An Account of the May 9, 1994 Congressional Hearing
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three years after the partial destruction of a historic railroad cut onthe Gettysburg battlefield, those responsible were paraded before a CongressionalSubcommittee May 9 to explain, under six hours of grueling questioning, how they let it happen.
Among the day's more surprising testimony was that offered by National Park Service (NPS)Director Roger Kennedy, who in the first few seconds of his remarks reversed three years ofNPS denials that anything had gone awry.
"It's useless for the director of the National Park Service to assert that this was not a mistake,"Kennedy told Congressman Michael Synar, D-OK, who chaired the hearing. Kennedy called the destruction of the [railroad] cut "lamentable," and said that NPS policies and procedures were "inadequate" and "have got to be fixed," so that such an incident does not occur again.
Synar urged Kennedy to "come to Congress and ask for the money to rebuild" the [railroad] cut. But Kennedy would not go further than to say, We will take it seriously," and by the end of May would present to Synar several options to remedy the destruction.
Kennedy did, however, agree to freeze all NPS land exchanges until Synar's subcommittee approves new policies and procedures designed to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.
In the fall of 1990, the NPS swapped 7.5 acres of battlefield, including the [railroad] cut, for a historic easement on 47 acres of Gettysburg College playing fields. The exchange, sought by the latter, allowed the College to move railroad tracks away from the center of campus and along the base of Oak Ridge.
The exchange was made part of a major, congressionally -approved boundary expansion in which the Park gained 1,900 acres. NPS asserted at the time that the swap would "not have adverse impact on known historic resources". And the agency never indicated at public meetings or to the state historic commission, which also hd oversight, that any significant excavation would take place.
In January 1991, to the dismay of battlefield supporters, the College undertook major excavation of the [railroad] cut to accommodate a new rail spur and a 160-by-60-foot railroad maintenance building. William Frassanito and Walter Powell of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association (GBPA) were the first and most relentless critics of the [land] swapand construction, asserting bitterly that the extent of the excavation was never divulged to the public by either the College or NPS had failed in its responsibility to protect historic ground.
Most red-faced among the 23 witnesses at the hearing were Robert Davids on, former Assistant Superintendent at Gettysburg battlefield, and William Van Arsdale, former Business Manager at Gettysburg College.
With highly-focused, rapid-fire questions, Congressman Synar elicited testimony that indicatedDavidson failed to understand the extent of the construction although, it was his responsibility to do so; failed to supply Park Historian Kathy Georg Harrison with a map detailing the excavation (Harrison testified she never saw the map until the swap was concluded, despite asking for it twice), and failed to involve NPS personnel, who would have best understood the site's significance.
Supt. Jose Cisneros, who was assigned to the Park shortly before the transaction wascompleted, told Synar he "felt no need to get involved." James Coleman, former NPS Regional Director, whose office oversaw the [land] exchange, said he never saw the map either.
NPS Chief Historian Edwin Bearss acknowledged that although he was alerted to thedestruction taking place the day after it started, Jan. 2, 1991, he did not go to Gettysburg to view it till months later.
Synar asked Bearss why he did not object when NPS officials,attempting to allay negativepublicity after the fact, repeatedly asserted that the [railroad] cut was not historically significant.
Bearss replied that objecting would not have done any good. "Why do we pay you if, we're not going to listen to you?" Synar asked.
Officals from Gettysburg College came in for rough handling. Van Arsdale,the architect of the [land] swap, grew querulous and evasive under Synar's questions suggesting, that he hadkept NPS and the Borough of Gettysburg officials in the dark regarding the excavation, allowing them to believe that only a "minor alteration" of the landscape would takeplace.
Noting that Van Arsdale was also in charge during a similar instance at an university in New York, where the public was not informed of construction plans until it was too late, Synar wondered whether there was " a pattern of behavior on your part."
Van Arsdale repeatedly asserted that he had provided the NPS with the information asked for. When asked why he had not supplied then- Superintendent Daniel Kuehn with maps in 1989, although Kuehn said he asked for them three times, Van Arsdale responded, "I don't remember those requests."
Gordon Haaland, Gettysburg College president, asserted that if the swap had not gone through the College would have likely been forced to build on the 47 acres now under easement. But Synar displayed a 1988 letter -- one of three dozen exhibits -- from then-President Charles Glassick stating that the College had agreed never to build on the land "because of its historic significance."
