A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Compiled from National Park Service documents
Several monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania, have been damaged by unknown persons who poured vegetable oil on the monuments' four corners or on top of a stone or bronze fixture. A park volunteer first discovered the oil on the 17th Connecticut Infantry Memorial on the evening of November 18; subsequent investigation revealed that eight other monuments had been vandalized similarly. Sometime between 12:00 and 2:30 P.M. on the following day, oil was poured on two monuments in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Further checking in the park revealed that vandals had hit six additional monuments. On November 23 oil was discovered on monuments at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland.
The vandalism bears a striking resemblance to the desecration of monuments at National Military Parks and Battlefields last year. Hit then were Vicksburg, Brice's Crossroads, and Tupelo in Mississippi and Shiloh and Fort Donelson in Tennessee. In that case, visitors to Vicksburg, where 38 monuments were sprayed with oil on March 20, 1998, reported speaking two suspicious-looking individuals who told them that they were "on a mission from God," had recently begun a 40-day fast in Dallas, and that their mission was to help reunite the North and South and to prevent the end of the world in 1998. Reportedly, their plans were to go to all Civil War sites in the south before heading north to Gettysburg. Their ritual also included blowing ram's horns and praying at the monuments.
Investigation of the Vicksburg and other cases led to three men from Evansville, Indiana, who were indicted by a federal grand jury on October 20, 1998, for damage to government property in excess of $1000 and conspiracy to commit the offense. The violations both carry penalties of up to $10,000 fines and imprisonment for up to ten years. In December the three men pled guilty to the conspiracy charge; they were sentenced on February 22, 1999. All three were sentenced to five years of probation, fined $5650, charged a $25.00 special assessment, and required to write letters apologizing to the National Park Service and to descendants of Civil War soldiers and sailors, and compose two ten-page essays on Civil War topics assigned by the court. Community service of 250 hours was also ordered, though one of the men was exempted for medical reasons.
The National Park Service has tried cleaning the monuments with soap and water, steam, and, at Antietam, a mixture of flour and solvent that is being used to try to draw the oil out of the stone. The efforts have not been entirely successful, and staining from the oil is expected to be visible for some years to come.