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Civil War Battlefields Lose Ground as Tourist Draws

Is Civil War tourism history?

Once a tourism staple for many Southern states and a few Northern ones, destinations related to the 1860s war are drawing fewer visitors. Historians point to recent fights over Confederate monuments and a lack of interest by younger generations as some of the reasons.

The National Park Service’s five major Civil War battlefield parks—Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Chickamauga/Chattanooga and Vicksburg—had a combined 3.1 million visitors in 2018, down from about 10.2 million in 1970, according to park-service data. Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, the most famous battle site, had about 950,000 visitors last year, just 14% of its draw in 1970 and the lowest annual number of visitors since 1959. Only one of these parks, Antietam, in Maryland, has seen an increase from 1970.

When Louis Varnell opened a military-memorabilia store near Chickamauga Battlefield here in the 2000s, he had several competitors. Today, his store is the only one left. Only about 10% to 20% of his sales are Civil War-related; he mostly sells stuff from World War II or other conflicts, he said.

The number of Civil War re-enactors, hobbyists who meet to re-create the appearance of a particular battle or event in period costume, also is declining. They are growing too old or choosing to re-enact as Vietnam War soldiers or cowboys, said Mr. Varnell, 49 years old.

“Cowboy re-enacting is where bitter, jaded Civil War re-enactors go,” he said, standing by a cash register surrounded by Civil War relics and flags.

Mike Brown, 68, still plays part of the cavalry at Civil War re-enactments and recently helped organize a recreation of the Battle of Resaca in Georgia. “The younger generations are not taught to respect history, and they lose interest in it,” he said.

More recent history is also damping interest, said Kevin Levin, author of a coming book on the war. The fatal 2015 shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., by a white man who had embraced the Confederate battle flag and the 2017 white-nationalist rally around a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va., has transformed how people view Confederate imagery and, in turn, Civil War-related historic sites.

Read entire article at Wall Street Journal