Gettysburg College Professor Gabor Boritt, head of the Civil War Institute, acknowledged that he made no attempt to stop theexcavation, even after the GBPA alerted the public.
"I'm a fulltime teacher and parent," Boritt explained, adding that he thought the situation was "in good hands."
"We're all very busy," Synar said, with a trace of sarcasm. "After the GBPA complained, did you attempt to verify that this was historically significant land?"
Boritt said,"The question becomes, how do you make choice in life?" Synar retorted,"It doesn't appear to the Subcommittee that you made any choices."
Synar also noted that the College had extensively bulldozed the 47 acres for playing fields, destroying the historic topography and making no attempt to conduct an archaeological study. Van Arsdale shrugged off the accusation, saying "no one told us otherwise."
Synar repeatedly asked Haaland whether the College "is prepared to sit down and undo this damage," and Haaland eventually said no. Synar replied that it was time to "rebuild the College's credibility."
"Do you want this thing to go away?" he asked Haaland. "I suggest to you it's not going to."
Synar established the Railroad Cut's historical significance at the outset, eliciting testimony from historians Kent Masterson Brown and Richard Sauers, and GBPA's William Frassanito and Walter Powell. In its three year effort to affix blame, the GBPA had unsuccessfully sued the College and the NPS.
Frassanito, the most outspoken critic of the Park and the College, told Synar of "...the horror that I felt seeing this hallowed ground being treated like a junkyard."
Brown said the [railroad] cut, which figured large in the first day's fighting, "...was every bit as important as any other site on this battlefield."
On the morning of the hearing, the NPS supplied the Subcommittee with a draft of newprocedures and policies designed to prevent a similar incident in the future. The guidelines would require greater public involvement in land exchanges and greater involvement by NPS historians, among other measures.
The 60 people who attended the session nearly filled the hearing room. About a dozen reporters covered the event, including a camera crew from CNN.
Synar was the lone Congressman present; Congress had granted itself a long weekend off to accommodate a delegation traveling to South Africa with Vice-President [Al Gore] to attend inaugural ceremonies.
PART 2 of 5:
Testimony From the Congressional Hearing of May 9, 1994
[This article first appeared in the June, 1994 issue of The Civil War News written by Deborah Fitts.]
Excerpts Of Testimony From The Synar Hearing
The following are excerpts from of statements before the Subcommittee on Environment,Energy and Natural Resources, May 9th ,1994 -- addressing the Gettysburg Railroad Cut.
*U.S. Rep. Michael Synar, chairman:* "The public did not have any way of knowing whatwould happen to Oak [Seminary] Ridge. The [Gettysburg] College and the National Park Service did not tell them. Far more sensitivity on the part of the College was called for. And Americans expect the Federal government to protect our land and give attention to thecrown jewels of our national resources. It is not the prerogative of the National Park Service to give away our history..."
"...Remarkably, in the course of this investigation, some have questioned whether it isappropriate for the nation to venerate the fields where our American soldiers have fallen in battle to protect the truths upon which our nation is founded.
At Gettysburg, our nation was put to one of its greatest tests. Tens of thousands of soldiers suffered at that place. This battle turned the tide of Confederate victories, renewed the commitment to preserve the Union, and helped ensure that a race of people would ultimately be freed from the shackles of slavery.
In this nation, that tangible evidence is, in part, the protection of America's great battlefield parks, not the least of which is the Gettysburg National Military Park."
*Gordon Haaland, Gettysburg College president:* "...Gettysburg College entered into negotiations with the National Park Service with the reasonable expectation that if we met all of the requirements of numerous Federal and state agencies whose approval was required, that we would be assured that the arrangement was in the public interest...
... Gettysburg College is quite mindful of its responsibility to preserve our national heritage, andit is my firm belief the [land] exchange is fully consistent with our sense of responsibility... ...There is no record no of significant fighting occurring on the east side of the ridge at the point in question."
*William Frassanito, historian:* " ... Because of its unique configuration and placement, the railroad cut was first defended by Union artillery and infantry; the position was contested; it was overrun; and it was subsequently occupied by Confederate artillery and infantry. Only one or two other terrain features on the entire Gettysburg battlefield can meet all of these requirements for significance...
The NPS and Gettysburg College fiddled while the battlefield burned. And during those three months [of excavation], with the public alarms sounding all the time, the American people lost one of the key terrain features on one of the world's most significant battlefields...
