-- The prospect of ringing, flickering slot machines just a cannon shot away from the battlefield at Gettysburg has some historians and preservationists up in arms.
Recently, a group of 10 investors unveiled plans to seek a casino license from the state as part of a proposed Gettysburg Gaming Resort and Spa.
It would be a mile and a half from Gettysburg National Military Park, the battleground where in 1863 thousands of men "gave the last full measure of devotion," as President Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address.
"It would be a desecration of their memory and sacrifice to establish such a tawdry, tasteless enterprise next to their fields of honor," historian James M. McPherson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning authority on the Civil War, wrote in an e-mail.
Kent Masterson Brown, a civil rights lawyer in Lexington, Ky., who has written books on the Gettysburg campaign and who chaired the park's advisory commission, said: "If anything, we at this hour of the country's history need to make sure that these places are maintained as hallowed grounds."
Lead investor David LeVan, a Gettysburg businessman known in town for contributing generously to preservation efforts, said the casino would be respectful of the area's history. He said it would not have a Civil War theme or be visible from the highest points in the park.
The site of the proposed casino was of relatively minor importance in the three-day battle -- some Confederate troops gathered there before heading off to fight.
And the area is already fairly well developed. The 42-acre site consists of open fields, a house and a golf range. But it is at the end of one of two busy commercial strips that flank the park, and it sits across the three-lane U.S. Route 30 from a hotel and entertainment complex under construction.
One leading Gettysburg preservationist said the casino could be a good thing: It could boost the park's visibility and help battlefield devotees raise money to save more important sites.
"You can't always save it all, so you have to know where your battle is," said Kathi Schue, president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association.
Situated in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania's dairy country near the Maryland state line, the 6,000-acre Gettysburg park wraps around the town of Victorian storefronts and 200-year-old brick mansions. In and around the park, about 1,400 monuments and plaques mark the spots where 162,500 Union and Confederate soldiers fought and where thousands died in what proved to be the turning point in the war.
About 70 privately owned parcels lie inside the park, and some battle sites lie outside its boundaries, creating a complicated task for preservationists.
For example, the onetime site of a huge field hospital where thousands of troops were treated and hundreds were once buried is now privately owned land outside the park. Squeezed between a Staples and a trailer park, it is up for sale as a hotel site.
The Gettysburg casino investors are seeking to capitalize on Pennsylvania's less-than-a-year-old law legalizing slot machines. They say the casino would draw gamblers from Baltimore and the District.
Gettysburg would not be the first place where gambling piggybacked onto battlefield tourism: Vicksburg, Miss., where Gen. Ulysses Grant won one of his biggest victories, boasts four floating casinos and a military park.
However, a 1996 study by the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau found that few gamblers visited the battlefield.