From remarks given by Peter S. Carmichael, Encyclopedia Virginia‘s section editor for Civil War content, at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians and the National Council on Public History, April 21 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
In my estimation, the great challenge ahead is for Civil War battlefields to be places of civic engagement. Unfortunately, Civil War battlefields today resemble decorative landscapes. They are largely depoliticized and I think this is best exemplified by the ways that cannon figure into visitors’ experience. The iconic symbol of the Civil War has lost its meaning as a weapon of destruction and death.
Cannon, as you well know, have become the jungle gyms where scores of kids, as you probably seen, have imperiled themselves on the gun barrels doing all kinds of acrobatic feats while their parents were gone. Or, what has the cannon become? A toy trinket that is purchased at a gift shop then taken home as some kind of nostalgic reminder of the Civil War.
When we allow this to happen, when we allow the material culture of the Civil War to become decorative pieces, we miss an opportunity to explore why Civil War soldiers were conflicted over the morality of killing and destroying their enemy. And we also miss an opportunity for visitors to reflect on the ways that we wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how our adversaries fight against us.
IMAGE: A cannon looks out over the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia. Photograph by Joy Schoenberger, October 2007 (Wikimedia Commons)