Making Battlefields Accessible

People interested in the Civil War have talked about the importance of visiting battlefields to get a better sense of what happened on that ground.  Many of us have written about the importance of “walking the ground.”  Not all of us are able to do that so easily.

Along comes All-Access Battlefield Tours (LLC), “a new private tour service designed especially for wheelchair travelers who wish to fully explore and experience the hallowed grounds of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, VA. AABT’s all-accessible individual or group tours take visitors, their families and friends directly to historical hotspots while moving at their own pace. In order to provide a safe and comfortable expedition, visitors have the option of being transferred to customized travel wheelchairs that feature special wheels and canopies. These rugged outdoor chairs, combined with portable ramps, enable visitors to traverse fields, trails and roads that are otherwise inaccessible. Each experience includes complete accessibility assistance and the highest quality tours, featuring a unique staff of experts made up of local historians, authors and preservationists.”

If you’re interested, you may want to visit their website for more information.

5 thoughts on “Making Battlefields Accessible

  1. Ray O'Hara September 14, 2011 / 7:25 pm

    I was leaving a re-enactment at Brandy Station when I ended up behind a wheelchair, it had those typical skinny solid rubber tires . they were have a time pushing it over the grass , it struck me that they should make those with easily detachable wheels so a chair could have good off road tired, much like mt bike tires, {they make wheel chairs with them} so a person could get by with one chair and change wheels as needed.

    Hopefully this company you cited will be a success as it is a good idea.

  2. Jeff Davis September 14, 2011 / 8:08 pm

    One wonders what those specialized wheelchairs may do to the terrain.

    One wheelchair, not much, but fifteen or twenty at a time..? What happens when they go astray into an area where the Park Service is trying to re-establish historic shrubs…and they wipe them out.

    We see the threat of this even from foot traffic. At Gettysburg, the NPS is studying ways to keep visitors from straying off the beaten path, especially in locations like Little Round Top. They’ve tried chain fences, paved pathways but nothing works. People simply ignore the signs and barriers and step over them, or around them. The disappearance of the barriers in recent years is a sign of surrender of sorts. They have recently announced that so much erosion has occurred on Little Round Top that they are forced to undertake a large re-landscaping of the entire crest area. Folks do not understand the consequences of their actions. [And I am guilty of it, too.]

    We watch the school buses in the spring make their stop in the devils den area, and every little school girl gets back on the bus with a pussy willow branch or a forsythia branch. At 20 buses a day, in a week both shrubs have vanished from the area.

    The South End Picnic area has been the location of trashcans for good reason. But, several years ago a small Mountain Lion was spotted there late one night. He was feeding on the raccoons who were dredging KFC bags out of the trashcans. If you are familiar with the area, it is not all that close to water, the natural feeding area of a raccoon. As a result of the raccoons feeding elsewhere, an overabundance of crayfish occurred in plum run. How easy it is to alter the food chain in a small ecosystem.

    45 years ago I stood one quiet Sunday morning as the sole visitor in the Parthenon atop the Acropolis in Athens. It was just me and three sub-machinegun armed guards. I thought about taking a small pebble as a souvenir, and one of the guards must have seen me looking. He wandered over and in broken English he told me, “Not one pebble! Where do you think the rest of this building has gone?” He was right, of course. Some was destroyed in an explosion, some was simply stripped and sent off to museums such as the British Museum, and the rest…carried away one or two stones at a time.

    I do not begrudge the handicapped their right and any opportunity to share the experience of a battlefield, but as one who has worked hard for 15 years to protect the one at Gettysburg, I have to think about the effects and impacts on that kind of scale. The idea of people in wheelchairs making the crossing of Pickett’s Charge thrills me, and worries me at the same time. Kids and Boy Scouts now line up shoulder to shoulder and make the trip now, and there does not seem to be any residual damage beyond some wheat that gets knocked down. If it’s above ground like that, and planted primarily for historic purposes, I don’t have a problem. But when it begins to alter the shape of the ground [and Little Round Top is an absolute mess], then I have a problem.

    The Battlefield restoration here has been a revelation, and one need only to stand and look where trees once stood, and now only wheat grows there, or an orchard, and one can get a near-epiphany about how that aspect of the battle was fought. Even an amateur like myself can see the changes, and how they affect the telling of the Battle. While I have always felt the terrain to be important, it is only since the Battlefield restoration began here, [and I got a cell phone call one day from a great friend and frequent visitor who demanded that I get down to the pulloffs on Warren Avenue to see what they’d done to the south slope of Little Round Top. It was there I had my first epiphany, thanks to him.] that I have grasped just how very much important the terrain is to the ebb and flow of battle.

    As every pebble in the Parthenon, every forsythia bush, every raccoon, and crayfish, every step of Pickett’s Charge, is absolutely essential to the historical interpretation of the Battle.

  3. Ray O'Hara September 14, 2011 / 8:39 pm

    I doubt wheelchairs will be negotiating the slopes of Little Round Top or rolling through the Devils Den. But yes visitors can effect the terrain..
    but also as pointed out its foot traffic that’s the problem. At Petersburg I snapped a Picture of one ass walking over an earthwork next to a sign that said “don’t walk on the earthwork.”
    to be fair he was walking on a well worn path that crossed the earthwork.
    I was about to say something to the man but I was stopped by the friend I was with.

  4. Michael Aubrecht September 16, 2011 / 8:18 am

    Thank you Brooks for the plug. Your validation of our efforts is very much appreciated. The support we are receiving from the Civil War and Disability Travel community is a blessing indeed. I wanted to take a quick moment to address the gentlemen’s concerns that are mentioned above…

    AABT tours are privately booked trips, in which limited groups of wheelchair travelers and their guests are taken on a series of specially paced ‘hikes’ to 3-4 selected spots on the battlefield and attended to with great personal attention. Our travel wheelchairs are custom made and will not disturb the terrain. Our tours are limited to safe and accessible areas that do not put the guests or landscape in jeopardy. For instance, we do a 3-hour tour at the Fredericksburg Battlefield that includes a full tour of the Sunken Road, Prospect Hill and the Slaughter Pen Farm. We work very hard tell the entire story of the battle, knowing that we cannot access the entire battlefield. The use of printed photographs, maps (and soon to be iPod Apps) enhances the visitor’s experience and compensates for our inability to reach certain places.

    We also provide a handout packet to each wheelchair traveler that includes complimentary battlefield maps, info and specs on handicapped accessible sites, literature on the equipment we use, special deals on our guide’s books and DVDs and CWT preservation materials. We do not interfere with other tours and are not there to impede others enjoyment of these hallowed grounds. Our mission to provide the safest and highest quality tours while helping our clients to experience our local battlefields just like anyone else. We hold tour permits awarded by the National Park Service and they are in complete support of our program. We are also working on putting together some special packages for the Wounded Warriors Program, Paralyzed Veterans of American and other organizations.

    If you would like complete info on our tours, please visit our website at:
    If you would like to read about our tours and publications, please visit out blog at:

    I hope that puts our program in perspective. As I have to personally push some of these folks, I can promise you that we would never try negotiation those difficult terrains. Thanks again for your interest and support!

    Michael Aubrecht
    Founder, All-Access Battlefield Tours

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