...The site can be restored. Certainly it will cost Gettysburg College millions. But we cannot think of a more appropriate punishment for those who arrogantly spent millions to make this a "done deal," as quickly aspossible. While the railroad cut can never be restored precisely to its original state, whatever is done to restore the cut will be infinitely better that the travesty which exists there today..."
*William Van Arsdale, former Gettysburg College business manager:* "...I am certain of one thing: each time that we were requested to provide information to a responsible Park Service official, we did so to the best of our ability. I believe that this contribute to a successful exchange of property, and I am pleased with the end result of the situation..."
*Walter Powell, Executive Director, Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation
...I can express my dismay no better than Gettysburg veteran Gen. Daniel Sickles did in May of 1893, when faced with the prospect of another terrain desecration by an electric trolley line across the battlefield: "'...I must say, therefore, that when the other day I went there with my associates and met there with some of the generals, who commanded upon the other side, and found that this spoliation had begun, I felt exactly as I side, and found that this spoliation had begun, I felt exactly as I would have felt in the army while going on the grand rounds had I discovered a sentinel asleep. I should have ordered that man shot; all I could do in this case was to raise my voice in indignant protest.'"
PART 3 of 5
STATEMENT OF WILLIAM A. FRASSANITO
[The following excerpts are directly taken from the statement made by William A. Frassanito on May 9, 1994, to the Congressional Environment, Energy, & Natural Resources Subcommittee investigating the Seminary Ridge Railroad Cut, chaired by Representative Michael L. Synar, (D-OK).]
"...My interest in the Seminary Ridge Railroad Cut evolved over the years, as I began to realize that this was the only one of two major railroad cuts on the Gettysburg battlefield, which attracted the attention of photographers during the first two decades after the battle. Not until the mid-1880's, when Union veterans constructed their battlefield avenue over the nearby [railroad] cut at McPherson's Ridge -- the site of a Union victory on July 1, 1863 -- did attention begin to shift away from the [railroad] cut at Seminary Ridge.
The Seminary Ridge Railroad Cut was excavated in,or by 1838, as part of a railroad line promoted by a local Gettysburg politician Thaddeus Stevens, who later achieved national prominence during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The initial project failed, and between 1839 and 1885, the unfinished railroad bed extending many miles westward from Gettysburg, lay abandoned, and was used by the local populace as a wagon road...
...During the first day's fighting at Gettysburg, Seminary Ridge served as the final defensive linefor the Union First Corps. The Seminary Ridge [Railroad] Cut, forming a gaping hole in the middle of this line, assumed great tactical significance because its capture by Confederate forces would have afforded the Southerners with a covered access to the rear of the First Corps line. Consequently, at midday on July 1, 1863, Stewart's Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery, supported by infantry [6th Wisconsin -- on the northside of the Cut, and the 84th New York (14th Brooklyn) -- on the southside of the Cut], was positioned at the Seminary Ridge Railroad Cut, straddling the distinctive feature on both of its sides.
By 4 o'clock on the afternoon of July 1, the Union First Corps lines the Seminary Ridge Railroad Cut were imploding; the final escape route being the unfinished railroad bed leading eastward from the Cut itself. The fighting in this area reached a climax by about 4:30 P.M., when Confederate infantry converged on the Cut, capturing several hundred Northern infantrymen [16th Maine], in what was probably the largest mass capture of Union soldiers during the three days' fighting at Gettysburg. Although Stewart was able to extricate his battery from this desperate situation, his command, in defense of the Cut, suffered the second highest casualties of all the 68 Union batteries that served at Gettysburg.
Because of its unique configuration and placement, the Seminary Ridge Railroad Cut was first defended by Union artillery and infantry; the position was contested; it was overrun; and it was subsequently occupied by Confederate artillery [ 1st Virginia Artillery, Hupp's Battery] and infantry. Only one or two other terrain features on the entire Gettysburg battlefield can meet all of these requirements for significance.
The documentation necessary to establish the historical sensitivity of the Seminary Ridge Railroad Cut, as well as the adjoining 7.5 acres, was readily available at the libraries of both the Gettysburg National Military Park and Gettysburg College. If either of these institutions needed guidance in how to use their own resources, help was always but a phone call away.
During the three month period from January through April 1991, the public was forced to watch -- relentlessly, day after day, week after week, month after month -- the most massive destruction of fully protected historicterrain in the 78-year history of the National Park Service (NPS). Nothing like this had ever happened before.
