HARRISBURG - Hundreds of historians - including many top Civil War scholars - have signed a letter urging a state board to reject a proposal to put a casino a half-mile from the Gettysburg battlefield.

The 272 signatories, including coalitions representing hundreds of historical groups, said opening a casino near the nation's most important battlefield "unavoidably conflicts with the essential meaning of Gettysburg's place in American history."

The proposal is from one of four applicants seeking the state's last resort casino license, which would allow up to 600 slot machines and 50 table games.

The letter is to be released Wednesday, the eve of the 147th anniversary of the bloodiest battle on U.S. soil.

"What we think of when we think of Gettysburg is that it is part of a great trauma in the United States that ought to be respected, not contaminated, by this kind of business," said one of the signers, James McPherson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War history Battle Cry of Freedom.

"Those people coming to the area to see the battlefield will be commingled with those engaged in the mindless jerking of handles of slot machines. It's bizarre and wrong."

A spokesman for Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino, the development proposed by former Conrail chief executive David LeVan, said gaming and Civil War history can coexist, as they do, he said, in Vicksburg, Miss., and in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., which is seven miles from the Charles Town Races & Slots.

"Perhaps the signers should focus on development that is actually taking place on the Gettysburg battlefield," said David LaTorre.

He said there was no widespread opposition when a high-density housing developer bought 120 acres on the battlefield this year or when a hotel was built last year a few yards outside the park from where Abraham Lincoln gave his historic address.

LeVan, whose first Gettysburg casino proposal was rejected by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in 2006, wants to locate the $75 million casino in the Eisenhower Convention Center, southwest of the battlefield.

Richard McGarvey, a spokesman for the Gaming Control Board, said it was reviewing applications for the final license and, after holding a series of hearings, expects to reach a decision by the end of the year.

The historians' letter closes with a line from Ronald Maxwell, director of the movie Gettysburg: "There are many places in Pennsylvania to build a casino, but there's only one Gettysburg."

Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.