Thursday, October 2, 2014

Gettysburg park's prescribed burn aims to make fields look closer to 1863 condition

Looking northwest toward Neinstedt field. (Images: GNMP)

(Editors note: The fire was postponed because of moisture in grass and weather conditions, the park announced. It has been rescheduled for Oct. 30.)

A prescribed burn scheduled for next week at Gettysburg National Military Park will result in visitors being able to see a more historically accurate version of a 30-acre plot of farmland that hundreds of soldiers, as well as horses and artillery pieces, trampled during the pivotal, three-day battle.

The burn includes a large field that was owned by Conrad and Henry Neinstedt and produced wheat in summer 1863. Another portion was the site of George Weikert’s pasture.

“Native grasses will be allowed to come back,” Katie Lawhon, management assistant at the park, told the Picket on Thursday. “It is preserved as grasslands now, although many other areas in the park are crop fields through permits with more than a dozen local farmers.”

The first prescribed fire at Gettysburg was in October 2013, covering 13 acres of the Snyder farm. Officials say such burns reduce herbicide use. The controlled fire of the 30 acres northwest of the intersection of United States and Hancock avenues is currently set for Oct. 7 (Tuesday), weather permitting. (click map to enlarge)

The overall objectives are to maintain the conditions of the battlefield as experienced by the soldiers who fought here; perpetuate the open space character of the landscape; maintain wildlife habitat, control invasive exotic species; and reduce shrub and woody species components,” the park said in a press release.

By the time of the July 1863 battle, the wheat on the field owned by the Neinstedt’s was tall and rich, according to the NPS. The wheat fed their Pennsylvania families and they sold the rest as a cash crop. Weikert maintained an orchard and pasture.

Neinstedt field on left, Weikert orchard on the right

“Union skirmishers deployed over the Neinstedt’s land overnight of July 1, and by the end of July 2, the Neinstedt’s wheat crop was gone; trampled near to dust by hundreds of soldiers as well as horses and artillery pieces rushing to the front. Near the center of the field, Battery I, 5th United States Artillery had made a desperate stand against the 21st Mississippi Infantry, only to be overrun and captured until Union reinforcements arrived to re-take the guns. This scene of intense fighting on July 2, 1863, has been preserved as farmland ever since.”

Lawhon said the areas around nearby monuments, including along Hancock Avenue, will be mowed prior to ignition and sprinkled with water. A sprinkler line will be placed along the perimeter as another means of protection. If winds are too high or fields are too dry Tuesday, the prescribed fire will be rescheduled.

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