Clearing a way to history–work crews improve the view on Culp’s Hill

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GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Culp’s Hill is the northern end of the Union lines at the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. It was here the line curved back on itself, creating a distinctive “fishhook” formation.

“It was the anchor of the Union right flank at Gettysburg,” says David Malgee, the Interim President and CEO of the Gettysburg Foundation. “So the defense of this position was extremely important.”

Confederate soldiers tried repeatedly to take the hill. From July2-3, twenty-two-thousand soldiers battled for control of its heights.

Jason Martz of the National Park Service tried to describe the indescribable. “There was such intense fighting between the union and confederate forces in this area, and for such a prolonged period of time, that trees were literally cut in two by the force of all the bullets and artillery shells that were flying through this area.”

In the end, the Union prevailed. The damage to the hill became a postwar tourist attraction.

“After the battle,” says David Malgee, “visitors didn’t come to see the field of Pickett’s Charge or Little Round Top, they came to Culp’s Hill, because there was such intensity of firing here that the trees were shot through, the branches were down, and evidence of breastworks still on the hill.”

In the years before the battle, grazing livestock would eat down the undergrowth on the hill. But with nothing grazing on the greenery in the 158 years since the battle, it took over, covering almost every surface, making it nearly impossible to see what soldiers saw in 1863.

Interest in the hill languished. Then in February, workers started to clear brush and trees from eighteen acres on the east side of the hill. The project is a joint effort between the National Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation.

“Now we have a chance to return this landscape to what it was in 1863, or as close as we can get it,” Malgee said. “And we really expect to provide a new visitor experience.”

Most of the funding came from someone with family ties to Gettysburg.

“We have a member of our board named Cliff Bream, who’s a businessman out in California,” explains Malgee, “and he is of the Bream family, that owned the Black Horse Tavern here during the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, and Cliff actually put up quite a bit of money for this particular project.”

Crews to perform the work come from the American Conservation Experience.

“Gettysburg National Military Park has been working with the American Conservation Experience, or ACE, for many years now. They’re a fantastic organization, that enables interested young adults to be able to come out and participate in meaningful projects,” Jason Martz said.

The ACE crews are devoting particular care and attention to the area around one very large rock. It was dubbed Forbes’ rock soon after the battle. A journalist and illustrator named Edwin Forbes painted a picture of the battle as seen from the Confederate position, in which the rock is displayed prominently.

“Forbes Rock really is an icon as far as recognizing a certain area of the battlefield that soldiers would have seen and certainly would have used in one form or another,” Martz said. “That’s again a tangible connection between 1863 and present day.”

That connection will become even more tangible after they construct a trail down to the rock. If all goes as planned, the restoration work should be done by June. The park service and Gettysburg Foundation are establishing an endowment to maintain paths and keep the vegetation in check.

David Malgee sees the restoration as a way to re-introduce visitors to a part of the battle which often gets overlooked.

“We like to think of Gettysburg as an outdoor schoolhouse,” he said. “And I think what we’ve done here is we have added a new classroom to that schoolhouse. What I think is going to happen is for the first time in many many years, visitors are going to be able to walk over the very ground where this action occurred here at Culp’s Hill, to see the terrain, to understand a little bit about the Confederate attacks, which were tenacious, and the very desperate defense of the hill itself. And until you can walk the ground, until you can see what the Confederate soldiers were up against, what the Union troops on defense were up against, until you see that you can never understand the fighting here.”

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