Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Nephews Bob and Paul in front of the Visitor Center
at Gettysburg National Military Park.

The Killer Angels, MIchael Shaara’s historical novel, recreates the Battle of Gettysburg—those epic three days in July of 1863.   Considered the turning point of the “War Between the States”, more casualties occurred at Gettysburg than in any other Civil War Battle.
I was raised sixty-five miles from Gettysburg and feel fortunate to have visited the battlefields several times.  After reading Shaara’s superb book I’m itching to re-visit the legendary town, and on a June day several years ago I return with my sister and two nephews.
We arrive at Gettysburg National Park and begin looking for a parking space near the visitor center.  As we drive the lot I notice vehicles representing many states and Canadian provinces.  We traverse the rows of cars and my 8 and 12-year-old nephews shout out state names from each license plate while my sister writes them down.  How many different states make our list on this Thursday morning?  Thirty eight! 
Inside the Visitor Center the main attraction is The Gettysburg Cyclorama, a giant 360 degree painting depicting battlefield scenes from "Pickett's Charge" on July 3, 1863.  The artwork was originally completed in the late 1800’s by French artist Paul Philippoteaux.  Restoration of the deteriorating canvas was initiated in 2003 and in 2008, at a total cost of 16 million dollars, work was completed and the Cyclorama moved to its present location.  

Visitors stand in the center of the colossal circular painting
while receiving a narrated tour.

            The following two photos show scenes from the 360 degree painting.

We leave the visitor center and join a ranger-led talk at the Battlefield.  The park ranger offers insights into the minds of the generals as they positioned their troops around the edge of town.  After the talk we drive the battlefield loops, stopping to admire monuments and to climb the observation tower on Culp’s Hill.  The tower provides a dramatic overview of the town and battlefields, however on this foggy afternoon we're unable to discern many of the landmarks.  We’ll have to return on a clear day.

Paul sets his sights on the battlefield.

         This evening we’re lodged in downtown Gettysburg at The Best Western Inn.  The hotel is a National Historic Site and has been lovingly cared for—a lavishly decorated lobby and spotless, comfortable rooms welcome us.   
This elegant hotel also houses a restaurant and pub and is across the square from the historic David Willis House.  President Lincoln stayed in the Willis House with the home’s owner while finishing his draft of The Gettysburg Address.  This truly is hallowed ground.
Another plus to our downtown hotel is its location across the street from The Cannonball Malt Shop.  We finish our day by treating the boys (and ourselves) to delicious milkshakes.
It’s been a memorable day of travel through this small Pennsylvania town, home to one of the most consequential events in our nation’s history.

             The Memorial Day observance originated after the Civil War to commemorate fallen soldiers.  This weekend, as we honor our nation’s veterans, let us pause to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by those brave young men during the Battle of Gettysburg.

If you’re a fan of Civil War history and you’ve never been to Gettysburg you owe it to yourself to make the trip.  Find out more by visiting these websites: http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm


          Have you ever played the license plate game when visiting one of our nation's parks?  Try it the next time you're visiting one of your favorite places and let me know how many states are represented there.
          This summer, take a few days to read or re-read The Killer Angels.
Need more vacation reading material? Next week I’ll link you to one of my favorite blogs—Vickie Bates’ “No Bad Language”—for thought-provoking, insightful summer reading suggestions.


  1. Shaara's book brought the Civil War to life: the formal code of honor for fighting, the hours spent waiting for the enemy to camp, the monumental losses, including horses, Lee's deadly rash decisions made in the name of honor. This book is not only a good read, but as you suggest, it will draw you back to Gettysburg.

    1. Connye, thanks for your comments—they capture the essence of Shaara's novel.

      It's interesting that you mention the horses. As an animal lover, I can't bear to think about the unimaginable suffering those war horses endured. Monumental losses, indeed.

  2. Hi Rita,

    Oh my gosh, I'm so appreciative of your kind shout-out. Thank you! And thanks for the terrific book recommendation.

    What perfect timing for this post, just before Memorial Day. I haven't visited Gettysburg since I was the age of your nephews; we drove down from Maryland, so we would've been one of those out-of-state license plates in the parking lot! It's nice to hear about the restoration of the Cyclorama, too.

    Your posts have encouraged me to do something I've never done before: take a tour with the ranger. Reading your posts, I realized I've never taken advantage of these wonderful resources and how silly that is. Whether it's learning about local trails, flora and fauna, or getting the low down on the history and culture of a place, I'm putting this on my must-do list for future travels. Many thanks for this!!

    1. You're welcome, Vickie!

      I'm happy to hear that my posts have inspired you to attend a ranger talk or tour.

      I've learned so much from these dedicated park service employees, in both state and national parks. These tours are definitely a must-do; you'll enjoy the experience!

  3. Excellent Rita!

    I also have Pennsylvania roots. My mother was born and raised in Renovo, PA. And although it cannot be substantiated, the family folklore is that a great grandfather (not sure how many "greats") was in attendance at the Gettysburg Address.

    Regardless, it seems like it has been almost as many years ago as the Gettysburg Address since I visited the battlefield site! :-) I recall thinking about how chaotic it must have been there on the day of the battle with the sounds of rifles and cannons firing, the screams of agony from the wounded and dying. Another distasteful aspect of this battle which crossed my mind was the unimaginable task of those who assumed the burden of burying the thousands of fallen soldiers and horses.

    Well, enough unpleasant thoughts! On a brighter note, it's my understanding that there are now free walking-tour podcasts available from CivalWarTraveler.com. for many historic sites, including the Gettysburg Battlefield. I've not taken advantage of this resource, but can see how it might be a useful tool to enhance the tours given by the Rangers.

    In addition to the book that you recommended, there is yet another book about Gettysburg that I also have yet to read, and which has been highly recommended to me. It's called "Devil's Den: A History and Guide", and is written by Garry E. Adelman and Timothy H. Smith who were/are licensed battlefield guides. Between your book, and this one, my summer reading program is becoming quite full!

    Thanks for posting this. Your Blog postings are always stimulating, and entertaining to read.


    1. Wow John, a relative in attendance for the Gettysburg Address? Too bad he couldn't have written a blog post about it!

      You're right about the horrid task of burial and disposal of bodies. I believe many of the soldiers and horses were left to decompose in the fields, attracting scores of vultures. It must have been a grim scene.

      The book you recommend sounds interesting. I'll have to read that one, as well as re-reading The Killer Angels, during my July 4th holiday!