If you are interested in this country’s history and the Civil War holds a particular interest, then you should consider a road trip running north to south, or visa versa, between New York and Florida. Almost every town along the way was involved in the Civil War conflict in one way or another and each marks their involvement with historical markers, cemeteries, statues, museums and even battlefields.
In a recent road trip from Toronto to North Carolina, I experienced many of these towns and enjoyed discovering their local Civil War stories and flavor. However, the grand daddy of them all had to be Gettysburg, the site of the largest and bloodiest battle to ever be fought on American soil in history.
On July 1-3, 1863, the three day battle was fought in Union territory between the defending Federal Union army and the Robert E. Lee’s advancing Confederate troops. Although both sides suffered tremendous losses (over 51,000 dead, wounded or missing), the Confederate army could not sustain the fight and Lee ordered his army to pull back into Virginia. 2008 marks the 145th anniversaries of the battle as well as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address which he gave at the dedication to the Gettysburg National Cemetery on November 19, 1863.
Gettysburg is located in the southern part of Pennsylvania just a few miles north of the Maryland border. The main highway Business US 15 took me right into the center of town.
WHAT TO SEE
Although there are many attractions and non-Civil War related things to see and do in the Gettysburg area, I will address the ones that relate the history itself. For more information on attractions and events, go to www.gettysburg.travel .
Gettysburg National Military Park Map
HISTORY TO SEE
To truly appreciate the Gettysburg experience, you must give yourself no less than one full day. Two days is highly recommended. I will quote information from the Gettysburg National Military Park Pennsylvania brochure put out by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. It will be in italicized font. Where I add other information will be in regular type face (non-italicized).
SEEING THE PARK AND THE BATTLEFIELD
The fighting at Gettysburg is history. Upon these peaceful, till Pennsylvania fields, more men fell than in any other battle fought in North America before or since. Many of the Union soldiers who died here are buried in Soldiers’ National Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered that poignant statement of purpose – the Gettysburg Address.
Much has been written and said about this, the greatest battle of the Civil War. There are also many treasured artifacts collected in museums here and across the country. But the most tangible link to those three days in July is the battlefield itself, parts of which look much as they did in 1863. Fences, hill, rocks, cannon and even the monuments provide an opportunity to ponder and try to understand what happened here.
You have probably come to Gettysburg by car. By following the Self-guided Auto Tour on the other side of this brochure, you can easily drive around the battlefield in two to three hours. At most of the numbered stops, exhibits and tablets describe significant action during the three days of battle.
The Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center and Museum contains the film “We are Met on a Great Battlefield,” the “Battle of Gettysburg” cyclorama, and the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War, which place the campaign and battle in the larger context of the war.
Note: The Visitor Center and Museum are brand new, having just opened in the spring of 2008. Admission is free to the Visitor Center and Museum only. It is broken up into a series of galleries that cover various aspects of pre-war activities, weapons, uniforms, daily life in the field, and the battle and subsequent aftermath. Each gallery is filled with a volume of artifacts, information and a series of really good AV media presentations timed to run about every five minutes or so. I particularly like the way the museum tells the story of the three day battle by running an AV presentation segment for each. As one ends, you leave that gallery to go to then next where the story is picked up again in another presentation. This process is done with the intention of moving the crowds along from ‘station to station’ and keeps the traffic flow going. Although finding your way from gallery to gallery can be confusing once in awhile it’s still a wonderful experience. Again, give yourself adequate time to go through the entire museum (several hours) and the also see the film and cyclorama program (which will be mentioned below). Artifact highlights for me included seeing Robert E. Lee’s field office furniture (such as his sleeping cot, desk, etc); the stretcher which carried the mortally wounded General Stonewall Jackson on, after his own men accidently shot him; and the display on John Brown, the abolitionist who took matters into his own hands at Harper’s Ferry. He killed several people during the event and was arrested, tried and hung. The door from his prison cell is displayed along with a hand written letter from the widow of the husband who Brown killed.
The building also contains a book and museum store, a “Refreshment Saloon” food service area, licensed battlefield guides, current schedules of ranger-conducted programs, and information about visiting Eisenhower National Historic Site.