The disaster at Seminary Ridge did not have to occur. While the NPS and Gettysburg Collegewere able to hide from the public (together with all knowledgeable historians of the battle and the government of the Borough of Gettysburg) all of their secret negotiations between 1987-90, neither the NPS nor the College could ultimately hide the bulldozers. The public alarms began sounding locally on January 10, 1991, when neighbors of the site (including the chairman of the Gettysburg Borough Planning Commission), observing the bulldozers in action, instantly recognized that something terribly wrong was happening at Seminary Ridge. Within a week's time, local historians, intimately familiar with the battle, battlefield, and the Boundary Study, were desperately trying to find out from the local NPS staff, what in the world was going on. The Park's senior historian, once alerted, was equally distraught over the unfolding disaster.
Unfortunately, the NPS administrators at both the local and regional levels responded to the increasing crescendo of alarms by switching promptly into their cover-up mode. Denials, lies, refusals to release information, and gag orders were quickly implemented.
By January 23, 1991, both the Gettysburg Borough Planning Commission (of which I was then a member) and the borough's Historical Architectural Review Board had passed unanimous resolutions calling upon the borough council to seek an immediate halt to allexcavation activities, as well as an immediate and full investigation into the background of the obviously secret dealings, which had transpired between the NPS and Gettysburg College.
Because of the College's early and blatant violation of the third of only three deed restrictions, requiring that they "... shall not remove the existing screen of trees and other vegetation located between the site of the planned railroad facilities and the college facilities proper" , a court injunction could readily have been secured by either the NPS or the borough government. To this day, the NPS has never commented upon, nor even acknowledged the violation of this crucial deed restriction. On January 25, 1991, a local newspaper reported that the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission had "...contacted the Park Service to get them to investigate this issue," adding the "... we are very upset by the damage done to the battleground features.
At the request of Dr. Boritt of Gettysburg College, a meeting between local historians and three high-level representatives of the College was held on campus to "straighten this thing out." At this meeting, the College representatives, none of whom had any first hand knowledge of the Park/College negotiations, were briefed by me on the rich history of the site, they were at that very moment destroying. This briefing made no apparent impact on the College representatives, who simply insisted that the College had done everything "properly," and that if we had any problems with the results, the NPS must have been at fault. Essentially they claimed that it was not Gettysburg College's responsibility to know about the history of their own campus.
Needless to say, there was never any investigation, no halt to excavation activities, nor even a hint of curiosity on the part of senior College or NPS administrators about what was happening at Seminary Ridge. The cover-up story aggressively promulgated by the NPS was suspiciously similar to the story then being promoted by the public relations office of Gettysburg College. It is a fictitious story, and both entities have tenaciously, and very very successfully (until now), adhered to it for the past three years, all the time hiding behind the umbrella of protection afforded the NPS, by the full weight of the Federal Government.
In short, the NPS and Gettysburg College fiddled while the battlefield burned. And during those three months, with the public alarms sounding a ll the time, the American people lost one of the key terrain features, on one of the world's most significant battlefields. The basic lies promoted by both the NPS and the College -- stated over and over again, ad nauseam -- can be summarized by the following quotations, all dating from the period of the excavation.
1) "That property was on the fringe. This particular sliver [of land] was not the scene of any important fighting or significant resources." -- Bob Davidson, Assistant Superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park (GNMP).
2) "There is no record of fighting on the portion of Oak Ridge in question"; and "Opportunities for public review and comment were provided by five public hearings held in Gettysburg on the Boundary Bill." -- William Walker, Director of Public Relations, Gettysburg College.
3) "All requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act were carefully followed during the decision-making process." -- James W. Coleman, Jr., Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, NPS (and incidentally, the man who signed the deed transferring the historic acreage to Gettysburg College).
Had Mr. Davidson made a simple phone call to the historian's office at the GNMP, he would have quickly learned what the Gettysburg Battlefield reservation Association (GBPA) had already learned from the same office in January 1991: that no Section 106 historical study and impact assessment, nor anything even approaching a Section 106 study, was ever conducted on the land Mr. Coleman had personally transferred to Gettysburg College.
Had Mr. Coleman, whose knowledge of the battle one could probably fit on the head of a pin, taken the trouble to contact his own historians, he would have quickly discovered that his statement was totally false.
