Vacation Destination: Gettysburg National Military Park

If you're looking for a fun trip to enjoy as a summer vacation destination, a trip to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania should be on your list. Gettysburg is a notable Civil War site--the place where the tide decisively shifted in the Union's favor--with tours of the battlefield and related spots. It’s a reasonable drive by car. Gettysburg is a great destination for history buffs and families.

In addition, Gettysburg itself is a lovely town, with wonderful historic homes, shopping, and beautiful rolling landscapes.

The Gettysburg National Military Park makes the importance of the battle very vivid. The Pennsylvania location shows how far Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia made inroads into the North. The landscape makes clear how much depended on the decisions of the generals and the soldiers — whether to fight from a high position or take cover; when to engage in an uncertain conflict.

In addition, the tours show the involvement of people not usually involved in armed conflict: women, farmers, and ordinary townspeople. 

The Importance of the Battle

The Battle of Gettysburg during the first three days of July 1863 turned the North’s Army of the Potomac from a disorganized and frequently losing assemblage of soldiers into an army that could press an advantage and win. It ended the Army of Northern Virginia’s incursion into the North.

The Army of the Potomac lost enough of its soldiers that the battle is often referred to as “the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” Though the war continued to rage on, the ascendancy of the North and the gradual decimation of the South achieved during the Battle of Gettysburg foreshadowed its end.

The guided tours through the battlefield site focuses on the major conflicts within battle. Little Round Top, for example, where the northern side successfully routed the Confederates, is a central site. It makes vividly clear how much a role geography itself played in the war. The advantage of being higher than advancing opponents, such as at Little Round Top, is very clear when you see it during the summer and can visualize the relatively protected status of soldiers on top of a hill versus soldiers trying to come up it.

The orchard where Pickett’s Charge commenced vividly shows the opposite. In Pickett's Charge, southern soldiers were ordered to advance across an orchard--having no place to defend against shots from the opposing side.

The National Park

Gettysburg National Military Park brings home the reality of the Civil War—the magnitude of the sacrifice, certainly, in the 51,000 slain soldiers, the extensive cemetery, and the cannons, but also the sheer impact that one battle can have to turn the tide of a major conflict.

Although the visit is fun for you and your family, the knowledge gained there can be particularly important if your children are taking history or English classes where they might read Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

To obtain background on the significance of the battle, it’s a good idea to watch Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War. Episode 5, “The Universe of Battle,” covers Gettysburg and the aftermath. A portion can be viewed here. The entire documentary is also available on Netflix or via libraries.

How to See the Battlefield

There are several tour methods.

  • A self-guided tour
  • Licensed Battlefield Guide service. A battlefield guide personally gives a tour in the comfort of your own vehicle.
  • Licensed Battlefield Guide bus tour 
  • Audio tours, available at the Museum and Visitor Center

It is also possible to hike or bicycle in the park. Maps for hiking trails and paths can be obtained at Gettysburg National Military Park’s Visitor’s Center. Bicycles must follow park roads and avenues.

Contact us for more information.

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