Travel Treasures: Gettysburg

by Tom Reed
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Story filed June 20, 2013

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and as you might imagine the event is being celebrated with a variety of special events and re-enactments. But even if you canít make it to the actual anniversary on July 1-3, or donít want to fight the crowds, this summer is still a good time to visit the scene of the historic battle.

Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle ever fought on U.S. soil. It involved about 165,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and there were 51,000 casualties Ė killed, wounded, captured, or missing. The battle was a turning point in the Civil War in that it put an end to the Confederate attempt to invade the North, although the war would continue for another two years. Four months later, at the dedication of a cemetery for the Union dead, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most famous speeches in history.


Lincoln Address Memorial

Markers and monuments in the Gettysburg National Military Park commemorate the key elements of the battle, including equestrian statues of the rival commanders, Union General George G. Meade and Confederate General Robert E. Lee. For an overview, begin at the visitor center in the park. Admission to the park is free. There is a fee for the museum, cyclorama, and video, but itís money well spent. The cyclorama gives you a 360-degree rendition of Pickettís Charge, the climactic battle of the campaign, with surprisingly realistic 3-D effects that blend into the painting.


Cyclorama

You have several options for touring the battlefield: drive the well-marked auto tour, take a two-hour bus tour, or hire a licensed guide for a personalized tour in your own car. The latter is not as extravagant as it may seem. It costs $65 for groups of 1-6 people, compared with the bus fare of $30 each for adults, $18 for children.

Afterward, you may want to revisit some of the sites. And youíll certainly want to go to Gettysburg National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 3,500 Union soldiers. There, youíll find the Lincoln Address Memorial, believed to be the nationís only monument honoring a speech.


Seminary Ridge Museum

David Wills, a prominent local attorney, oversaw the construction of the cemetery, and invited President Lincoln to the dedication in November 1863. Lincoln stayed overnight at Willsí home, where he put the finishing touches on the Gettysburg Address. The Wills House in downtown Gettysburg is open to visitors for a nominal fee.


David Wills House

The newest Gettysburg attraction, the Seminary Ridge Museum on the Lutheran Theological Seminary campus, is scheduled to open on July 1, the first day of the sesquicentennial. The building, formerly known as Schmucker Hall, is topped by a now-iconic cupola from which Union Cavalry General John Buford observed the movements of Confederate troops on the first day of battle. The museum contains 20,000 square feet of exhibits, none of which are the focus of any other museum in Gettysburg. It is operated jointly by the Seminary, the Adams County Historical Society, and the Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Association.

A full day is barely enough time to get to know Gettysburg and its Civil War history. Plan to spend more time there if you can. And donít forget that Gettysburg was also the home of President Dwight Eisenhower. He and Mamie used it as a getaway from Washington during his presidency, and the couple spent their final years there. Shuttle buses to the Eisenhower National Historic Site depart every half hour from the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center.

Gettysburg is about 310 miles from Cleveland. Popular mapping programs estimate travel time at about five and a half hours. But six hours is more realistic, since part of the route is over undivided two-lane highways in mountainous terrain.

For more information, visit these websites:
The Gettysburg Foundation
National Park Service
Gettysburg CVB


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