|Nice try citizen, but the moon only looks small.|
In the discussion that followed, a reader of Michael's blog invoked one of the most famous of all Civil War tourist stories -- the one in which a visitor to a battlefield allegedly asks the park ranger, something to the effect of, "why did so many of these Civil War battles take place in national parks?"
It's a good question, and the way I first heard the story -- from Jerry Russell, I think -- was that the ranger, without skipping a beat, replied, "because that's where all the cannon were."
Reading this reminded me of a conversation I had with Bobby Krick, historian at Richmond National Battlefields, during the Civil War Forum's visit to Richmond last spring. I knew he had spent many years on battlefields, and that he was the son of a career NPS historian, so figured he must have some good tales to tell. I asked him about the famous story -- the one about why battles were fought on park service grounds -- and whether those kinds of things really happened, or were merely apocryphal. It's easy to imagine that a story like that is made up to accentuate the humor, while still being emblematic of the fact that we are a nation of idiots.
Bobby said that indeed, people do ask questions like that, and he had a pretty good story from his first NPS assignment, one summer years ago at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Anyone who has visited, or seen pictures of that battlefield knows that the landscape is open, with little in the way of trees beyond the edges of meager watercourses. Bobby tells of a tourist on Last Stand Hill who, feverishly working through in his or her head how exposed the troopers were to the storm of Indian bullets and arrows, asked, "why didn't the soldiers take cover behind all these grave markers?"
And that, my friends, was Custer's last and probably most egregious mistake.