In the century and a half since the Civil War, various entities, both private and public, have earnestly sought to safeguard the legacy of that seismic conflict through the preservation of its battlefields. In Altogether Fitting and Proper—a title taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—Timothy B. Smith provides the most comprehensive synthesis ever written of the long, often fraught history of those preservation efforts, which began even as the war was still raging and have continued up through the present day.
Smith traces the story of battlefield park establishment from the war and the Reconstruction era through the “Golden Age of Preservation” at the turn of the century, to the New Deal period and well beyond. He pays close attention to the evolution of public policy, as the creation and oversight of parks shifted from the War Department to the National Park Service, and explores the evolving ways in which the Civil War has been remembered over the years, most significantly with regard to its causes: slavery and race. While Smith’s primary focus is on the famous national parks—Gettysburg, Shiloh, Antietam, Chickamauga, and others—he also examines the endeavors of state and local governments, as well as an assortment of private organizations, to establish parks and monuments for lesser-known battle sites. The ongoing conflicts between preservationists and commercial developers form another key element of the narrative.
As Smith makes clear, the story of battlefield preservation is in many ways a story of people—from Civil War veterans like Henry Boynton, the Medal of Honor winner who oversaw the development of the first national military park at Chickamauga, to Jim Lighthizer, the president of the Civil War Trust, the private charitable organization spearheading the twenty-first-century preservation movement. In their dedication to this particular cause, such individuals and the groups they represent have kept a central event in American history alive in our collective memory.