by Mike Keeler
It involves a small tract of land, set amid rolling foothills, adjacent to a world-famous tourist destination. For many years it was a nine-hole golf course, but that had gone out of business. Plans had been drawn to redevelop the land into building lots, each 3.5 acres, for single-family residences. There were even designs for a local casino. But, at the last minute, Interior Minister Ken Salazar rode in (wearing a cowboy hat, no less) with a check for $1.6MM, and announced the land had been purchased by the federal government. Adjacent private properties have also accepted height restrictions limiting their future development. And the casino just rolled snake-eyes. The land will remain pristine.
What’s Washington’s interest? Well, back in 1863, some gray-clad soldiers were walking over this property (then owned by farmer Emanuel Harman), headed towards a small town nearby to get some shoes. Suddenly, a second group of soldiers dressed in blue savagely attacked them. Over the next several hours, the two forces – which history recalls were the 26th North Carolina and the “Iron Brigade” of Michigan and Wisconsin – literally fought each other to death, with 70% casualties on both sides. The smoke and noise drew the attention of two massive armies nearby, which quickly arrived from east and west, and which slammed into each other in multiple locations. Because of the prolonged bloodbath at Harman Farm, the blue army had time to set up strong defensive positions, first along a place called Seminary Ridge, and later along a line running from Culp’s Hill, across Cemetery Ridge, and up Little Round Top. This positioning allowed the blue army to fight off the gray army for three days. Which essentially saved the Union.
Our dedication to our national history just grew by 95 acres. After two decades of hard work and coordinated negotiation by the Civil War Trust, the Conservation Fund, the National Trust and the Park Service, the Harman Farm property is finally part of Gettysburg Battlefield. Said Secretary Salazar, “With the addition of the Emanuel Harman Farm to the Gettysburg National Military Park, we are able to include another important chapter in the story that helped shape our country.”
And just in time. This month marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Lots of folks will be headed to Gettysburg over the next 4 years. Harman Farm will provide a natural starting point for their tour, and a whole new venue for reflection. And, most importantly, it refreshes the challenge that Lincoln threw down at Gettysburg so long ago.
“We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract . . . It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us . . . That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion . . . That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”