Frederick Law Olmsted

The Grounds of Gettysburg

It was on this day in 1863 that the father of American landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted, walked the battlefield of Gettysburg, just 15 days after the battle.

Olmsted was the General Secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) - overseeing the support of sick and wounded soldiers of the United States Army during the Civil War. At times, Olmsted personally treated the battlefield wounds of soldiers. Olmsted has handpicked for the job thanks to his success in designing and overseeing New York City's Central Park, one of the country's most significant public works projects. A week after the battle at Gettysburg, Olmsted arranged for 40 tons of supplies to flow into Gettysburg every day - bringing in items like surgeon’s silk, fans, butter, shoes, and crutches. By July 18, the scene had settled down enough that Olmsted could walk the fields of Gettysburg. In Martin's biography of Olmsted, he shared that Olmsted, "was struck by the scale of the place; everything had happened across distances far greater than he had supposed." Ever attuned to the landscape, Olmsted also noted that "The hills were gentle and rolling, so very out of kilter with the carnage that was everywhere still in evidence... Olmsted came across spent shells and twisted bayonets, broken-down wagons, and half-buried dead horses. Particularly touching, to Olmsted, was the random strew of Union and Confederate caps, often together on the ground, shot through with bullet holes."

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Frederick Law Olmsted
Frederick Law Olmsted

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