Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is the most historical town of the Civil War. Over three days, an epic battle of North versus South erupted and forever changed the United States. Whether you are looking for an educational family vacation or a trip with friends, add Gettysburg to your “must visit” list and walk in the footsteps of history.
Nestled between mountains and farm land in Adams County, PA lies Gettysburg. Its central location makes for a short drive from Baltimore, Washington DC and Philadelphia. I learned during my visit that Gettysburg is a large international tourist destination; tourists from every country have visited this hallowed town. I never knew the Civil War was that big of a draw for anything other than American tourism. We had visitors from England on one of our tours. They were truly overwhelmed by the stories told of those fateful days in July.
Some travelers may be bored at the idea of a vacation that is a history lesson. As a history lover, I was thrilled to visit Gettysburg recently. The fall colors are beginning to show here in the Northeast and Gettysburg really comes to life in the fall. I was especially awed by the beautiful colors on the battlefield. While there are many wineries and fall festivals to visit during this time of year in Gettysburg, I was visiting for the historic value of the town.
Gettysburg, PA: A Historical Tour
Gettysburg National Military Park
I began my day at the Gettysburg National Military Park. If you have never been to the Battlefields, I suggest beginning your trip at the Visitors Center. Here you can get a park map and your bearings a bit to decide how you will tour the National Park.
Unlike other National Parks, Gettysburg is huge and spreads out along many acres of town. There are quite a few ways you can tour this park. We opted for the Auto Tour Route. The auto tour allows you to drive yourself around the park and visit at your leisure as little or many sites as you wish. If you want to come and go throughout your visit this is the ideal way to see the park. You can purchase an audio tour for the car in the visitors center that will guide you along as the battle took place.
It is hard to process what happened to the 51,000 men who fought over three days in July 1863. As you stand on the spots where they stood thinking of the enemy charging at you, it is harrowing. I stood on the site of Pickett’s Charge and stared at the woods where 15,000 men charged the Confederate Army and General Robert E. Lee lost 5,000 men in one hour. With the bloodshed during this three day battle there is something calm and serene at Gettysburg National Military Park unlike other parks. All you can hear is the wind through the wheat fields at sunset.
Traveling Mom Tip: You will never visit the entire park in one day and be able to fully learn about the history of the Battle of Gettysburg. Map out your must do stops before you visit so you can ensure you don’t miss them or plan to stay for at least three days.
The Jennie Wade House
Jennie Wade was the only civilian to be killed during the Battle of Gettysburg. I find that alone to be fascinating considering how close the battles took place to the small town. The home she was killed in still stands among modern buildings and you can go on a guided tour for only $7.50. The original floor boards still stand in the upstairs of the home. Our tour guide, George, was passionate about sharing Jennie’s story of life and death in Gettysburg. This house is said to be haunted, but I didn’t dare come back at night.
Sachs Covered Bridge
Just beyond the battlefields is Sachs Covered Bridge, which is als said to be haunted. It is a regular stop for visitors seeking out the soldiers war cries. As you stand on the bridge it occurs to you that the men from the union and confederate army crossed this very bridge. Little did they know what was waiting for them in the clearings on the other side about two miles away.
Soldiers National Cemetery
The site of the Gettysburg Address, this may very well be the most historical spot in town. Standing at the marker where the address was read sent chills up my spine; that moment changed the lives of all men and women. The cemetery came to be because the town was left strew with bodies, some not even buried and the Governor commissioned local attorney David Wills to buy land to properly lay these brave men to rest. Seeing the many “unknown” graves is a sad site, more so the mass grave stones naming only the state and number buried.
Gettysburg Ghost Tours
Said to be the most haunted town in the United States, Gettysburg is a natural spot to take a ghost tour. We went on the 8 p.m. tour and it was more than a tour looking for confederate cries for help; this was a history lesson. We toured the area where field hospitals were, the only African-American cemetery in town and a home that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. While I didn’t see any ghosts I listened to many tales that aren’t necessarily in the history books.
Traveling Mom Tip: The Black Cat tour that we took with Gettysburg Ghost Tours is family friendly and a fun evening activity for everyone to enjoy.
Dining in Gettysburg
During your trip to Gettysburg you will do a lot of walking, and work up quite an appetite. There is a large array of dining in town, from casual fare to fine dining. We had a wonderful and inexpensive lunch at Dunlap’s Restaurant about 5 minutes from the battlefield. It was a nice break from our long morning. Gettysburg is home to a handful of brew pubs and wineries, so after a late afternoon tour we went to Reid’s Winery and Cider House. The fall Apple Cider is amazing; it tasted like apple juice and will sneak up on you for sure. We also dined at the all new Appalachian Brewing Company in town, outstanding craft beers and burgers.
I could have spent days in Gettysburg taking in all of the history, wineries and shopping; there is a captivating charm here. Gettysburg, PA is the perfect home school field trip, a romantic getaway or time with friends.
Have you been to Gettysburg? What is your favorite place to visit?