Who won the Civil War? You'd have a hard time finding out at Gettysburg. Sure, there are plenty of artifacts in the dilapidated visitor center: cases full of gray and blue uniforms, fading regimental flags, and rows of shining rifles. Step outside, and you'll learn about the flanking movements and angles of fire, the storied charges and tactical gambits that decided the momentous three-day battle. The 1,320 monuments, markers, and memorials that dot the fields of Gettysburg National Military Park pay special attention to troop movements and casualty lists, emphasizing the valor and courage of those who fought. Only a few mention the preservation of the Union; none celebrate the end of slavery.
For almost 2 million visitors each year, the Pennsylvania battlefield confirms everything they know from documentaries, Hollywood, and popular fiction: that the war was America's epic, a heroic conflict both sides fought for freedom. The same tale is told at battlefields across the country. And it is wrong.
In trying to honor the soldiers who died, Civil War battlefields have historically avoided referring to what the two armies were actually fighting about. As a result, say scholars and park service officials alike, the message of most Civil War parks is subtly pro-Confederate, alienating many people who should find the parks compelling. What's missing, they say is a moral element, what Abraham Lincoln referred to as "the better angels of our nature." The Civil War was a fight over slavery. The South was for it, the North against it. Not talking about slavery, they say, erases right and wrong from history-not only in the parks but in the national memory itself. (Want to learn more? Read "The Better Angels," from the September 30, 2002 issue of U.S.News & World Report.)
The photographs in this essay depict a Gettysburg re-enactment that took place this summer. They were made with a zone plate camera: a simple, hardwood box with a series of tiny, ring-shaped holes on one side. Invented in the 1870s, the technique requires exceptionally long exposures, often in the tens of seconds, which result in the ghostly effect.
Photography by Jim Lo Scalzo for USN&WR
Introduction by Andrew Curry
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