Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Weekend Trip to Gettysburg

After teaching a Civil War class at our homeschool co-op, I figured an appropriate ending would be a field trip to Gettysburg.  Since we live in Pennsylvania and will be moving out of PA in a month, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to visit a Civil War battlefield so close to home.

We ventured out Friday evening around 5:00 and arrived in Gettysburg at 9:00 p.m.  I had thought it was a 5-hour drive, so I was pleasantly surprised to get there in only 4 hours.  We stayed at the Comfort Suites on Baltimore Pike.  There are many hotels, bed & breakfasts, and campgrounds in the area, but I like to find a hotel with a pool for the kids.  Besides, we came across a lot of people who had been camping, and all I can say is I'm glad I didn't smell like that.  ;-)

Upon entering the hotel, I picked up a thick pamphlet about Gettysburg.  It listed things to do, places to shop, and places to eat.  I had heard that it is worthwhile buying an audio tour to take you around the battlefield.  You can hire a live guide as well, but it is a bit more expensive than an audio CD.  There were two really good audio tours that I looked at when we were at the Gettysburg Military Park Visitors' Center Gift Shop.  One was $34.99 and came with a CD-ROM that could be used at home for further learning.  I chose the $29.99 audio tour with 3 CDs because it was the only one that had the Gettysburg Address on it.  After picking up the audio tour, we paid for and watched the movie and cyclorama about the 3 days of the Battle of Gettysburg.  The movie is told more from the point of view of the North and claims the major issue of the war was slavery.  The movie lasts approximately a half hour.  It is very well made and enjoyable to watch.  When the movie is over, the audience is directed to an escalator that takes you to see the cyclorama.  

 The cyclorama is a 360-degree painting of the three days of battle.  It used to be housed in its own building, which still remains by the Soldiers' National Battlefield, but they moved it into the new visitors' center which was built in 2008.

I had seen this cyclorama 30 years ago as a child.  It took five years to restore it once they moved it into the new building.  It is an amazing site to behold.  It took the artist and his team a year to paint the entire thing.  As the story of the battle is told, the lights shine on different parts of the painting.

It looks 3-D at different points and is complete with sound effects of battle.

In the large picture below, there are two men carrying another man into a shanty (above where the  sticks of the fire meet).  The man they are carrying is said to look like Lincoln.  Perhaps this was intentional on the part of the artist.

The visitors' center also a large museum that comes with the price of admission.  It is not biased with regard to the North or the South.  It contains hundreds, if not thousands, of artifacts from the entire Civil War, not just Gettysburg.  It was so very interesting to walk through this museum and read letters written by Lee to Jefferson Davis and love letters written by soldiers.  All of the artifacts were explained as to their purpose.  There was a room in which you could sit and listen to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

 The uniform on the left is typical of a Confederate soldier.  That on the right is typical of a Union soldier.  We learned that the weight of everything they carried - uniform, cooking supplies, games, etc. - weighed in excess of 45 pounds.  I can't even imagine carrying that extra weight while wearing wool clothing in the heat and humidity of July.

The cases below had buttons, belt plates, and insignias from various regiments.


After we finished at the visitors' center, we began our audio tour.  There were 16 separate markers on the tour  at which we were to stop.  Sometimes the tour had us stopping at points not marked so that it could inform us of various events that took place.  I was, overall, very happy I bought the audio tour because it will be a wonderful resource for years to come.  There is so much information contained within it that it doesn't matter if you aren't driving around the battlefield; you will still learn so much.  The booklet that comes with it is also a wealth of information with its maps and pictures and explanations of things.

 As you drive around the battlefield, there are thousands of monuments.  They are for people, for brigades, divisions, markers for various battles, etc.  I will include some photos that I took and explain what you are looking at.

The cross is a memorial to a Pennsylvania brigade

 The house above is General Lee's Headquarters on the first day of battle.  The museum inside is free.  There are artifacts inside here as well from the Civil War.

Next are some informational signs explaining what happened where you are standing.  This one is for a skrimish that took place in the railroad cut that sent Confederates hiding for cover.

Eternal Light Peace Memorial dedicated to unity between North and South after the war was over.

Sallie the Dog - Guarded over the dead and dying of her regiment.  Killed in battle later in the Civil War.

Observation Tower

This is a view from the observation tower.  There are a few of these around.  You can climb them for an overall view of Gettysburg.  They often have signs on top that show where things are in the distance.  They are very, very sturdy!!

This is Little Round Top.  Fighting took place here on day 2 (July 2, 1863).

The hillside is covered with very large boulders.  The Union took this high ground on day one.  Therefore, they were able to maintain the high ground throughout this battle.

Devil's Den

Little Round Top Monument

We went to Devil's Den on Saturday and again on Sunday.  The kids had so much fun climbing on the rocks.  In listening to the audio tour, it was said that the soldiers who fought here remembered fondly of days they played hide and seek here with their friends.  

The last stop we made on the battlefield before heading home was the site of Pickett's Charge.  I recommend watching the movie, "Gettysburg," before you go to get an idea of what happened.  It gave us a greater respect for the soldiers as we walked across the same field.

This would be the stonewall the Union soldiers were behind when the Confederates began firing upon them with their cannons in hopes of destroying the Union guns and causing them to run out of ammunition.

The line of trees in the far distance is where the Confederates involved in the charge would have left from once the cannonade stopped.  They then needed to march over the large open field towards the Union.

Copse of trees on right that was their target to head for

Memorial of High Water Mark attained by Confederates
It sits behind the copse of trees.

During our weekend in Gettysburg, we also went through the Jennie Wade  House.  She was supposedly the only civilian casualty in the Battle of Gettysburg.

We also ate at some wonderful restaurants.   Hunt's on 15 is a tiny little place but small prices and delicious sandwiches on pretzel bread.  We ate breakfast on Sunday at a place called  Dunlap's.  We didn't particularly care for the free breakfast at the hotel, so we ventured out and were very happy with our choice.  Nathan ordered a cheese danish.  I figured it'd be like a store bought danish with cream cheese swirled inside of it.  The thing they brought out was about 3 inches high with cream cheese poured on top and dripping over the sides.  I'd swear it was half as big as his head.  It was also delicious!!

I hope you get a chance to visit Gettysburg at some point.  It was a wonderful experience, especially being a parent and getting to go with my kids.  I know it is something they will remember forever.  Even Paige said that this was something she'll want to share with her kids and grandkids.  Jacob said, "The Civil War is pretty cool."

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