Mr. Walker's statement concerning the public hearings is equally bizarre. It is our understanding that Mr. Walker was not even employed by Gettysburg College until the year following the last public hearing, and we would love to know the source of his statement, first concocted in January 1991.
Since that January, both the NPS and Gettysburg College have done everything in their considerable power, to make sure that there would never be any investigation or hearings into the details of their land trade. Their success until now has rested entirely on the fact that their opposition was but a handful of ordinary citizens, who had absolutely no influence with the Federal Government.
photo-illustrated booklet outlining the nature of the disaster and calling for an investigation. An additional 1,000 booklets were sent to Civil War organizations; Civil War journals; the Justice Department; the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior; and to private citizens, urging the latter to contact their local Congressman.
Sadly, most Congressmen completely ignored the issue. And of those few who did look into the matter, not one ever did anything more than contact either the NPS or the Representative of Pennsylvania's 19th District to ask if everything had been done properly and openly in the Park/College land transfer. Needless to say, the foxes assured these Congressmen that everything was OK at the chicken coop. End of "investigation."
Failing to elicit curiosity from the Federal Government, and encountering nothing but impotence at the state and municipal levels, the GBPA found itself shouldering the awesome burden of overseeing the enforcement of all applicable Federal, state, and local historic- preservation and environmental-protection statutes (on our own time and at our own expense). But even our attempt to engage the courts ended in a dismal failure -- the Federal judges, without hearing any testimony or soliciting any evidence, arbitrarily buying the Park/College lies, summarily dismissed our complaint.
What happened at Seminary Ridge was not an accident. It was not an "honest mistake", nor simply the result of bad communications. Had this been the case, there would have been noneed for the ensuing cover-up, the ensuing lies, and the concerted effort to avoid any investigation or formal hearings into the land transaction. Because of the safety net provided by the public alarms, any "honest mistake" could have been rectified in time to save the entire site.
Instead, we believe that what happened at Seminary Ridge was the result of a calculated scheme masterminded by the business manager of Gettysburg College, with the obvious intent of making the implementation of this scheme a "done deal," as quickly as possible. It was a very effective modus operandi, and it should be noted that this individual has a history of using it before. Despite all of these alarms, Gettysburg College, which ironically attempts to market itself as some kind of a national center for Civil War studies, chose to batten down the hatches and destroy the site anyway.
The NPS's motive for engaging in the cover-up is readily explained by the simple fact they were made fools of, and were perfectly willing to sacrifice one of the key terrain features on the Gettysburg battlefield to avoid the embarrassment of the truth.
To those who claim that because the site has already been destroyed, the whole matter should therefore be forgotten, we would respond by pointing out that your reaction is exactly what was anticipated.
This site *CAN* be restored. Certainly it will cost Gettysburg College millions. But we cannot think of a more appropriate punishment for those who arrogantly spent millions to make this a "done deal" as quickly as possible. And while the Railroad Cut, in particular, can never be returned precisely to its original state, whatever is done to restore the Cut will be infinitely better than the travesty which exists there today...
One final note. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Federal, state, and municipal historic-preservation statutes as they currently stand. The problem was never the laws themselves. The disaster at Seminary Ridge resulted directly from a combination of mindboggling incompetence, deceit, and the fact that these statutes, for whatever reason, were completely ignored by those charged with their enforcement. The public caught this disaster in sufficient time to save the historic terrain. While incompetence may, perhaps, be excused in hindsight -- the deliberate, cynical, and arrogant responses of both the NPS and Gettysburg College, to the desperate pleas of the public and professional historians can never be condoned, forgiven, or forgotten."
PART 4 of 5:
With the recent Congressional hearings [May 9,1994] held in Washington D.C.; it looks as if the truth is finally beginning to spill out, and the National Park Service is now willing to admit that serious mistakes were made in the transfer of the 7.5 acres along the historic Seminary Ridge. The hearing also confirmed certain statements, we have been asserting as facts for the past three years.
FACT: No one was ever informed in any public meeting that the historic Seminary Ridge Railroad Cut would be deleted from the Gettysburg National Military Park (GNMP). In fact, testimony proved that the representatives of the [Gettysburg] College misled Park historians into believing that the railroad track would be moved only to the current Park/College boundary and would have no impact on known historic resources.
