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New Birth for Gettysburg?
Ambitious overhaul moves forward at nation's premier battlefield park.
By Chris Fordney

By the time they collided in the fields of Pennsylvania in the third summer of the Civil War, the main armies of the United States and the Confederacy had evolved into low-tech but brutally efficient killing machines. The aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg probably defies description—a blasted landscape of torn fields, sheared woods, flattened fences, and shell- and bullet-pocked barns and buildings. More than 150,000 men had struggled in extremis for three days, and a third had been killed or wounded.

Looking around Gettysburg National Military Park today, one sees little hint of that carnage. While a forest of monuments and the graves in the Soldiers National Cemetery testify that something big happened around this small town, it's hard to get a sense of what it was from the battlefield's groomed pastures, tidy lanes, and exhibits with scarcely any photographs of dead bodies. Sterile and bloodless as an old television western, the park and town of Gettysburg seem stuck in a 1960s tourism time warp, an interesting but not particularly compelling stop for the nearly two million annual visitors who amble among the monuments, curio shops, and wax museum.

The National Park Service has long been aware that this national park fails to measure up to its profound meaning for the American people as the ground where the war came to its devastating climax and Abraham Lincoln summoned a new nation out of the destruction with the Gettysburg Address. Four years ago, the agency unveiled a new management plan for Gettysburg, probably the most ambitious makeover ever for a battlefield park. The goal, in the words of park superintendent John Latschar, is to make Gettysburg "just as much a shrine and pilgrimage to all the peoples of the nation as the Liberty Bell."

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