Gettysburg Civil War Tourism in Pennsylvania

So I got an email from someone who read this old PA with kids travel plan, and had a slightly different plan. He asked for some advice specifically about Gettysburg, PA:

I was thinking of taking US 15 into Hershey PA this summer and saw it goes through Gettysburg. Is it worth a stop? I’m into all that history stuff but I’m not sure the wife and kids are…

Anyway, here’s he plan: Gettysburg, Hershey, Dorney park, 4th of July BBQ and whitewater on the Lehigh. Good times. Didn’t realized I’d be passing Gettysburg, so thats a bonus. Screw em! We’re stopping. What should we do at Gettysburg?

For official information, here’s the official military park website. I’ve collected some less official information from fellow travelers:

1. Expect a lot of walking in nature since the land has been preserved. You can also do a car tour where you drive from point to point and listen to the tour guide tell you stuff but you are still just looking at some very nice landscape. If you kids like to play, take them to devels den at the base of litte roundtop, it’s a giant rockmaze your kids can climb through.

Watching Gettysburg the movie first with the family could make the trip more meaningful. It is truly a solemn, goose bumpy kind of place. Beautiful and so quiet.

2. There are certified battlefield tour guides for hire at the visitor center. I highly recommend that you hire one. Your wife and kids will then understand a little better what happened there.

3. I have gone several times. Had the kids watch Gettysburg with me their first time…so they were thrilled to be where the 207 Maine charged down the hill…and at sundown we walked the route of Pickets charge together across the field, over the Emmittsburg Road fences and to the same Angle you see in the movie. You can even recreate Picketts charge if you like and realize exactly why it didn’t work.

Almost no amenities for good food, or clean bathrooms, but the ‘burg is an excellent place to go for the history. Rte 15 could not be an easier drive. The tour guides are great. The town a chotchke infested tourist trap.

4. Rent the audio / car tour… be prepared with water and a lunch. its an all day affair… there are a lot of ghosts there.. be respectful to the fallen. also hit the “Electric Map” place.. will give you a good overview of the battle… climb Little Round Top, walk through the Wheat Field, Devils Den, and go to the “High water mark of the Confederacy”.. humbling place.

5. Every July 3rd our reenacting unit traces the steps of the 8th Virginia during Pickett’s Charge. We start off from Seminary Ridge with full flags and battle gear, no musketts because the park won’t allow it. It’s an exhausting and sorrowful experience. By the time we get to the point where the 8th Virginia reached Cemmetary Ridge we are exhausted. You realize that even those Confederate soldiers that did make it to Cemmetary Ridge were probably exhausted by the time they got there.

A separate reenactment is scheduled for the weekend right after the 4th of July. It doesn’t take place on the battlefield but at a local farm near by. You might find it interesting if you have never seen one. The reenactment has gone down hill over the years and a lot of reenactors like myself avoid this event which we call Goofysburg because of poor treatment by the organizers.

6. If you have time you may want to visit the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg. It is a few years old and gives you a first hand look at equipment and the military. Harrisburg was the big staging center for the Union when the trains came from the north. I could never imagine the march they had because there was only one train to Gettysburg for the troops.

The South came within the distance of the Susquehanna at Camp Hill of raiding Harrisburg, about 2-3 miles. The day they planned to go over the river was the day Lee called for the invasion of Gettysburg.

7. I love Gettysburg. I find it fascinating. Not sure how kids will react. Depending on how old they are, rent Gettysburg the film (based on The Killer Angels”) and maybe that will get them psyched. Then go, hire a tourguide or do the driving tour (buy the CD or tape in the giftshop and drive it). You can do the cyclotron (360 degree painting) while you’re there. Richard Dryfus narrates it, and they light up different parts of this massive painting. Kinda cool for setting the stage.

When you’re at Little Roundtop, there’s a good story I heard. When Chamberlain was Gov. of Maine after the war, he got a letter from an anonymous reb soldier who said he was on the hill that day. He had Chamberlain lined up, but for some reason couldn’t pull the trigger. He cursed himself and lined it up again, but again didn’t pull the trigger. He said he was now glad he didn’t pull the trigger, but he wanted him to know: he had him!

Chamberlain was an amazing American. Wounded by bullet fire six times in the war. He served to the end, became Governor of Maine and later Professor and the President of Bowdoin College. What a life!

There’s a nice campground nearby. I like to go camping there and then do the park.

Well that’s what I was able to gather – would you like to share your Gettysburg experiences or travel tips?

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  1. Jim B says:

    Get out and walk the battlefield. There are markers everywhere identifying which units were present at those locations. Be sure and take the same route of Pickett’s Charge and imagine what it would have been like to walk into firepower of the Union fortification near the Copse of Trees. It is an experience you’ll never forget.

  2. Kay I says:

    We hired one of the guides at the visitor center that drove our car around the route. He was extremely knowlegable and had great stories. He customized the tour to our interests which was researching our relatives that fought there. One of those quides could make up a route shorter and more interesting for children.

  3. econruth says:

    Don’t forget to talk to your kids about the Gettysburg Address! Once they see the battlefield and the huge losses in life, they will understand it better than just reading about it in History class.

  4. debbie says:

    if you are interested in the civil war it is very interesting. the self guided car tour with the tape is nice, you can stop anywhere along the tour to get out and look around. it is very quiet and sobering to realize how many people died there. it also can be very hot in the summer. take plenty of water and snacks. the center of the town has many gift shops and people dressed in costumes of that period. we went with preteens and they got tired,and bored after a while.

  5. Michele Dochat says:

    I have to agree with some items, and disagree with others. My husband and I have taken our kids (now 20, 15 and 15) to Gettysburg many times over the years, and it never gets boring. We camp at the nearby KOA which is lovely and tour the battlefield each time we go. Our kids love it as much now as they did as small children, and none of them has ever seen the movie Gettysburg. Not only is the area beautiful and important to our history, it is also a fun place to get away because while camping you really are removed from the hustle and bustle. I must disagree and say there are loads of places to eat that are quite good ranging from some good hand tossed pizza, to gourmet meals to great hand dipped ice cream. My husband and I have gone there for our honeymoon to the Cashtown Inn, which you will find with little research, was an integral part of the events that took place that hot July so many years ago. Haunted?…I say yes, very, and my husband is a skeptic in every way. At any rate, there is good food, loads of history, great shopping both antiques and new, scenery that is truly breathtaking, and always some sort of event going on. You can also tour the Eisenhower Farm, home to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. It is lovely to visit any time of year, and especially at Christmas. Gettysburg will always be in my heart…and I am sure it will be in yours after even a short visit.

  6. […] found a lot of other Civil War tourism things – Civil War trails, Manassas, and Gettysburg – but no other “soldier experience” type deals. If anyone knows of another one […]

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