It is often said that, once you go to the Gettysburg National Military Park in south central Pennsylvania, you are likely to return again and again. The bloodiest battle of the Civil War took place there, and the battlefield radiates an aura that for many people is unforgettable!
The upcoming month of July is an excellent time to go to Gettysburg, because it is the anniversary of the three-day battle and the horrendous aftermath.
Upon arrival, the recommended first stop is the imposing National Park Service Museum & Visitor Center, which includes the Gettysburg Cyclorama, depicting the essential culmination of the battle called Pickett’s Charge.
For a reasonable fee at the Visitor Center, you will view an introductory motion picture about Gettysburg battlefield and enjoy a narrated description of the magnificently restored cyclorama. The exhibits in the museum cover a wide range of subject matter, including separate areas devoted to the three days of battle — with explanatory films about each one.
Do not miss the opportunity to have your picture taken while sitting on a bench next to a life-sized statue of Abraham Lincoln just outside the entrance to the Visitor Center.
Once out on the battlefield, choices are to drive from point to point using a complimentary map, or follow a designated route employing recorded narration (available at the gift shop in the Visitor Center). During the summer months, park rangers also lead free tours of segments of the battlefield.
Licensed battlefield guides are available for a fee, to drive along with you around the park while explaining how the battle unfolded. Check at the Visitor Center if you choose this option.
One of the most popular places on the battlefield — especially for families with young children — is Devil’s Den, a rocky outcrop that youngsters love to climb and pretend they are soldiers engaged in mortal combat. Almost as popular is Little Round Top, a hill with a wide-ranging vista of the battlefield between Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge about a mile to the west — as well as a view of South Mountain in the distance.
Most people enjoy spending time at the National Cemetery, where President Abraham Lincoln gave what became known as the Gettysburg Address. The cemetery setting is serene and picturesque, a place where a weary visitor can rest and contemplate the fate of some 3,500 Union soldiers buried there, as well as Lincoln’s enduring sentiment “that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
Across Taneytown Road from the National Cemetery is a monument dedicated to the Union and Confederate soldiers from the State of Delaware who fought there. The monument contains rosters of the 1st and 2nd Delaware Regiments, the only Delaware units engaged at Gettysburg. See http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/delaware/state-of-d....
Plan to stop by the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum on the grounds of the Lutheran Theological Seminary. The museum is housed in a building that served as a hospital for both Union and Confederate troops. Also, it is the location from which Union Brig. Gen. John Buford observed the oncoming Confederate troops on July 1, the opening day of the battle.
Some three miles from the National Park is East Cavalry Battlefield, which is well worth the short drive. It was here that Confederate Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart’s cavalry attack was brought to a halt by Union Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer leading a charge.
In order to obtain more information for your trip to the Gettysburg battlefield, go to the National Park website at https://www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm. You can learn about lodging and restaurants at http://www.destinationgettysburg.com/index.asp.
Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” (winner of the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award for 2015), available at Bethany Beach Books and Browseabout Books in Rehoboth. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.