FACT: For the past three years the GNMP and Gettysburg College have been engaged in a game of cover-ups and denials, which up until this point, has been very successful. At the Congressional hearing, a Park offical admitted that only one person on his entire staff had ever seen the map that showed the land to be transferred and the College's plans for development. This man, the Assistant Superintendent, claimed that he could not read a map, and said he did not understand what it showed. The Superintendent of the Park and the Regional [National Park Service] Director, both stated that they did not even bother to read the land transfer agreement before they signed it. In fact, no Park Service historians were ever consulted during any negotiations for the trade.
FACT: The 47 acres of scenic easement that were traded to the Park had previously been recontoured and are now being used as College playing fields. There was no threat of development on them. Their integrity had been destroyed a few years prior to the Boundary study. In essence, it was an empty trade. The College promised never to put up a building on its own baseball, lacrosse or soccer fields.
FACT: The Railroad Cut that was destroyed by the College's excavation was a very important part of the first day's fight, and was not insignificant as the College and Park have alleged for the past three years.
So after three years of "teeth pulling," we have the truth out in the open. What do we do now? Does the College get to keep the 7.5 acres? Does the tourist railroad continue to be allowed to operate on the desecrated land of Seminary Ridge? Do the Park officials who violated the trust of the American public get a promotion to another National Park? And are we all just supposed to forgive the people at the Park and the College for the cover-up that almost succeeded in ending [without] any public knowledge of this event? As sad as these questions sound, I'm afraid that the answer to most of them is going to be, yes. And what about the laws that were violated in this so-called land transfer? Why aren't we going to hold anyone responsible for their actions?
This one thing gnaws at me more than anything else. Everyday people, historians, townspeople and Civil War buffs alike, come up to me on the streets of town and say, "Lets not make such a big deal out of this thing, we should learn from this mistake." "I'm sure it won't happen again," and so on. The facts are that it will happen again if we keep quiet. This is not the first time this has happened. It may interest some to know that the cafeteria of the Gettysburg Jr. High School, where the GBPA Book Show is held every year stands on ground that was crossed by the "Louisiana Tigers" in their famous charge on East Cemetery Hill on July 2, 1863. Men died on that spot. It and all of the property around it was once part of the Gettysburg National Military Park, as well. But during the 1950's, the ground was deleted from the Park and traded to the town, so that the schools could be built. Sound familiar? How could this have happened? What Park historian decided that the bloody slope of East Cemetery Hill was insignificant?
[ DO NOT FORGET the Ford dealership, in the middle of the July 1st battleline of the 11th Corps].We must make sure that this time someone is punished to deter future corruption or incompetence in the National Park Service, and hopefully stop the arrogance and greed of big business (in this case, that of Gettysburg College).The Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park, as well as the [NPS] Regional Director, have all been promoted and sent to other parks, where they are expected to retire with fullbenefits. These Park officials may forever be out of reach of justice, hiding behind "sovereign immunity."
But there is something we can do, someone we can hold accountable. It is the responsibility of every American who believes in defending the honor of ourCivil War heritage, to send a strong message to Gettysburg College -- a message that their actions are not tolerated. In this, I am referring to the College's Civil War Institute. This so-called Institute and its director, Gabor Boritt, have been instrumental in helping the Park and the College, to cover-up their tangled web of deceit.
During the three years since the land transfer, the Institute has maintained that the Railroad Cut in question was the scene of no historical significance, lending credence to claims made by College developers. And during the recent Congressional hearing, Professor Boritt even accused the GBPA of trying to confuse this [Railroad] Cut with what he called"... the more famous railroad cut captured by the 6th Wisconsin..." earlier in the day. Any researcher at the College could have quickly confirmed that what we have been saying about the historical significance of the [Seminary Ridge Railroad] Cut was true. Certainly all one has to do to realize that the [Seminary Ridge Railroad] Cut is important, is to read the Official Records [of the Civil War] or page 166 of Glenn Tucker's, "High Tide At Gettysburg."
Gettysburg College has long been using its "Civil War Institute" for no other purpose than to lead people into believing they have some interest in the battlefield at Gettysburg. I urge my fellow guides, historians, and scholars not to speak at any of their programs, and I urge all Civil War enthusiasts to boycott their functions.
Timothy H. Smith,
Licensed Battlefield Guide
By Deborah Fitts
GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- A controversial land exchange that resulted in the destruction of a historic railroad cut at Gettysburg Battlefield may not have been legally executed by Gettysburg College, leaving open the possibility that the National Park Service (NPS) could reclaim the property.
That was the assertion, in mid-December , of outgoing Congressman Mike Synar, D- OK, who chaired a Congressional hearing last May  probing the land swap.
