Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Latschar, History, Porn - What to Make of it

Recent news that John Latschar, Superintendent of Gettysberg National Military Park had pornographic images discovered on his work computer as part of an investigation by the Interior Department (DOI). The ostensive news in this is that DOI plans to do nothing about this, which is not news to me - I don't care.

I do care about the Gettysburg Battlefield. As a student of the battle, I have spent a lot of time walking pretty much every bit of the field, many areas more than several times, and it's a big battlefield. It's taken years. Why do that?

My military expertise when I started studying the battle was in littoral small boat naval tactics as practiced by the North Korean Navy. When I started reading about Gettysburg, it quickly became clear that terrain was really important to civil war commanders at every level, and they talked endlessly about terrain in their battle reports. I needed to walk the field and know the terrain if I was going to understand the battle and the decisions made during it. I needed to see the actual terrain to understand what a commander meant by words like 'swale', 'heights', 'commanding heights', 'valley'. You'd be amazed at what they considered a commanding height or a valley

I think it bears mentioning somewhere, even if it's just in my little blog, that Latschar oversaw important changes at the park. Under his watch, the park has been transformed under a program to restore it to it's appearance at the time of the battle.

This is a boon to people like me. Now, I can see the field as the commanders did at the time, and really understand things more easily. Like General Hancock's comment about Sickle's unauthorized and stupid redeployment of his third corps forward to the Emmitsburg Road plateau, which almost cost the battle on the second day when the third corps was crushed under Longstreets assault as a result of this misguided deployment - "They'll come tumbling back soon enough". Now with trees cleared, I can easily see the ground and understand how Hancock made that accurate prediction. And how he prepared himself to save the left of the Union army, which he did (barely) despite Sickle's screwup.

All this work, mostly clearing lots and lots of trees that weren't there in 1863, really enhances our ability to understand the battle, and Latschar oversaw and supported that work in the face of some significant resistance. The good he did for real historians, and even for amateurs like me, outweighs a personal shortcoming. I'm grateful to the man.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting story. Sounds like he's lucky to be keeping his job. There certainly is no shortage of people losing careers over mistakes.

    I have not yet visited Gettysberg. I'll have to get up there soon.

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  2. I don't know if you have read anything about the battle. If not, and you want to before you go, I'd recommend Trudeau's book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Gettysburg-Testing-Noah-Andre-Trudeau/dp/B002FL5G88/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256163755&sr=1-3

    If covers all three days in one volume, is detailed enough that if you only want to read one book in your life about the battle it will give you all the details quickly. He writes well in a conversational tone that's easy to get through quickly. And he keeps his opinion mostly out of it, which is good for a starting point - you can formulate your own ideas about what really was happening in the minds of the leaders during the battle. And if you study the battle long enough, you'll learn that there are a lot of different ideas out there.

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