Gettysburg is the place to relive a defining battle in American history, especially after all the enhancements made for its 150th anniversary celebration in 2013. The site of the pivotal battle in the Civil War, July 1863, it’s where 150,000 soldiers were engaged for three days to determine the future of the United States.
The battlefield has been preserved to allow visitors to experience the topography that confronted those soldiers. While it may be an unlikely place for a family vacation, Gettysburg presents a grand opportunity for families to share schoolbook history lessons and experience the beauty of southern Pennsylvania.
The Gettysburg Battlefield and Parklands
The 5,900-acre park includes hills, fields, woods and orchards unspoiled by commercial development. There isn’t one telephone pole or electrical line to be seen on the site, and their absence is a tremendous aid in imagining a world from another era.
The first stop on your visit should be The Gettysburg National Military Park Visitors Center. There you can arrange for a variety of battlefield tours that the National Park Service offers: a guided bus tour, private guides who will ride in your car, audio tapes timed to the marked plaques, guided bicycle trip or a horseback riding tour.
Recent expansion to the facilities includes several film theaters and a new Civil War-themed cafe. In addition to this, the restored 360-degree-mural titled “Pickett’s Charge” that is accompanied by a narration depicting the final day of the battle was moved to the visitor center.
The battlefield site is far too spread out to be comfortably covered on foot. However, there are informative markers as well as statues, cannons, observation towers, and dwellings throughout the battlefield which can be explored outside of the car.
Of particular interest to kids are Devil’s Den with its huge boulders, and nearby Little Round Top which holds a commanding view of most of the battlefield. Since so much of the tour of Gettysburg is outdoors, good weather will guarantee a more wonderful experience.
Touring the Historical Sights of Downtown Gettysburg
Downtown Gettysburg also has been remarkably well preserved and provides an opportunity for children to experience what life might have been like in the 1860’s. There are buildings that still bear the marks of those tumultuous days in July, 1863.
Our son Luca, age 12, loved viewing the bullet holes in the side of a brick building and hearing the heroic stories of citizens aiding the young soldiers. Some of these buildings have been turned into museums such as the Shriver House Museum and the Samuel McCreary House.
The Seminary Ridge Museum is on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. Known as Old Dorm because it housed both Union and Confederate wounded during the Civil War, this museum will feature artifacts highlighting the stories of soldiers, nurses, residents and African Americans who waited out the three-day battle in the surrounding countryside.
Trip Planning Details for a Gettysburg Weekend
There are, however, plenty of modern hotels, motels, inns and restaurants available to accommodate the hundreds of visitors and their various budgets. There are many small museums, civil war memorabilia shops and walking trails that can be enjoyed in town, as well.
One hotel within the battlefield proper is The Doubleday Inn, located at 104 Doubleday Avenue (Oak Ridge) in Gettysburg Battlefield, PA 17325. This inn only accepts children over age 13. There are also other ones nearby that offer re-enactors telling ghost stories, and history demonstrations with muskets, cannon and cavalry.
Two popular choices are the red brick, former farmhouse now the Baladerry Inn and the white clapboard, Civil War-era Battlefield Bed and Breakfast Inn, where Friday nights are for ghost stories. For the summer, camping options include The Drummer Boy Camping Resort which we saw advertised, and which looked nice.
The Wyndham Gettsyburg Hotel is a 248-room, full-service hotel that has two restaurants, a health club and an indoor pool. It’s located in historic Gettsyburg.
For more information, contact the Gettysburg’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (800/337-5015).
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