Sunday, May 15, 2005

Visiting the Gettysburg Battlefield

Several people have e-mailed about visiting the Battlefield at Gettysburg. Here is part of an e-mail that I sent in response. I removed any personal information and made a correction or two.

"What I found particularly helpful while touring the fields at Gettysburg were the self guided battlefield tours. The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is the tour produced by TravelBrains. You can find it and several others in the Visitor's Center Book Store. Most of the other tours are pretty good. One or two aren't worth buying (again just in my opinion). The TravelBrains tour lasts about 2 1/2 hours, if I recall correctly, and covers the entire battle along with some human interest stories along the way.

Another option, if your budget allows, would be to hire a Licensed Battlefield Guide. I believe that they charge $40 for 2 hours. They accompany you in your car as you drive through the park and will discuss whatever you like. They can provide a general overview or focus exclusively on aspects of the battle of your choosing. I have to admit that, at least for me, it was a bit awkward initially having a complete stranger suddenly driving around in my car. But, in the end, I found myself very much enjoying the experience. I have hired guides twice and both proved to be knowledgeable professionals. The Battlefield Guides have a reception desk inside the Visitor's Center. If you are interested, all you need to do would be to ask them if they have a guide available.

A few other options, if they have them scheduled, are the tours, walks, and talks that the park rangers conduct. They always have an events schedule inside the front doors of the Visitor's Center by the entrance to the bookstore that notes the tours on any given day. Many times there are several from which to choose."

What I didn't mention in the e-mail is one of the best ways to see the fields, at least in my opinion. If you're new to the park, after you've familiarized yourself with the battlefield, get a good map from the Visitor's Center, park your car in an area of interest, and walk the grounds. I've visited Gettysburg over 30 times and still have not found all of the markers, monuments, and curiosities within the boundaries of the park. There are rocks with carvings made by the soldiers during return visits to Gettysburg. Some placed plaques in obscure locations where an event significant to the soldiers occurred. The monuments themselves have a wealth of information if you take the time to read their inscriptions. The bookstore has a map which specifically notes every monument, marker, and placard on the field. It's a great reference and it's waterproof.

Of course, the experience changes depending on the time of the year. Many people love visiting in July during the Battle's anniversary. But I can say from experience that, except for early morning, spots like the Copse of Trees, Devil's Den, and Little Round Top, among others, are usually quite crowded during the mid-summer months.

Also, please beware of ticks and poison ivy if you choose to go off the beaten path.

I should say that relic hunting is strictly forbidden and, if you decide to ignore this taboo, you could find yourself in an awkward situation. Remember that these are Federal grounds. But more important than the potential penalties is to remember what occurred at Gettysburg and to do your part to preserve those sacred grounds for future generations. I would respectfully request that visitors keep children from climbing on monuments and cannons and especially the larger rocks on Little Round Top and Culp's Hill. Many have carvings that are disappearing due to wear and erosion, many of which are no longer obvious.

Anyway, for those thinking of Visiting Gettysburg, I hope that helps. For more information, please see the site listed under "Links".



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