Travel Through US History at Gettysburg

March 26, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
Gettysburg is famous for its Civil War history, its 20,000-acre battlefield, dramatic stone monuments and affecting cemetery. A popular destination for schools and families with children, Gettysburg presents a wealth of educational opportunities, but is surrounded by a quaint town that allows for parental relaxation as well. Take a virtual visit to Gettysburg using the Web sites in this article, and get a pre-trip history lesson that will enhance your visit.

Pennsylvania’s Storied Past

Pennsylvania was home to many important developments in early U.S. history, including crucial Civil War battles. FindingDulcinea’s Civil War States feature on Pennsylvania suggests visiting the Library of Congress Web site, which maintains a collection of portraits of named Civil War soldiers from both the Confederate and Union armies. The Library of Congress site also discusses President Lincoln’s invitation to speak at Gettysburg, and has rare documents, including the only known photo of Lincoln at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery, and two drafts of the Gettysburg address.

The Battle of Gettysburg began on July 1, 1863, when Gen. Robert E. Lee led his Confederate troops into what would be the bloodiest Civil War battle. At the end of three days, 50,000 troops were dead and the war had taken a turn. Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s army defeated Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s troops, ending the South’s charge into northern territory.

Listen to actor Sam Waterston read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on NPR. The segment was taped on Nov. 19, 2003, to mark the 140th anniversary of the speech, which commemorated Union soldiers who perished in the Civil War.

Planning a Visit to Gettysburg

Frommer’s travel guide to Frederick, Md., includes a chapter on Gettysburg. Learn the lay of the massive battlefield, which is essentially a park. According to Frommer’s, riding a bike, driving a car or taking a bus tour around the park’s sloping hills and rolling valleys are the most efficient ways to take it all in.

The battlefield surrounds Gettysburg, a small town that draws tourists from around the world. Frommer’s says crowds are most heavy during the annual three-day reenactment from July 1–3, and on Remembrance Day in November. Among the more than 100 park monuments, “dedicated by various states to their military units,” the “granite-domed Pennsylvania Memorial” is the biggest and most popular among visitors.

The Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau has tips and planning advice for visitors and groups of travelers, including hotel and restaurant recommendations. Activities for traveling families and school groups are also listed. For example, take a self-guided Scenic Valley Tour through Adams Country, spanning about 35 miles north, south and west of Gettysburg. The Adams Country area is laced with bucolic orchards, and is home to historic sites like the Lower Marsh Creek Presbyterian Church, built in 1790. 

The U.S. National Parks Service Gettysburg portal explains some of the most popular attractions, including a Civil War soldier exhibit. The site covers practical information, such as fees and directions, as well. Use National Park Service maps of Gettysburg and view maps of the Battle of Gettysburg. 

If you’re looking for a general hotel or flight search Web site, visit findingDulcinea’s Travel Web Guide, or consult Gorp for a list of campgrounds in the Gettysburg area, with description, amenities and booking information.

Gettysburg Reenactment Video

Civil War Hotel has a video of a Gettysburg reenactment that, while surrounded by ads, offers an excellent pre-visit perspective on the attraction.

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