It may be true, as the poet Robert Frost told us, that "Good fences make good neighbors," but park officials at Gettysburg National Military Park have a corollary to that famous line: good fences make good history.
In this case, the fences in question were newly-built "worm fences" erected by volunteers along a railroad cut that figured prominently in the first day's battle at Gettysburg. Park historians believed similar fences existed in this location at the time of the battle, and the work was part of an on-going effort to restore the battlefield and help visitors visualize and understand the important events that occurred there in 1863.
Features such as rail fences may not seem to be especially important to a modern tourist on a casual tour, but they were significant to the soldiers who fought there. The area around Gettysburg was farming country at the time of the battle, and according to historical records, such fences were commonly used to divide fields and woodlots. From a military standpoint, however, they posed significant obstacles to freedom of movement, especially for foot soldiers.
The project to restore the fences was completed in early June by volunteers from the Friends of Gettysburg. It was a noble effort, but not long after the work was completed, the park began to receive questions about the fences.
Were the reconstructed fences in the correct location? Those questions became the subject of a lively debate, and to the park's credit, they've decided to err on the side of caution.
According to a park spokesperson, "Some photographic documentation exists for the three sections of Virginia "worm" fencing in this location, but not enough to address questions and concerns that have come forward from members of the public and Civil War historians."
"We don’t have conclusive evidence so we’ll be removing the three sections of fencing and reusing the materials," said Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Bob Kirby. "As soon as we received questions, we took them very seriously. We appreciate the commitment that we share with the public to do these things right."
The park has already had offers from volunteer groups to assist in moving the fencing to a new location. "Late this summer, we’ll re-use the fencing materials in fields surrounding this same area of the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg," Kirby added.
The volunteers involved in the original work—and in the upcoming relocation of the fences—deserve considerable credit, and the park staff has received some positive press from critics of the fences for their willingness to respond to the situation promptly.