Civil War Presentation Trust recently interviewed James Hessler about his new book and Sickles’ battlefield preservation efforts.
Sickles at Gettysburg The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg, James A. Hessler, Savas Beatie Publishing, hardcover, 432pp., 20 photos and maps, bibliography, notes, index, June 2009, $32.95.
CWPT: How important were Sickles’ battlefield preservation efforts at Gettysburg?
JH: Very important. He had the political clout, celebrity, and drive to get things done. I would never call him Gettysburg’s most important preservationist, David McConaughy deserves that honor, but I’d certainly put Sickles near the top of the list. He chaired the New York Monuments Commission for almost three decades, put a lot of monuments on the battlefield, helped attack William Tipton’s commercial developments near Devil’s Den, and introduced the bill that created Gettysburg National Military Park. He even drew up the Park’s initial boundaries. The veterans cheered him when he went back to Gettysburg to give speeches. Imagine how different the reaction would be if he went back there today. Of course, money was missing from the Monument Commission’s coffers, and I cover that in the book too . . .
CWPT: Do many people know about Sickles’ preservation efforts?
JH: No. Few participants, if any, combine to be as important during and after the battle as he was. Yet the typical visitor has never heard of him, and has certainly never heard anything positive about him. Sickles even gets short notice in a lot of the histories of the battlefield, yet he put a lot of the monuments on the field, dedicated a number of them, introduced the bill, and set the boundaries. His modern critics will sometimes say that certainly someone else would have created the National Park were it not for Sickles. That is revisionism. The simple fact is that it was Sickles who got the job done. It was the most positive and lasting accomplishment in his long career and it is unknown, overlooked, or downplayed by a lot of people who enjoy the battlefield today.
CWPT: What do you hope this book will accomplish?
JH: I hope it will give Sickles’ reputation some balance and perspective. It is not a love letter to Sickles. I am certainly critical of him when he deserves it. I also hope that battle enthusiasts, particularly of the second day, will find it indispensable in understanding what happened and why. Finally, I hope that the preservationists will pause to remember that Sickles would be very supportive of their efforts, even though you might not want to give him your grandmother’s money, and that we owe a lot of the Gettysburg National Military Park we know today to Dan Sickles.
CWPT: Thank you for the interview, Mr. Hessler. We appreciate your time.
JH: You’re welcome, thank you for the opportunity. I hope your readers enjoyed it, and will look forward to learning more about Sickles.
For the entire interview go to Savas Beatie Publishing's posting of it.
Image Source: Gettysburg Daily.Com May 24, 2009.