Superintendent John Latschar Responds To CWN Column

John Latschar

August 2008 Letter to the Editor in Response to July 2008 Paging Thru


I think it was Mark Twain who once remarked that it’s not wise to argue with a fellow who buys ink by the barrel.

So we won’t argue with your scathing review of our new museum and visitor center at Gettysburg National Military Park, as printed in the July issue of the Civil War News.

Besides, your editor is right – at least from his point of view. Our new museum has little to offer to those whose expertise in the Civil War era is so all-encompassing that they have little left to explore except the difference between Union and Confederate 12-pound Napoleons, or Union or Confederate brass enlisted man’s belt plates.

But for the rest of us – for whom this museum was built – I’m convinced we have good news. I think we have achieved our objective in this new museum, which was to “provide understanding of the significance of the Gettysburg Campaign within the causes and consequences of the American Civil War.”

To that end, there is much about Gettysburg in the museum – two-thirds of the spaces, the exhibits (and yes, the artifacts), are devoted directly to the campaign, battle, and aftermath of Gettysburg.

Approximately one-sixth of the museum space is devoted to the causes of the Civil War (or, in other words, what they were fighting about), and one third to the consequences (or, why did it matter).

And behind the scenes of those public displays, tucked safely in the lower floor of the new museum, is the rest of our collection. For the first time since July of 1863 when John Rosensteel removed that first item from the battlefield, our grand collection of over 1,000,000 items is preserved for future generations in a state-of-the-art storage facility, which meets all American Association of Museum storage standards.

For the first time, we can tell you that those precious items – whether on display or in storage – will be preserved, unimpaired, for future generations. Given where we were but a decade ago, that is a magnificent achievement.

The icing on this cake is that we also have top quality, state-of-the-art research facilities right next to the storage facilities, so that the students and scholars of Civil War technology can sit down and study the myriad variety of pistols, revolvers, artillery projectiles, rifles, muskets, belt plates and all the other wonderful items in the collection.

Just call us and make an appointment, and you can study them at your leisure in a roomy, well-lit, and quiet research facility.

In the meantime, the vast majority of professional reviewers seem to love the new facility. The Washington Post called the new museum “…understated in a classic National Park Service way….a seamless part of the old Park Service brand.”

The Boston Globe said “The museum does an outstanding job of detailing the world-altering events that took place at Gettysburg and placing them in the context of the Civil War.”

Pennsylvania Heritage concluded that “Through a variety of interactive exhibits, immersive cinematic productions, and a cache of research resources, the facility provides a Civil War experience unlike any other.”

The St. Petersburg Times wrote that the museum “offers visitors thoughtful ways to interpret the bloody Civil War battle of July 1-3, 1863.” The Baltimore Sun said that “Visitors win with new center at Gettysburg.”

The Boston Globe called our new film “a powerful synopsis of the events leading up to the battle, the conflict itself, and the aftermath.” Civil War Traveler called it “… simply the best Civil War Museum in the country.”

But even more important, our visitors — for whom this place was built and dedicated — love the new museum. In fact, they are so enthralled that they are spending far more time in the museum than we anticipated, which is leading to unanticipated problems like a shortage of parking spaces.

For the general public, it seems, we have provided exactly what they expect to find in a museum.

In summary, if you already know everything there is to know about Gettysburg or the Civil War era, you may not find much to attract your interest in the new museum.

But if you are interested in a story line museum that weaves together the military, social, economic, or political aspects of the Gettysburg Campaign, and how that pivotal campaign of a pivotal war affected the development of our nation, then I surely invite you to come and visit us. Then, you can invest in some of your own ink, and let us know what you think. 

Dr. John A. Latschar
Gettysburg National
Military Park

P.S. For those who are interested, there is a Confederate 12 pound bronze Napoleon cannon on display (cast at Augusta in 1864), as well as three Model 1861 Springfield rifled-muskets in the main galleries, and GETT 28220 is clearly a U.S. Militia plate.

Unfortunately, the editor visited before we finished installing all the label copy in all the exhibits. That is now complete, so all exhibited artifacts are now clearly labeled for the benefit of our visitors.