The film “A New Birth of Freedom” and Gettysburg Cyclorama program is a 45-minute ticketed experience designed as a starting point for visitors. The “Battle of Gettysburg” cyclorama is a sound and light show of the spectacular 377-foot painting by Paul Philippoteaux of Pickett’s Charge, completed in 1884. (Note: the Cyclorama is currently undergoing conservation but will be opened again in September, 2008)
For a fee ($55.00 at time of writing), a licensed battlefield guide will conduct a two-hour tour of the battlefield in your auto or bus (Note: I did not get an opportunity to take this tour, but from those who have, I understand that it is well worth it!).
Groups and individuals may make advance reservations for the Theater/Cyclorama experience, a tour with a licensed guide, and a visit to Eisenhower National Historic Site by calling 1-877-874-2478.
During summer months, park rangers give walks, talks, and programs at various locations on the battlefield to help you understand the battle and its impact on the soldiers, civilians, and the nation.
The best way to sense the land and Gettysburg’s past is to walk the battlefield as thousands of soldiers once did. The Cemetery Ridge Trail, about 1.5-miles long, begins at the visitor center and covers the ground defended by Union soldiers in repulsing Pickett’s Charge.
The National Cemetery Trail begins at the National Cemetery parking area and covers the cemetery grounds, where the Union dead from the battle are interred and Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
For longer hikes, inquire about the 9.5-mile Billy Yank Trail or the 3-mile Johnny Reb Trail. Both trails are used by the Boy Scouts of America as part of their Heritage Trails Program.
For information about motel accommodation, restaurants, privately owned campgrounds, museums, and other facilities in the community, check at the visitors’ center with a representative of the Gettysburg Convention & Visitor Bureau. You can also write them at P.O. Box 4117, Gettysburg, PA 17325, or check www.gettysburg.travel.
For more information contact: Gettysburg National Military Park, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA 17325. Phone: 717-334-1124. Website: www.nps.gov/gett.
OTHER WAYS TO EXPERIENCE GETTYSBURG
Some of the other ways to experience Gettysburg, including other historical attractions are as follows: This information is taken, in part, from the Official 2008 Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau Attractions and Dining Guide.
EVENTS REMAINING IN 2008:
July 4-6, 2008
Annual Civil War Battle Reenactment, Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, PO Box 3482, Gettysburg; 717-338-1525, www.gettysburgreenactment.com
November 1-2, 2008
Autumn Gettysburg Civil War Show, Thomas Publications, Allstar Events Complex, Gettysburg; 717-642-6600, www.thomaspublications.com
November 19, 2008
145th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Gettysburg; 717-337-6590.
November 22, 2008
Remembrance Day Parade and Ceremonies, Downtown Gettysburg; 717-334-6274.
November 24 – December 15, 2008
Candlelight Christmas Tour, Shriver House Museum, 309 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg; 717-337-2800, www.shriverhouse.org.
There are many other events listed in the guide. Please go to www.gettysburg.travel for more details.
On pages 8 to 23, there are over 50 attractions listed that would take you probably two-weeks to see them all. However, here is a very brief highlight of some of the things you can see and do while in Gettysburg relating to the history of the event.
American Civil War Museum
297 Steinwehr Avenue, Gettysburg; 717-334-6245, www.gettysburgmuseum.com. History comes alive! Utilizing life-sized wax figures, the two-part guided tour features 35 dioramas, followed by a digitally enhanced Battle of Gettysburg re-creation. Presentation includes with an animated Abraham Lincoln delivering the immortal Gettysburg Address. Great orientation to the four-year conflict; a must see for all ages.
American Stories Historic Walking Tours & Programs. By appointment; 717-624-8154.
Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides. Private guides tested and licensed by the National Park Service. Tours provided in the comfort of your own vehicle; 877-874-2478.
Battlefield Driving Tours. CD & Cassette self guided tours. Various locations; 717-337-1217.
David Wills House. Museum about President Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address. The David Wills House is the home where President Lincoln spent the evening (Nov 18, 1863) the night before he delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19; 717-334-1124. www.mainstreetgettysburg.org.
