sublime in its daring and so tragic in its fate. … there is no part of the battlefield so inaccessible as this. Encumbered by bushes and briers and cross fences, with not even an open footpath over it, visitors here never see this ground because they can not reach it.
Finally in 1900 the government acquired the land. By 1901, sections 2 and 3 were at last constructed. The Commission proudly announced the new access to these parts of the battlefield, which enabled “the military critic better than ever before to study the scene of the great conflict and many of its more prominent features from various points of observation.” With the addition of East and North Confederate Avenues, the Confederate portions of the battlefield were well covered.
In 1895, an attractive bridge was erected on section 7 of Confederate Avenue. It was built of “Gettysburg granite” over 6-inch I bars. Later that year, the seventy-five foot Tower no. 2 was erected near the Wheatfield Road.
Today, while some of the paths of the avenues have changed, North, South, East, and West Confederate Avenues provide excellent access to the most significant Confederate sites. It is good to remember the efforts of the Commission that went into providing the access and views we enjoy today.
While the Commission was occupied with the condemnation of the Gettysburg Electric Railway, it was still busy with the construction of avenues. As early as 1893, the Commission began to acquire land for preservation and visitation. Foremost among these purchases was General Samuel Wiley Crawford’s land.
Crawford, who led a division of Pennsylvania Reserves during the battle, was concerned about the destruction of portions of the land over which he and his men had fought in 1863. In 1872, to prevent such destruction, he purchased 47 acres which included the Valley of Death and Devil’s Den. The cost: $500. Roughly twenty years later, the Commission bought it from him for $700.
By 1897, Crawford Avenue wound its way through the Valley of Death. Sickles Avenue picked up the trail at Devil’s Den, meandered through Rose Woods and the Wheatfield, and looped around the Stony Hill before terminating at the Wheatfield Road. Because the latter was not yet a public road, the GNPC was forced to leave an 1,100-foot gap along this road before Sickles Avenue continued northward, connecting the Wheatfield Road to the Emmitsburg Road. In 1899, however, the Pennsylvania legislature ceded control of state roads on the battlefield to the federal government. This allowed the Commission to improve the 1,100-foot section and make Sickles Avenue complete. That same year the GNPC also completed Sykes and Sedgwick Avenues. In some places, the avenues were lined with low-granite pillars topped with 13-inch shells, “to prevent careless driving off the roadway.”
In 1902, the Commission could boast of the completion of Chamberlain and Warren Avenues. The completion of the latter required condemnation proceedings in order to acquire the twelve acres between the Round Tops. That same year, the GNPC planned new avenues that would come to be known as Ayers, Cross, Brooke, and DeTrobriand Avenues.
In the fall of 1895 tower no. 1 was erected on the summit of Big Round Top replacing the wooden tower that once crowned the heights. The Commission also acquired a small tract of land to the east of Big Round Top which allowed for the construction of Wright Avenue in 1903.
Cemetery Ridge and west Cemetery Hill
One of the first GNPC roads was United States Avenue. In 1895, Farrell Brothers was contracted for the work and problems followed. Italian road worker Frank Cadrone was killed by the premature explosion of dynamite. Nonetheless, the road was completed soon after. A bridge, identical to that built on section 7 of Confederate Avenue, was constructed over the northern extension of Plum Run. A few years later, the Commission purchased 22 acres on the north side of the avenue.
Other roadwork progressed in the vicinity without injury. Hancock Avenue, a GBMA road, was re-laid as a Telford road and widened to 25 feet. Also, two twenty-foot wide side loops, Harrow and Webb Avenues, were laid to “reach out to interesting localities.” This work was finished in 1896 but additional purchases allowed for the widening of the government’s Hancock Avenue tract to 100 feet. The Commission erected a “statndard” fence on its borders.
In 1897, Meade Avenue was laid from the Taneytown to Hancock Avenue. Avenues, in the vicinity, however, had short lives—Meade, Webb, and Harrow Avenues are all no more. In 1901, the GNPC added Pleasonton Avenue and a maintenance building to its list of accomplishments. The same building is still used by the National Park Service.
On August 23, 1893 Commissioners Bachelder and Forney traveled to Hagerstown, Maryland, and met a party of veterans from the Stonewall Brigade. Together they visited the battlefield and marked a number of positions of Confederate units on Culp’s Hill and elsewhere. The 1893 report boasted that the Southerners “seemed deeply impressed with the importance of this work and enthusiastic in their assurance of cooperation from Confederate veterans.” Thus began a long relationship, sometimes healthy, occasionally rocky, between the Commission and Confederate veterans.