Synar said he was tipped to the possibility that the College Trustees failed to approve the 1990 swap, when he obtained a copy of a resolution by the Trustees after the May hearing [5/9/94], in which the Trustees admitted their records "...do not fully and accurately record..." approval of the exchange. The exchange between the College and the NPS took place in September 1990.
In the resolution, the Trustees approved the land exchange with the NPS, "nunc pro tunc," meaning "now for Then," or after the fact. Synar said that the Trustees' resolution was adopted on May 12, 1994, three days after the Congressional hearing. He declined to reveal how he had obtained a copy. "It appears there was never an official or legitimate execution by the College with respect to an exchange," Synar said. He noted that under Pennsylvania statute the College's trustees must approve transactions of real property by a two-thirds majority of the full board.
"The ramifications are that if the exchange was not properly executed, the NPS may have a chance to undo it," Synar said. In the 1990 exchange, the NPS gave to Gettysburg College the railroad cut and 7.5 acres of Oak Ridge, in exchange for an easement on 47 acres of College athletic fields. The College then proceeded to move tracks of theGettysburg Railroad off campus and into the side of Oak Ridge, destroying a significant portion of the historic railroad cut.
Synar, whose loss in the fall election meant he was stepping down January 4th, contacted "The Civil War News" in mid-December after he was frustrated in his attempts to obtain documents from the College that would have shown whether the Trustees properly voted approval in advance of the swap.
Synar's first letter to the College requesting the information, in November, was followed by a letter from the College two weeks later seeking clarification. The College then failed to respond to a second request by a December 5th deadline.
Synar said, "It is very clear the College is stonewalling us," hoping to delay its response until after his departure.
Apprised of Synar's charges, Gettysburg College spokesman William Walker flatly refused to respond, saying only that the charges were "totally inaccurate and Mr. Synar can reach any conclusions he likes."
As for the Trustees' actions, that was entirely "internal" business, Walker said. The resolution, provided to "The Civil War News" by Synar, notes that the College "...has entered into certain written agreements with theGettysburg Railroad Company, and ...the National Park Service," and that while "the College records reflect the board of trustees was fully apprised of each agreement, the minutes of the board do not fully and accurately record the prior approval by the board of the final written agreement between the NPS and Gettysburg College" dated September 20, 1990.
The single page resolution continues: that since "it is desirable to resolve any and all ambiguity in the minutes concerning such board approval now, therefore, be it resolved that the board does hereby authorize thepresident and treasurer to execute, acknowledge and deliver the agreement Nunc pro tunc, and further, the board does hereby ratify and affirm the agreement, and all actions taken to effectuate the agreement."
A staffer on the subcommittee chaired by Synar (Environment, Energy and NaturalResources) said the College provided documents indicating that the buildings and grounds subcommittee of the board of trustees did receive regular briefings on the land exchange from College business manager William Van Arsdale, who engineered the swap.
However, the staffer said, it appears -- and he said a College employee in a position to know has told him -- that no record exists of the full board's prior approval of the exchange. The board's after-the-fact action followed the national publicity, and severe criticism of Gettysburg College, that attended the May 9, 1994 Congressional hearing.
At the hearing, Synar concluded that the College had failed to adequately inform NPS officials and the public of the extent of excavation of the [historic railroad] cut that would follow the exchange. The NPS also came in for its share of criticism, for failing to investigate the plans adequately before giving up ownership.
NPS Director Roger Kennedy admitted to Synar during the hearing that the NPS failed to safeguard the historic ground. He promised to prepare for Synar's subcommittee a list of options for restoring the [railroad] cut even though it is now [Gettysburg] College property. The NPSis currently weighing [January 1994] which of the options to adopt: ranging from "no action" to full restoration at a cost of $6.3 million (including an estimated $3 million to purchase the property from Gettysburg College).
Synar said the College's apparent failure to legally execute the exchange could enable the NPS to recover the land free of charge. Or at least it puts the NPS in a powerful negotiating position , he said, that could pressure the College into funding the restoration.
On the other hand, Capitol Hill sources predicted that the new Republican-dominated Congress is unlikely to continue Synar's probe into the land exchange after the January 4th start of the 104th Congress. At press time, it was not known who would be named chairman to replace Synar.
Synar said he had forwarded his information regarding the after-the-fact approval to Kennedy, who he said "...will do the necessary follow-up."