Today’s post is in honor of Memorial Day and the men and women who have served in the United States armed forces.
Welcome to Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania! Gettysburg National Military Park is a collection of battlefields where intense Civil War fighting between the Confederate and Union Armies occurred. It was where brother sometimes fought brother, and where so many lives were lost over the span of three days.
The Battle of Gettysburg proved to be a pivotal turning point in the American Civil War and the battle for states’ rights, western expansion, and slavery. These now quiet grassy fields and rolling hills were once the site of bloody battles. Today, these fields and hills represent a transformative time in American history. Come along with us as we explore and experience the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Experiencing Historic American Battlefields
Our journey through Gettysburg National Military Park begins at the visitor’s center and museum, where battlefield maps are collected, Civil War history and artifacts are examined, and park exploration plans are decided. Self-guided auto tours are how many people experience Gettysburg, though licensed Battlefield Guides are available for a fee.
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1 to July 3, 1863. These now hallowed grounds were where Union forces 88,000 strong, clashed with the smaller Confederate forces of 75,000. After three days of intense battles, Union forces triumphed, signaling a critical turning point in the Civil War. However, the loss of life was staggering.
Today, these now quiet grassy fields and rolling hills remain strewn with memories of this historic, horrific battle. Cannons still stand in rows, as if ready to battle once again. It is a somber experience, to walk along the very fields where more than 50,000 soldiers lost their lives over those three days of fighting.
Take pause at Little Round Top, where Union soldiers once overlooked the same fields. Walk the edges of Mcpherson’s Woods, where the first round of heavy fighting began. Cross over to Oak Ridge, where Union forces faltered against the charging Confederate forces. Wander up Cemetery Hill, where Confederate soldiers attacked Union forces holding the higher ground.
Retrace the same paths taken by retreating Union soldiers as they traversed Plum Ridge on their way to Cemetery Ridge. Walk along Cemetery Ridge, past the Pennsylvania Monument. It was here that the Union artillery held off Confederate forces while awaiting the infantry’s arrival from Culp Hill.
Stand before the Virginia Memorial, gazing out across the grassy open field beyond. This is where the last Confederate assault took place on July 3rd. Known as Pickett’s Charge, it was named after one of the three Confederate generals who lead the attack that, for all practical purposes, signaled the end of the battle and the turning point in the war.
Imagine President Lincoln delivering his now famous Gettysburg Address on these very fields four months later, November 19, 1863, as he dedicated the National Cemetery at Gettysburg in honor of the soldiers who fought on these battlefields.
Engaging with Civil War Battle Re-enactments
Gettysburg National Military Park is about remembrance and experiencing a transformative moment in American history. Walking the battlefields only tells part of the story. The lives and actions of the men who fought in these battles tells another part of the story.
Meet Union and Confederate generals who lead their respective forces into battle. Listen how they command their forces as they drill for the battles to come. Stand alongside Civil War soldiers as they prep for impending battle, priming their weaponry and forming battle lines.
Watch a moment in Civil War time come to life. It will engage all your senses, from the smokey smell of gunpowder rolling off recent shot rifles, to the deafening sounds of cannons firing at enemy lines. Experiencing a battle re-enactment is experiencing history come to life!
Exploring A Civil War Military Encampment
Weekends from April to October, historians and re-enactors also provide Gettysburg visitors with a glimpse into life on the military campaign. Opportunities abound for all ages to explore and examine how a Civil War military encampment operated. It wasn’t just soldiers who camped here! It was also cooks, doctors, tool makers, messenger boys, even wives.
Step into a camp of tents big and small, and step back in time to the lives of those who once camped on these fields. Imagine those early July days, where a canvas tarp above, a bedroll beneath, were the only protection from whatever weather Mother Nature threw at them.
Walk between rows of tents. Examine soldiers’ rifles standing ready and waiting for action. Step up to the camp’s kitchen and the doctor’s tent, where historians stand ready to answer your questions. Witness demonstrations of tools being made, military tactics being practiced, and medicinal remedies being mixed.
Stop for a moment outside a tent, examining the accoutrements of an 1860’s military life. Uniforms, bayonets, ammunition pouches, and even their personalized water canteens, are often on display near the tents, much like they might have been in 1863. Realize just how minimal a soldier’s personal belongings were out on the battlefields.
Have You Been To Gettysburg?
We spent a weekend exploring Gettysburg National Military Park. Our intent was to ensure our children experienced and appreciated these hallowed grounds that played an integral part in such a transformative time of American history.
Plan your trip accordingly! The highlight of our weekend at Gettysburg National Military Park was the opportunity to experience a Civil War encampment and a battle re-enactment. Seeing history come to life is very impactful, and is something not to be missed while at Gettysburg.
Have you been to Gettysburg National Military Park? Did you experience a living history re-enactment? Do share your experiences!
All images by C.Biederman