Over one million people make the trek to this rural Pennsylvania town that’s deeply rooted in American history. They come to Gettysburg National Military Park to honor the memory of the 51,000 soldiers who lost their lives or were injured on these same sloping fields. The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle ever fought in the United States and what many historians considered the turning point of the American Civil War. It was also here where Abraham Lincoln gave his now immortal Gettysburg Address and where he urged Americans to usher in a new era of freedom. It’s not only a historic site but also a sacred one. Here is your guide to visiting Gettysburg National Military Park.
Guide to Visiting Gettysburg National Military Park
The Gettysburg Museum of Civil War and Visitor Center
Your visit to Gettysburg National Military Park ought to begin at the Visitor Center. The large facility sits just a few minutes outside the historic town center and right in the heart of the park. It houses the Gettysburg Museum of Civil War where you can view relics from the Battle of Gettysburg, read about the biographies of notable people involved in the Civil War, relive the three-day battle through a multi-media presentation, and check-out the exhibits that focus on the aftermaths of the battle. The museum will give you a good overview of the history associated with the park, which will then enhance your experiences once you go out on the field to visit the battlefield sites.
In addition to the museum, the visitor center also houses the main ticket office for guided tours and other events outside of the regular park services program. They include guided bus tours of battlefield sites and entrance to the Eisenhower National Historic Site. Free shuttles to and from the historic town center and the Eisenhower National Historic Site stop here. Visitors can also grab a bite to eat at the cafeteria and souvenirs at the bookstore. Finally, the Visitor Center is where you can find out information and suggestions on different ranger tours.
Touring the Battlefields
There are three ways to tour the battlefields when visiting Gettysburg National Military Park. There’s a self-guided auto tour, a bus tour of the battlefields with a certified tour guide, and walking ranger tours. If you have plenty of time, my suggestion will be to take a combination of the self-guided auto tour with one or two walking ranger tours. This will give you a detailed and full picture of the events of the three-day battle. The auto tour has 16 stops and takes approximately 3-4 hours to complete while the average walking ranger tour lasts around an hour and covers specific times and dates. If you have limited time, you can opt to take a bus tour of the battlefields narrated by a certified tour guide, which lasts about two hours. It will take you around the same route as the self-guided auto tour but it will also swing by parts of the historic town center. The only disadvantage of the bus tour is that it will only stop at a handful of sites and will unlikely have enough time spared to see all the monuments of significance.
Gettysburg National Cemetery
Gettysburg National Cemetery is located within the compounds of Gettysburg National Military Park and was created for the Union casualties of the US Civil War. The aftermaths of the battle forced the creation of the cemetery to prevent the spread of diseases. In November 1863, just four months after the battle ended, President Abraham Lincoln attended the dedication ceremony and delivered what will be known as the Gettysburg Address honoring the soldiers who fought and perished on the surrounding fields. As of today, over 3,500 Union soldiers are buried there.
Gettysburg National Military Park is a huge park with plenty of crisscrossed roads. Most of these are part of the auto tour route so first and foremost, keep an eye out on the road especially when crossing the street. If you’re the one on the wheel, abide by the speed limit as much as you can and be aware of crossing pedestrians and cyclists. Remember that you’re sharing the roads with buses, other cars, bicycles, and pedestrians.
Second, keep in mind that the majority of the attractions in Gettysburg National Military Park are located outdoors so you will be exposed to the elements. Bring a hat, put on sunscreen and insect repellant if you want to spend a good amount of time on the fields.
Third, this area of Pennsylvania is a haven for ticks especially down the lower battlefield sites. Some of these ticks may carry Lyme disease so ensure that you check for these unwanted stragglers on your hair, clothing, and shoes before leaving the park.