Wednesday, January 12, 2022

He teaches people about battlefield sites that are not recognizable. Georgia Historical Society honors Charlie Crawford for marker efforts

Crawford leads a 2014 tour of downtown Atlanta Civil War site (Picket photo)
Charlie Crawford believes that making people aware of historic sites – through roadside markers, site tours and presentations -- increases the likelihood that they will support preservation.

Crawford, president emeritus of the nonprofit Georgia Battlefields Association, is the recipient of the Georgia Historical Society’s 2021 John Macpherson Berrien Award for a lifetime of achievement in and service to the state’s history – particularly in support of the society’s Civil War markers.

“All of us at GBA are so pleased on his behalf,” organization secretary Mary-Elizabeth Ellard told the Picket in an email.”

Crawford, 72, served 24 years in the Air Force, including service in Vietnam, and worked nearly the same amount of time at an information technology and consultant company in Atlanta. History has been his lifelong and passionate avocation.

Charlie Crawford at Gettysburg in 1956 and in later years (Courtesy of GBA)
The bug bit him early while he grew up outside Philadelphia, visiting the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge and Gettysburg. And he got deeper into it during his service at the Pentagon, where he lived near Civil War sites in Virginia.

“Historical markers are important because so many battlefields and historic sites are no longer recognizable as such,” said the retired colonel. “Peachtree Creek [Atlanta] is a prime example. Tens of thousands of people traverse (on foot but mostly in vehicles) that battlefield every day, but they would never know they were on a battlefield except for the historical markers.”

“Further, historical markers will sometimes prompt anyone who notices them to find out more about the site,” he said, mentioning the society’s online database of thousands of markers.

The state of Georgia ran the Georgia historical marker program from the 1950s until the mid-1990s. The historical society began to erect new markers in 1998 and Crawford has been involved in researching several of them.

“A key player in the Civil War 150 Initiative, Charlie and the association helped fund 10 historical markers and advised on the overall project,” GHS market manager Elyse Butler wrote in an article about the award.

Crawford at a 2011 marker dedication  in Savannah.
“Since the end of the Civil War sesquicentennial, the friendship between GHS and Charlie has grown. Charlie's interest in preserving Georgia's Civil War battlefields to educate the public naturally lends itself to the Georgia Historical Marker Program,” Butler wrote. “The marker program provides an opportunity for place-based learning, and often, as Charlie says, ‘tells the stories to the uninitiated.’”

The GBA and volunteers have assisted the historical society by reporting missing or damaged markers and assisting in repairs

Crawford, a graduate of Georgia Tech, has given over 100 presentations and led over 50 tours relating to battlefield preservation and has been a member of the American Battlefield Trust and its predecessor organizations since 1991. The trust honored him in 2011 for preservation efforts. "Charlie Crawford is an indispensable source of information on all aspects of the preservation movement in the state," the trust said.

Since 2000, Crawford has been a member of the Atlanta Civil War Round Table and is the group’s trivia master. He served as GBA president for nearly two decades and still produces its monthly newsletter and is a trustee.

Crawford uses period photos to help in interpretation (Picket photo)
Regarding the status of battlefield preservation in Georgia, Crawford said Covid-19 has restricted GBA trustees from freely traveling to sites “and the dearth of in-person county commission meetings has dampened our ability to interact with local decision makers.  We have five projects in the hopper, so to speak, but our preservation efforts depend primarily on willing sellers. We don’t have eminent domain power and don’t advocate for the state government to use it.”

High selling prices can make efforts difficult.

“If I had to characterize the current state of preservation, generally, I’d have to say it was frustratingly stalled. On the other hand, a frustrating stall is a recurrent theme in preservation efforts. As long as a battlefield is not permanently lost to development, we remain hopeful and persistent.”  

Crawford leads downtown Atlanta tours for the Atlanta Preservation Center and he shows period photos to participants so that they can envision the sites. “On many tours, especially around Atlanta, people will tell me they had no idea they lived on a battlefield.”

Most of the GBA tours are attended by participants who have much more Civil War knowledge than the average citizen,” he told the Picket.

“We also have many repeat participants, who unsurprisingly are some of our most steadfast supporters, not only with memberships and donations but also with (communication) to state representatives and county commissioners and media reporters. We’re not making these folks aware of historical sites as much as providing depth and context to their existing knowledge, which they also spread by word of mouth.”

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