Why do battlefields become tourist attractions? June 6, 2019, is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There are almost 300 commemorative activities scheduled in Normandy that day with at least 30,000 visitors expected in the area. There will be a regulated traffic zone with stickers required for entry. Chaos is almost inevitable despite careful planning. The 1st battlefield I saw as a traveler was Gettysburg. Now a good friend of my son is moving to Pennsylvania to be a guide there. In preparation, he is reading all he can about this critical Civil War battle to become as knowledgable as he can about it.
On our recent trip to Texas, Ruth and I visited the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park near Brownsville, Texas, where 5,500 troops clashed in 1846. The battle lasted only one day and loss of life was surprisingly modest. Only 102 Mexican and 9 U. S. deaths occurred, but this is a disputed figure. This important 5 hour battle resulted in a 2 year war between the United States and Mexico. Nine years after the Battle of the Alamo in which between 182 and 257 Americans died, President James K. Polk welcomed Texas as the 28th state, announced that the Rio Grande River was now the U.S. border, and claimed that it was our destiny to expand to the Pacific Ocean. He worked toward a settlement but then sent troops to Texas under the leadership of General Zachary Taylor. Mexico was furious and the Battle of Palo Alto resulted. The treaty signed later caused Mexico to lose half of its U.S. territory.
Taylor was known as Old Rough and Ready. Polk appointed Taylor, who had experienced the War of 1812, to lead the troops partially because Taylor lacked political ambition. Taylor became the 12th U. S. President 3 years later. The territory taken from Mexico became the center of the debates in the United States as Northerners tried to block slavery in The West. The image of Taylor on the left above is from stickpng.com and the one of Polk is from fineartamerica.com.
The Palo Alto Visitor Center was traditional but artifact filled and interesting. The battlefield was said to be relatively unchanged since 1846, and the walk to it and back was about one mile. It afforded only an overlook. Walkers were warned to stay on marked paths and be alert for snakes, thorny plants, stinging insects, and other threats. Other threats? The film provides better information, in my opinion, than the walk. There is a picnic area if you’re not affected by thoughts of war casualties and violent death.
Technology wins battles. Zachary Taylor prevailed despite the fact that he had fewer cannons than his Mexican opponent Mariano Arista. However, Taylor had larger guns with greater range that fired “multi-shot projectiles” and more mobile cannons.
This battlefield today is only 6 miles from the disputed Mexico-U.S. border.