When we planned our family road trip to Gettysburg, we assessed our goals for the trip. My son, the history major, wanted to see the places and learn more about the battle that he heard about in school. For the rest of us, our knowledge of the Battle of Gettysburg could be summed up in two statements. One, it was the bloodiest battle in the Civil War and, two, it inspired the Gettysburg Address.
We were determined to leave our trip knowing more than just that. We spent the morning immersing ourselves in the history of the Civil War and the role Gettysburg played in it. In the afternoon, we decided to make that knowledge come to life with a tour of the actual battlefields.
GETTING AROUND GETTYSBURG
There are actually several ways of touring the battlefield’s four acre expanse. One is to do it like the generals did – by horseback. This was not an option for us, because of the rain (and, well, none of us are equestrians!). Weather also prohibited touring by Segway or bike, which are great options when it’s warm and dry.
We did discuss the other options thoroughly. The self-guided tour (with book and CD) was the most practical choice, in that it was inexpensive and we could choose how long we would spend in each area. However, I really wanted to have some sort of guide with us on our tour, to allow my kids to ask questions if necessary.
The idea of our own tour guide, who would accompany us in our car and direct our driving tour, was really appealing. However, we already had five people in the vehicle, so including a sixth would be a little tight.
The Bus Stops in Gettysburg
We decided that a bus tour would be our best choice, and my media contact at Destination Gettysburg offered to treat our family to tickets. The bus turned out to be the best choice for us. Once I saw how expansive the battlefield was, I knew I would have been lost if we tried the self-guided approach. We took the two hour bus tour that departed from the Main Gettysburg Tour Center (not to be confused with the Visitors Center). This turned out to be a great choice for us, as the tour guide was informative and knowledgeable and had a quirky sense of humor, all of which made the tour through Gettysburg a great learning experience.
Okay, here’s where I have to admit that my 11-year-old Junior Ranger had more than her fill of history that morning, and wasn’t keen on sitting still for two hours. We equipped her with an iPod and headphones, plus a juice box and some snacks. This made her – and our – trip a million times better, as we dodged those, “When is this over?” questions and made it through the two hours with little complaint.
For two hours, we learned not only about the battle, but also about the town where the battle took place. The driver guided us through the neighborhoods of Gettysburg, pointing out where Lincoln stayed or where Jennie Wade, the lone civilian killed during the battle, had spent her final hours. Then we headed to the battlefield itself, and looked at the barricades, cannons and ridges we learned about that morning. Our guide explained he was keeping the air conditioning on so the windows wouldn’t fog due to the rain. It was a little chilly, but worth it for the view.
Unfortunately, the rain prevented us from making as many stops as usual. We did, however, have an opportunity to get off the bus and spend some time at Little Round Top, where we could scale the rocks by the Castle and stand by the statue of Major General G.K. Warren. Standing by the statue, we looked out at the grounds he once viewed, and the enormity of what happened here really sank in. The battlefield today is a peaceful, tranquil tract of land, but the three-day battle that took place here ended with almost 50,000 casualties. It was a moment that brought history to life for us, a moment our family will remember for a long time.