Fields of Freedom at Gateway Theater. “Through discovered diaries, the 30-minute film immerses you in the lives of two soldiers preparing for the onslaught and unimaginably heroic charge, the ferocity of the battle and the anguish of its aftermath; 717-334-5577. www.gatewaygettysburg.com.
General Lee’s Headquarters. Historic Civil War Museum is housed in the Gettysburg headquarters of Confederate General Robert E. Lee where he and his staff planned the Battle of Gettysburg; 717-334-3141. www.civilwarheadquarters.com.
Gettysbike Tours. Guided bike tours by a National Park Service Licensed guide or rent a bike for your own touring; 717-752-7752. www.gettysbike.com.
Gettysburg Battlefield Bus Tours. Licensed bus tours open year round. 717-334-6296. www.gettysburgbattlefieldtours.com.
Gettysburg Diorama at Artillery Ridge Campground. This is a 35-minute narrated program using a 3-D miniature diorama of the entire battlefield. The presentation is uses narration, light and sound effects to tell the story of the three-day battle; 717-334-6408. www.artilleryridge.com
Gettysburg Expedition Guide by TravelBrains. The Guide includes a computer CD-ROM, a driving tour (tape or CD) and a 56-page full-color guidebook filled with detailed maps, photographs and trivia. Available online and at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center. 888-458-6475. www.travelbrains.com.
Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center (previously mentioned above). 866-889-1243. www.gettysburgfoundation.org.
Gettysburg National Military Park & Ranger Tours. Offers a full range of summer ranger programs, battlefield walks, evening campfire programs, special events, living history groups and band concerts related to the Battle of Gettysburg and President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Available mid-June through mid-August. 717-334-1124. www.nps.gov/gett.
Guided Historic Walking Tours. Tours providing quality interpretation and education that gives a better understanding of what life was like for the civilians in a town caught between the battle lines before, during and after the Battle of Gettysburg. 717-339-6161. www.mainstreetgettysburg.org.
Historic Battlefield Bus Tours. 717-334-8000.
Historic Church Walking Tours. 717-337-0733. www.historicchurchwalkingtours.org.
Jennie Wade House Museum. 717-334-4100. www.gettysburgbattlefieldtours.com
Lincoln Train Museum. Toy train museum featuring over 1000 trains and dioramas illustrating the railroad’s role during the Civil War. Also features the Presidential Train with President Lincoln as he travels to Gettysburg to dedicate the National Cemetery. 717-334-5678. www.gettysburgbattlefieldtours.com.
National Riding Stables at Artillery Ridge Campground. Two-hour guided horseback tours of Gettysburg National Military Park. 866-932-2674. www.artilleryridge.com.
The Rupp House. Features exhibits about the Rupp family, who lived in town during the Battle of Gettysburg. 717-334-7292. www.friendsofgettysburg.org. Admission free.
Shriver House Museum. Museum highlighting the Confederate occupation of Gettysburg through the story of George and Hettie Shriver who were residents during the Battle of Gettysburg. 717-337-2800. www.shriverhouse.org.
Soldier’s National Museum. 717-334-4890. www.gettysburgbattlefieldtours.com.
U.S. Christian Commission Museum. Visit the birthplace of Jennie Wade, and hear the story of brave civilians that helped soldiers during the war. 717-339-0339. www.usccgettysburg.org.
Underground Railroad Tours of Adams County. By appointment. Tours include a visit to two National Park Service’s Network to Freedom sites, the Yellow Hill Cemetery and the historic Menallen Friends Meetinghouse in Quaker Valley, where free Blacks and Quakers collaborated to help others find freedom. 717-528-8553. http://www.gettysburghistories.com.
There are also several ‘ghost and haunted Gettysburg’ tours available in town.
NOTE: I have done my best to accurately list correctly the names, phone numbers and website addresses here. If a mistake is found, please let me know and I will fix it ASAP.
Thanks and I hope you get a chance to go to Gettysburg one day soon.
If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln, you should read these interviews by two Lincoln experts:
“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar
(posted on November 10, 2008)
“An Awesometalk With” Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian
(posted on December 08, 2008)