Originally created 06/12/06

Civil War battlefields fight vandalism



ATLANTA - At the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park on the Georgia-Tennessee state line, and on many other Civil War battlefields, rangers have to wage a fight against vandals.

Broken statues, defaced monuments and stolen artwork are a periodic problem plaguing the historic areas.

"How could anybody feel it's an appropriate thing to do?" said Sam Weddle, the chief ranger at Chickamauga. "It's an atrocity."

In the North Georgia park headquarters at Fort Oglethorpe, damaged monuments are collected in the maintenance compound: a headless Union soldier statue, parts of two damaged monuments for Maryland troops, a missing statue from a Michigan monument.

"For whatever reason, Michigan seems to be our most vandalized monuments," park ranger Jim Szyjkowski said. "I don't know if somebody had a vendetta against them or what, but they took a beating."

Told about this, a visitor from Port Huron, Mich. smiled and said, "Apparently, there's still a grudge going on."

Javier Torres, a 40-year-old from California who served in the U.S. Army and is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico, was outraged.

"The men who died here, they fought for everybody. It's so beautiful here, and for people to vandalize this place, it's like spitting on it," Mr. Torres said.

In the fall of 1863, thousands of soldiers died in the battles for control over Chattanooga, whose railroads were a lifeline to central Georgia and Alabama, where the South's industries lay.

Vandals have also targeted other Civil War sites. At Gettysburg National Military Park, a driver hit a monument a week ago. Authorities identified the driver from auto parts left at the scene, and he is facing charges.

Other vandals use paintball. In 2003, about two-dozen monuments, markers and plaques were spray-painted on Veterans Day at Chickamauga.

"This wasn't just spray-painting graffiti," Mr. Weddle said. "It was a variety of words, phrases that touched on just about every ethnic insult you can imagine."