It’s been said that in order to understand America, you must first understand the Civil War. There is no better place to begin to comprehend this nation-shaping conflict than Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
For three days at the beginning of July 1863, the field that in modern times draws millions of tourists annually was traversed by 93,000 Union and 70,000 Confederate soldiers, engaged in a bloody battle that would leave more than 6,500 Americans dead and many thousands more wounded. The Battle of Gettysburg is considered by many military scholars to be the beginning of the end of the Civil War, since Confederate troops would never get farther north than they did in that bloody conflict.
On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave a three-minute address at what is today Gettysburg National Cemetery that honored the brave soldiers who fought there. The speech still resonates through the ages and has helped to define our national character. “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here,” the country’s Commander-in-Chief humbly stated.
Today, you should begin your tour in the National Park Service’s Visitor Center, where you can study the 750-square-foot electric map that recreates the battlefield, visit the Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War, browse the bookstore and pick up free materials. Take the 18-mile driving tour of the battlefield while following the chronological events on the free map, or you may choose to rent an informative audiotape. The tour takes from two to three hours, the roads are wide, and the pull-outs create easy opportunities to examine the monuments, 1,300 of which grace the park.
Once you’ve explored the battlefield, take a day to visit the city’s other historically rich points of interest, including the Cyclorama, a giant wraparound painting of Pickett’s Charge, and the Farnsworth House Inn, which has 100 bullet holes in it.
Call (717) 334-1124; http://www.nps.gov/gett.