Gettysburg, 150 years later

Unknown to us, we arrived at Gettysburg, PA as the town was preparing for its 150th commemmoration of the Battle of Gettysburg, running June 28 to July 7.  I wanted to come here simply because of the famous Gettysburg address, which Abraham Lincoln delivered in two minutes on Nov 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ Military Cemetery.  In my Literature class (not History) many moons ago, memorizing and delivering this address was a requirement.  So I really wanted to experience where it was originally delivered.  The beginning iconic phrase of the address still rings in my ears and is stuck in my memory, but I now have a better perspective of the emotion and depth of the message of that historic speech.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…Abraham Lincoln, 1863

Lincoln Address Memorial
Although the actual location is a couple of hundred yards away, this is the Lincoln Address Memorial inside the Soldiers’ Military Cemetery

On our visit, I got so much more than I came for.  I really didn’t know what to expect until I arrived.  We have been to some of the Civil War Trails in our journey, where I learned a lot about American history, particularly the Civil War era.  But on this stop I felt a profound understanding, education and realization about how pertinent the Gettysburg Address still is today.

New York State Monument
Soldiers’ National Cemetery; numbers represent unknown soldiers, and there are thousands of them

We learned that to get a good grasp and understanding of what happened here 150 years ago, one should go to the visitor’s center first.  Unfortunately, the center and its parking lot were already jam-packed full when we arrived on our first day, so instead we took the Guided Battlefield Bus Tour.  There are several ways to see the battlefield, but we opted for the Licensed Guide Bus Tour.  We felt that a self-guided auto tour might be a good option, but with so many people in town the traffic and parking situation was not looking good.  Had we known the significance of this weekend we would have arrived at dawn!

Battlefield at Gettysburg
Observation Tower, note the crowd

Another way to explore the battlefield is by bicycle, and we recommend this option.

Biking at the Gettysburg Battlefield
Look how these smart folks visited the Gettysburg Battlefield – no parking issues for them!

The 24-mile, two-hour tour of the historic fields of Gettysburg traces the three-day battle in chronological order.  The licensed guide offered us a unique perspective into the struggles of the battle.  The guide was engaging and knowledgeable, and we could sense his passion and love of his job.  Through his narration we visualized and imagined what it was like when he described significant actions during the fighting.  He gave us a few minutes to reflect and try to understand what happened here.  We highly recommend this bus tour; between it and several hours at the visitor’s center you can come away with quite an education.

View of Oak Ridge, Gettysburg Battlefield
View of Oak Ridge and a monument of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry

Many areas look much as they did in July 1863, though some are more densely covered by trees.  And of course now you will see the 1,320 monuments remembering the three-day battle’s 51,000 casualties; 23,000 Union Army and 28,000 Confederate Army.  These figures count the dead, injured and lost among them.  The peaceful rolling fields pay silent tribute to this tremendous sacrifice.

Devils Den
Devils Den as viewed from Little Round Hill

The well preserve Gettysburg battlefield, a sacred ground, was considered the turning point in the Civil War 150 years ago.  It is a very poignant reminder of the bravery of the soldiers on both sides.  Below are just a few of the 1,320 monuments, 410 cannon, and plaques within the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Gettysburg Battlefields Monument
Gettysburg Battlefield monuments

Cemetery Hill Attack

Gettysburg Battlefield Monuments
More monuments
Pennsylvania Memorial
Pennsylvania Memorial the largest memorial in the park.
Virginia Memorial
Virginia State Memorial

Gettysburg Battlefield

We came back again very early on July 1st, hoping to beat the crowd at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.  Even though we arrived before it opened, there was already a line ahead of us, which reminded me of the Black Friday shopping lines.

Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center
Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center

We watched the 25-minute film “A New Birth of Freedom”, which was narrated by  Morgan Freeman.  It gave us an unforgettable perspective about the Civil War – in other words, I finally got it!  The Gettysburg Cyclorama is a sound and light show of the spectacular 377-foot painting by Paul Philippoteaux, depicting Picket’s charge, completed in 1884.  It was quite a unique experience, like an IMAX of the late 1880’s where  the vast circular painting put us in the middle of the battle.  Canon flash effects on the canvas and sounds of the battle all around gave the illusion of movement.  There were rocks, weapons and other objects in front of the painting that brought a sense of depth.  Very well done!

Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama
Visitors experiencing the Cyclorama presentation
Gettysburg Battlefield Cyclorama
Just a small section of 377′ Cyclorama

The movie, the Cyclorama and the museum is well worth the $12.50 entrance fee.  We highly recommend this historic park to everyone!

As we headed out of town we saw long lines of cars in the battlefield areas and living historian volunteers preparing for the reenactment of the battles by section.

Battlefield Reenactment Volunteers
Battlefield reenactment volunteers
Traffic at the Battlefield
Traffic and parking were tough at the Battlefield
Sally, the Union Mascot
Sally, the Union Mascot





  1. I can’t believe you found a place to stay! This is one time of year we never went anywhere near the park. It is really too bad because they do many different reinactments.

    We lived 40 mins east of the park so we spent MANY HOURS in the park riding bikes. John is a history major and has read and studied this battle. Too bad we weren’t in town. He does a wonderful tour with many side stories. We were lucky enough to spend time at the Visitors Center before they decided to charge admission. Originally, you only had to pay to see the movie, the museum was free. Too bad they are charging now. But it is a fabulous display.

    Glad you got to be part of the spirit of the Gettysburg! It’s a great town off season. Where did you stay?

  2. Pam, we were parked at Carlisle and was really oblivious of the events. We could have spent more hours like you but not so with the crowds. John may have been a good guide tour for us! NPS really do a good job there.

    We are in between two parks today the fourth.

  3. What a great place for a history lesson We don’t like the crowds either, but sometimes for something this special, you just have to take a few deep breaths…it was worth it! The photo of the numbered graves is quite emotional.

    Happy Fourth! Enjoy…

  4. Thanks for the tour. We are about 3 months behind where you are now so once again you are laying some groundwork for us. Happy 4th to the two of you!

  5. We have not been here either and look forward to making that visit someday. Could not have been a more sobering experience and reminder of what our great nation has endured thru time that to be there during this time of year. Keep up the great picts and narratives!

  6. Oh my … you hit the jackpot of crowds. We visited Gettysburg many moons ago … before the upgraded museum and I remember being very moved as we drove around the battlefield … such loss in such a short time. A few years ago, Mui went to Gettysburg as part of a leadership course and had a special tour from the perspective of some of the generals from both sides of the conflict … he said it was an incredible experience. Hope to visit again someday together. Doing the self-tour by bike would be the thing to do, although having a guide first might be the way to go just to get the benefit of the guide’s insights.

  7. Nice job describing Gettysburg. Beautiful pictures! We enjoyed our tour through there a few months ago very much. We didn’t have the crowd then.

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