When two of General Harry Heth’s Confederate divisions clashed with General John Buford’s federal cavalry on Seminary Ridge the morning of July 1, 1863 few knew the carnage that would follow. Over the next three days, the Battle of Gettysburg raged between Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and George Meade’s Army of the Potomac.
When all was said and done, approximately 51,000 men were killed, wounded, missing or captured and Lee’s advance northward had been repulsed. Now, 147 years after the guns fell silent, the Battle of Gettysburg is being renewed. This time, it is not between armies of blue and gray, but rather between armies of preservationists and developers.
The controversy started when aptly-named Mason-Dixon Gaming announced plans to convert the vacant Eisenhower Hotel and Conference Center, which sits on historic Emmitsburg Road less than a mile from the Gettysburg National Military Park, into a casino. Project director Dave LeVan wrote on the Mason-Dixon Gaming website that the “gaming resort” would include 600 slot machines and 50 table games. He also said the project would bring valuable income to Pennsylvania’s Adams County without raising property taxes.
However, LeVan is merely sugarcoating an effort to desecrate this hallowed ground in order to make a quick buck. The attempt to make a profit from this type of entertainment cheapens the sacrifice of the men who fought and died at Gettysburg.
Needless to say, the project is not without its opponents. Many Gettysburg small businesses have spoken out against the casino, fearing it would detract from the area’s number one business: heritage tourism. Their argument can be supported by the findings of a report by Michael Siegel of Public and Environmental Finance Associates that local jobs were lost in the Civil War town of Vicksburg, Miss. after gaming was introduced in 1995.
However, this is far from a local economic issue and actually has little to do with gaming. While Pennsylvania serves as custodian of this ground, the Gettysburg battlefield belongs to all Americans. Men from every corner of the county shed their blood on those fields of Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill and The Peach Orchard trying to define what America was and what it would become.
While the site in question is technically not in the national military park, James M. McPherson, professor emeritus at Princeton University and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Battle Cry of Freedom”, said to the Civil War Preservation Trust, “The proposed site of the casino lies athwart the advance of Union cavalry toward what became known as South Cavalry Field, which saw substantial fighting on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. This ground is as hallowed as any other part of the Gettysburg battlefield, and the idea of a casino near the fields and woods where men of both North and South gave the last full measure of devotion is simply outrageous.”
McPherson was just one of the 278 historians and academics who petitioned the state of Pennsylvania to prevent the opening of the casino. The preservation groups, such as the Civil War Preservation Trust and nocasinogettysburg.org, are helping to lead the fight against this blatant historical prostitution.
Regardless of how the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board rules on this issue, this is not about the morality of gaming in any way but rather about the honor of America’s historical sites.
Earlier this year we saw a similar issue arise when Walmart attempted to open a new supercenter adjacent to the Wilderness battlefield in Orange County, Va. While construction on the store was not allowed to commence, the issue was typical of the fight against urban sprawl that all of America’s battlefields face.
As a nation, we must stand up and say no to any attempt to defile our history. Would we allow a water park to be built next to Arlington National Cemetery? Would we be in favor of building a strip club next to the Alamo? Forget all the hype around the Muslim community center in Manhattan, here is an issue without much media attention that every American should care about.
Michael Millican is a freshman history major from Birmingham, Alabama.