Like Custer's men, preservationists now face a do-or-die moment, Bearss says. "The battles are going to be played out in the next 10 to 20 years, because by then the battlefield parks will be islands in urban corridors of the United States, in a sea of sprawling shopping malls."
On East Cavalry Field, our tour draws toward a close beneath a granite column topped by a statue of a Union cavalryman. "The trumpets are playing," Bearss intones. "Thirteen hundred sabers are drawn. They flash in the sun. The Confederates are coming toward them: five regiments, riding boot to spur. Men of Michigan, are you ready? Charrrrrrrge!" And suddenly he's off, his swagger stick flailing—a hunched figure racing across the soybean field, charging fearlessly forward into the past.