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It's preservation vs. profit on land near battlefield

Grave July 1, 1997
Web posted at: 5:10 p.m. EDT (2110 GMT)

From Correspondent Charles Bierbauer

GETTYSBURG NATIONAL MILITARY PARK, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- A Civil War soldier whose bones were discovered on the battlefield here last year was buried Tuesday. It's both the anniversary of the start of the epic 1863 battle and the day historians believe the unknown warrior died.

The remains were the first found at Gettysburg National Military Park since 1939. The lack of clothing and other identifying artifacts prevented anthropologists from determining whether he fought for Union or Confederate forces.


The soldier, estimated to be in his early 20s, apparently was killed by a bullet that struck him behind the left ear, scientists said.

Development of private land debated

Tuesday's burial came as real estate interests and preservationists fight a modern-day battle of Gettysburg over commercial development that may unearth more bodies. At issue: private land near the carefully preserved battlefield.

Developer Mark Caldwell, whose great-great-grandfather was a Union soldier, hopes archeologists find "nothing significant" as they scrape the soil for traces of history where Camp Letterman once stood.

vxtreme It's preservation vs. profit on land near battlefield

The camp -- the Civil War's largest field hospital consisting mostly of tents -- is long gone. Now in its place are an open field and rundown trailer court just east of the military park.

Caldwell envisions a supermarket and restaurant on the property, a possibility that appalls Sarah Rodgers, whose great-great-grandmother helped nurse the wounded at Gettysburg.

"This is where the soldiers suffered and were taken care of," Rodgers says. A member of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, she wants to leave the ground undisturbed.

"My children looked at me and said, 'Wow, Mommy, this doesn't look like this was once a hospital.' I said, 'No, it doesn't,' and I think that's very sad."

Tourists rule where soldiers once fought

The battlefield itself is silent on this debate. Now, the only shots are made by cameras. And here, where a Confederate advance was halted, tourists have taken up the charge.

Tourism has become Gettyburg's industry, but history and commerce occasionally fix bayonets and skirmish over what to preserve and what to develop.

"I think that's what makes this an interesting preservation issue," says Brent Glass of the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission. "It's not just a ... good guy/bad guy situation."

Nevertheless, it's a battle.

Keeping land outside the park just as it is, argues Caldwell, "is not enhancing anyone's understanding of what happened here."

But Rodgers is unmoved, preferring preservation over profit, no matter what. "Even if nothing is found as a part of that archeological study, I still believe that the historic significance of this land is for real."

Perhaps that's true, but so much time has passed, any secrets the bloodied land holds may have turned to dust.


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