In 1897 Slocum Avenue was completed. Some of the modern roadway follows the same path but many of its original curves and retaining walls have been removed. That same year the Commission planned an avenue that would run “from the southeastern base of Culp’s Hill, across Rock Creek to the extreme right flank of the Union forces.” Although the need for this avenue was called “urgent,” the new avenue never came to be. Instead, the GNPC built Neill Avenue which, because it is not connected to any other road, remains the most remote avenue on the battlefield today.
But there were more roads to build on Culp’s Hill proper. Geary and Williams Avenues provided access to the areas where Union forces formed on July 3rd in their effort to push confederates off of Culp’s Hill.
In 1895 Tower no. 4 was erected on the summit of Culp’s Hill. This observatory has stood the test of time, being strengthened and repaired in 2000. An old, wooden tower, which once adorned East Cemetery Hill was removed to make room for the Hancock equestrian statue. Hancock’s memorial was dedicated in 1896. Six years later, however, the monument had to be dismantled after it was struck by lightning. It was soon repaired and replaced in 1903. Another equestrian statue, this one in honor of General Henry Henry W. Slocum, was erected on Stevens’ Knoll in 1902.
East Cavalry Field
In 1897 the Commission reported of the need for an avenue that provided access to East Cavalry Battlefield. The overall plan was to link the now-remote Neill Avenue with East Cavalry Field.
Six years later, the Commission acquired 33 acres of land on East Cavalry Field. Soon after, the Commission surveyed land for a possible avenue connecting the cavalry field with Neill Avenue. It never materialized and the Commission expressed regret in its 1904 report:
The cavalry field, disconnected as it is from that of the infantry and artillery, can only be reached now from Gettysburg by a circuitous route of about 4 miles over hilly and rough roads. For this reason it is but little known and rarely visited though much labor and money have been spent by several States and by cavalry organizations, through the memorial association, for the purchase of land and erection of monuments thereon, and also a large amount of work has been done there and money expended by the United States through the Park Commission for purchase of land, laying out maintenance of avenues and care of the field in general.
This is largely true to this day.
William H. Tipton (1850-1929), who recorded almost all of the historic images on this CD, was the most prolific Gettysburg photographer in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1863 he was an apprentice to the Tyson Brothers, who owned Gettysburg’s only photographic studio at the time. Tipton is known to have been on the battlefield assisting with some of the earliest images ever recorded at Gettysburg. He would eventually acquire the Tysons’ business and by the 1880s, was firmly established as a photographer; well-equipped and staffed to handle the rigors and demands of the Gettysburg market. In the 1880s and 1890s, he was an active battlefield photographer. When the GNPC began to license Park photographers in the 1890s, Tipton was one of only five such businessmen. He recorded images of groups visiting the park, of the battlefield itself, and of its many monuments. He sold these in his studio, in local shops, and by mail. For mail orders, he published his Catalogue of Tipton’s Photographic Views of the Battlefield of Gettysburg (Gettysburg, PA: J.E. Wible, Steam Printer, 1894). He also published souvenir books which contained images of the field and its monuments. One of the most popular was his Gettysburg: The Pictures and the Story (Gettysburg, PA: Tipton & Blocher, 19th edition in 1913).
Tipton referred to himself the “battlefield photographer.” While others made that claim, none could claim to have done as much work on the Gettysburg Battlefield. In addition to recording views on the field for more than 60 years, he was generally the man hired to record official park images.
The GBMA commissioned Tipton for a large job, as noted in the May, 1888 minutes of the GBMA:
"On motion of Col. Bachelder, it was Resolved, that the Association have Mr.
Tipton prepare a mat and photographs of the monuments erected on the field
and that they be framed and placed on exhibition in the City of Boston,
Mass. Col. Bachelder stated that Mr. Tipton had agreed to furnish the
Seven years later, the GNPC hired Tipton to photographically document the work of the Commission. This job lasted for more than twenty years. In 1898, the GNPC also commissioned Tipton to record a new series of images encompassing the hundreds of monuments, markers and tablets on the battlefield. This work was also continued well into the 1900s as new memorials were erected.
The series of images on this CD, encompasses all 224 photographs reproduced in the bound version of the GNMP Annual Reports in 1905. It is a unique collection of images. Unlike the abundance of repetitive battlefield views that depict monuments and popular sites, these images document the work of the Commission and thereby include portions of the battlefield found in no other collection of memorial-era Gettysburg imagery.
Despite the vast array of images in this series, it is but a part of the whole. The images reproduced here are only those the Commission chose to include in its bound annual reports, 1893-1904. Missing are numerous other images recorded during this period as well as hundreds more which were made by Tipton on behalf of the Commission in the years after the 1905 printing of the bound reports. These images reside in the National Archives and Records Administration’s College Park, Maryland facility. A copy set, along with numerous other Tipton images are in the collections of the GNMP archives.
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