We Americans treat many of our battlefields as sacred and weep for the ones that are lost to development. Groups such as the Civil War Trust do a superb job organizing people and money to buy up ground, fight development, transfer land to the National Park Service, and do whatever is necessary to preserve battlefields where Americans killed each other 150 years ago.
The Scots are no different.
At Culloden (1746), a spot where their last great rebellion ended in a lopsided victory for the Brits, you can find people touring the ground that rival our affinity for treating battlefields as sacred ground. Culloden is more than just a battle for the Scots; it marks the end of the clan system that dominated their society for centuries.
When my wife and I visited, we came across a seasoned couple visiting the battlefield from southern Scotland. They had taken their vacation to visit on a sort of pilgrimage, having been there once before over 30 years ago.
The husband was pressing his foot on the squishy ground of the bog where thousands of Scots charged across in a great slaughter. He saw us and called us over to press on the ground too. Speaking in a hushed tone, “Feel how squishy that ground is? Can you imagine charging across this?” I jumped off the walking path and stood there with him.
Meanwhile, his wife bent over to collect some heather, which she said she would plant in their garden at home. She commented how it never seems to grow as well anywhere else as it does at Culloden. Now should could transplant a piece of the field and establish an alter of sorts at her home.
Then the husband looked around at the surrounding trees on the perimeter of the battlefield. “Do you hear that?” We shook our heads. “That’s right. It’s total silence. We’re not that far from a highway, but it is quiet here.” Everything involved a dramatic pause, “There’s something about this place.”
Their spiritualistic enthusiasm for the battlefield of course left us in somber silence.
Afterward, my wife pointed out how the thick forest would obstruct any sound. Now, that somber silence is threatened with new development just 400 meters from the battlefield and the Friends of Culloden are doing all they can to stop it. Not everyone can agree that battlefields are sacred, but no one can argue that men fought and died at Culloden, and many of them, from both sides, still rest in the ground there.
We cannot save every battlefield in every country. Many are already lost. But we can preserve those that remain, especially those that have a hold on a people such as Culloden.