Gettysburg National Military Park comprises the land where the Battle of Gettysburg, considered a turning point in the American Civil War, was fought in July 1863. Over 1,325 monuments and plaques dot the landscape commemorating the soldiers who fought and died during the battle. Last week, the National Park Service released a statement saying that it will not alter or remove any of the monuments at the park, including those dedicated to Confederate soldiers.
According to the statement, NPS is “committed to preserving these memorials while simultaneously educating visitors holistically about the actions, motivations, and causes of the soldiers and states they commemorate.” The agency also argues that there are legal reasons it cannot remove monuments. Some statues were authorized by Congress. Others may pre-date the existence of the park and could therefore be considered historical features. In both these situations, new legislation may be needed to remove a monument. Although historical features cannot be modified without legislation directing the agency to do so, the Director of NPS can also make exceptions to the policy.
Many of the Confederate monuments in the park were erected in the early and mid-twentieth century. Monuments erected later than 1933 do not predate the park. However, NPS still see these statues as “an important part of the cultural landscape” as they “reflect the knowledge, attitudes, and tastes of the people who designed and placed them.”
In 2015, Gettysburg National Military Park removed eleven items from its bookstore that depicted the Confederate flag. The decision to remove stand alone images of the flag was prompted by the murder of nine Black church members at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.