Tourism’s Importance in Keeping the Civil War Alive

We have had some discussion in class about the “commercialization” of Civil War sites. What is the best way to remember these sites? It was even argued that the memorials on the Civil War battlefield may be considered intrusive to the importance of the area. I argue that commercialization and tourism do have a place in commemorating these sites, but it must be done in a way that is respectful to the memory of the site.  Memorials to Civil War battlefields throughout the South have been placed there as to create a significant historical moment that can be captured only at its birthplace.  This has more meaning to the inhabitants of the area, the ones who keep this history alive. However, this does not make it significant to many Americans in the 21st century.  How do we as historians reach this large body of Americans that are disinterested in history from our own back yard? I know that as an American History teacher it is difficult to keep a student’s attention when it comes to anything about history. I believe in this case, using new ways to utilize history are perfectly acceptable.

One innovative way to bring Civil War history to the forefront for many people may be in the way that I just read about in “Civil War Interactive: BlueGrayDaily.”  It discusses a tour of Gettysburg by horseback. This way many get to see Gettysburg as very few people do, without the accompaniment of tour busses or throngs of tourists. The tours are led by a “licensed battlefield guide” (?) through the rehabilitated field. Even this description of the field describes a commercialized area.[1]  What better way to get to know a place intimately than to travel over it and learn kinesthetically.   The “BlueGrayDaily” also discusses the Museum of the Confederacy is opening a new building that will house more artifacts. This is a way to bring people to Appomattox and increase tourism for the town.[2]  In this way, the town and the museum use tourism to increase the exposure to important history.

We have tried to understand the importance of these monuments as part of history. I believe that their importance has evolved from preserving a moment in history, to exposing history to many people that would not normally be a part of it. In this case, the Civil War and its availability in our own back yard must not be ignored.

[1] “Gettysburg on horseback takes riders back in time,” posted on June 20, 2012,, accessed on June 21, 2012.

[2]“New Museum Offers Economic Growth for Appomattox,” posted October 27,2011, accessed on June 21, 2012.

  1. I think in our society of mass stimulation there is a very fine line between over-commercializing historic sites and generating enough income to keep the site open and operational for the masses. Some of my students can’t imagine life without their X-box or other gaming device. How is the historical community going to attract this “plugged in” generation without some form of commercialization? I also think that people who visit historical sites have to have some level of interest in where they’re visiting. Just because a group of history students values historic sites, unfortunately that doesn’t mean that the general public living in the United States does. Thankfully, I acknowledge that there are many people in the U.S. who do take an interest in historical sites. I do believe that geography plays a major part of getting people to historic sites. As a Colorado native, I haven’t ever been to a Civil War battlefield. But, I have been to historical sites across the southwestern United States. I wonder…how many kids growing up near battlefields have visited them? Then I wonder…will that kiddo who took a class trip to a battlefield recognize its importance and one day take their children to the same sites?

  2. Amanda Hlavacek said:

    I think that all we can do is expose people to history and let them make their own decisions to further examine the subject(s). I went to many different historical sites all over the United States and Australia, and at the time I thought they were neat, but it wasn’t until I was much older. Now, I take my daughter to museums and living history sites, and while she may not understand the bigger picture, she remembers it and we still talk about what she’s seen and why it’s important. Hopefully, as she gets older and when she has her own children, she will be able to continue the cycle.

  3. magaliq said:

    I hope that exposing children to these areas will somehow lead to interest in the future.

  4. 10ectim said:

    I have toured a great deal of Civil War sites. They include Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, The Wilderness, Appomattox Courthouse, Petersburg, Bennet’s Place, Bentonville, the Richmond Battlefield Tour, The Museum of the Confederacy, and I’m probably forgetting some. I have never really noticed what I would call commercialization on the sites. There are hotels and restaurants with some silly names and roadside souvenir stands that sell weird stuff. But it’s different for me because I’m a historian. I can spend all day at the sites such as Gettysburg. However my wife (who is not a history buff) went with me to Gettysburg. She seemed to enjoy the multi-media presentation and lunch with “Civil War” food. But she sat in the car and read while I walked the battlefield. I did take my High School son with me to a Civil War weekend and, even though he’s not much “into” history he enjoyed the experience and still refers to it occasionally. There is something about standing on top of Little Round Top or the spot where Stonewall Jackson was killed. One can feel the history. If a little commercial activity is needed to attract people to these spots then I’m all for it.

  5. jmmblog said:

    I agree that if a little commercial activity is needed to attract people’s interest to certain sites or gain interest in historical topics then it should be used. I further believe that if commercialization is to be used then true historical integrity must be utilized within the planning, production, and presentation process. Historians must be in the forefront of the planning process and continue to critique what ever is being commercialized to maintain it’s historical integrity.

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