"Red-headed stepchild" conveys a lot. Can there be a red-headed stepchild among public battlefields? If so, consider Crampton's Gap.

Crampton's Gap is not allowed to operate under its own name, the name of the battle that was fought there. The piece of it under public (Maryland) ownership is multipurposed: it's a shrine to a now unknown Civil War journalist; it's a mountain park recreation center; it honors news reporters slain in Iraq; and oh, and it's got something to do with the Maryland Campaign of 1862.

Did I mention it has been closed due to lack of funding? That it is sprinkled with historically inaccurate signage? And that its public meaning in the campaign has been subordinated to the South Mountain battles, due to the interpretive decisions made by politically influential historians? It's as if the state has too many Civil War destinations already and needs to cut back or consolidate.

Don't laugh. The states have marketing professionals to deal with tourism issues, and believe me, they are following "best practices" playbooks whose contents are unknown to us.

Take the marketing concepts of "branding," "strong brands," "weak brands," and "diluting your brand." What can it mean in where Antietam (strong brand) is surrounded by weak brands (Crampton's Gap, Fox's Gap, etc.) and by middling brands (Harper's Ferry)? Do you protect your strong brand at the expense of the small fry? Is that a no-brainer in the world of marketing?

The picture requires even more market-mindedness in deciphering the proximity of two strong brands: Gettysburg and Antietam. Creating a regional Civil War Trails organization and motif may actually hurt the "weak brands" further by focusing visitors on the drivability that makes Gettysburg plus Antietam a one- or two-day trip. In a regional promotion, the only protection for the "weak brands" might be if care is taken to arrange multiple destinations into day trips of their own, and I'm not aware that this has happened in Maryland. But I'm not a marketing guru. I don't have the answers.

Nor do I need those particular answers just yet, because we need to start at the beginning, the simple things. Let the government call a thing by its name. Then disentangle events at Crampton's Gap from the synthesis of a notional South Mountain composite battlefield. When these basic steps have been taken, then we can look at marketing dynamics and public responsibility.

Thanks to author (Sealed with their Lives) and Crampton's Gap activist Timothy Reese for bringing this information to my attention. Tomorrow, I'll post a letter he has written to a Maryland legislator to try to correct the situation. If you agree with the material after reading it, please write one of your own.