- User Rating: Excellent
Time needed for visit:
Pros:Historical, very well done and maintained; great audio tour with a CD.
Cons:The Cyclorama isn't open; no shade!
The Bottom Line: This Military Park is a wonderful tribute to the battle at Gettysburg.
Our first trip to Gettysburg National Military Park was several years ago. We only had a few hours so we followed the auto tour signs. This time we explored much more thoroughly. I would recommend spending at least two days here to get the most out of this historical area. The park has 5,900 acres and was established in 1895 to memorialize the Civil War battle that took place in Gettysburg. It is 36 miles from Harrisburg, Pennsylvanias capitol. This is where the largest number of men were killed in a war (The Civil War) on United States soil. In just three days (July 1-3, 1883) over 50,000 men were killed or wounded.
We stayed at the Round Top Campground located at 180 Knight Road. Their phone number is 717-334-9565. The amenities (pool, mini golf, tennis and activities) were wonderful. I highly recommend Round Top. It was a 10-minute drive to the Park.
The Visitor Center is open September through May from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00p.m and June through August, 8:00a.m to 6:00 p.m. I highly recommend that you go after 4:00 during the summer. We went there at about 4:00 on a Friday and found the Visitor Center to be comfortably quiet. We went back the next day to get our National Passport stamped in the fantastic bookstore and found the Visitor Center to be mobbed.
The Park is free! At the Visitor Center you will want to see the electric map. We caught the last show at 5:15.
This cost us $4.00 each and though honestly I was bored with it my husband loved it. You will want to watch it though because on your tour especially on a self- guided one which we took you will hear a lot about the fishhook which is the design of the way the men were set up on the battlefield. Youll have a much better understanding of that if you see the map first.
The map is huge and is on the floor. Through lights on the map we saw how the troops were stationed and their movement. It lasted 1/2 hour. From there we headed downstairs to a Civil War museum and lots of exhibits. Youll see Civil War uniforms and more guns than you can count. For those interested in these items you will be delighted with the assortment. On Saturday when I went in to use the restroom I could hardly move a testament to why you want to go after 4:00 or during the week.
At the Visitor Center youll find a schedule of Ranger walks and programs that take place mid-June through September.
Pets according to the material must be leased and attended at all times. They cant be taken into the National Cemetery, Visitor Center or Cyclorama Center. We didnt have to worry about the latter and since she is in a bag no one noticed Hanna in the first two places.
You can take all sorts of tours. You can have a private guide in your car for a 2-hour tour, pick up a free self-guided map of the driving tour or you can take one of several types of bus tours. There are many Rangers at the desk in the Visitor Center who will be happy to talk with you. I must say though that one experience with a Ranger wasnt that impressive. I asked if we could drive to the Eisenhower National Historic Site. The bus ride I was told would take 7 minutes and not only wasnt Hanna allowed into the Eisenhower Farmhouse (I understand that.) but she wasnt allowed on the bus. I tried to explain that she is carried like a baby in a pet pocket but he would hear nothing about her so we skipped this stop. As it turned out on our self-guided tour we got a great glimpse of the house.
If you are not doing a tour I would highly recommend buying or renting a CD. Our campground rented a 2-set CD which came with a great map and literature for $9.00. Ill get to this in a moment.
Our first stop:
Youll find free parking at the Visitor Center as well as overflow parking areas. We never had any problem parking even on Saturday.
The Park is open until 10:00p.m. so we just walked across the street Friday night after seeing the map at the Visitor Center (Restrooms are inside and outside this building.) Right across the street is the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Silence and respect please sings could be seen through the well-manicured and maintained Cemetery. We found many benches on which to sit quietly.
Pick up a Walking Tour brochure which will take you through some of the monuments and graves. It is a circuit walk of 1/2 mile that follows a smoothly paved avenue. It is suggested that we do the walk counter clockwise which is what we did. The first monument is that of Lincolns Gettysburg Address. It is quite impressive as are most of the well over 1,000 monuments in this Park, the Cemetery being one part of a much larger National Park.
Other sites you will see are graves both unknown and those of state regiments; the Speakers Rostrum, a grave that flies the American Flag, a statue of a woman named Mary Virginia Wade who was reportedly the only civilian gunshot death reported at the Battle of Gettysburg; a statue of General John Fulton Reynolds who was the highest ranking Union officer killed in this battle, the Eternal Light, the Peach Grove and the huge semi-circle of gravestones that are plain markers which we are told lie shoulder to shoulder, all equal in the honor bestowed to them; all equal in death."
If you follow our itinerary youll have time to go into the town of Gettysburg which is just a couple of minutes away. Youll find souvenir stores, restaurants, boutiques and anything and everything Civil War related.
Stop Number 2:
We decided to take the High Water Mark Walking Tour Saturday morning before the temperatures got too hot. As it turned out it was over 90 degrees by noon time and there was little shade to be found.
This is a 1-mile walk; much of it is handicapped accessible. You will be walking on the battlefield and be able to picture the thousands of dead spread out over this vast land. Youll pass the farmhouse that General Meade used as his headquarters (Union soldier versus General Lee who was a Confederate soldier.) What you are walking on is called Cemetery Hill. Youll pass over ground that was a staging area for the Union Army. There are 8 official stops along this route. The name of this walk comes from Stop 6 where you will see a clump of trees with an open book monument. This is called the High Water Mark. It symbolizes the high tide or crest of Confederate power reached at Gettysburg.
The High Water Mark Tour ends at the Brian Farmhouse and the defeat of the Confederate Army. This walk was really worth it and a must do in my opinion.
We got into our air-conditioned car and went on close to a 4-hour tour. The 2 CDs took 2 hours and 15 minutes but there are many stops along the way. The drive is 20 miles. This was really more than I could have asked for. The map we had that came with the CD showed rest rooms and where the men were during the three days.
As I mentioned above the memorials and monuments are spectacular. Even if you dont get out of your car you can appreciate them but I would urge you to get our and look at them closely. A few that really impressed me were the Philadelphia Monument, the Native American Monument and the monument to General Lee. But there were so many more that we cant possibly list though I do have some pictures Id be glad to share with you.
There are two observation towers which if you are mobile are worth the 95 and 118 steps. (My husband counts!) You will be treated to 360 degree views of the town of Gettysburg, and the famous Little and Big Round Top Mountains You'll have a great view of the battlefield at Seminary Ridge where the Union it seemed from my vantage point had a bit of an edge. You'll also get a great view of Eisenhowers farmhouse. If you have binoculars you'll use them for sure.
What was so great about the CD tour is that it veers from the Park's auto route self-guided tour (and also explains what we were seeing) so we saw aspects of the Park that you might not see doing the Park's auto route tour. One stop had us in town where we stopped for a snack at Hard Bean. Youll find meters in town and though we had to drive around the circle a couple of times we were able to pull into one.
Our drive ended with us seeing a couple of monuments that we had passed during our High Tide Mark but with the CD and explanation it took on a different meaning. Everywhere there are placards so youll never be left in the dark.
By 2008 major renovations will be finished. One of these includes the Cyclorama so it was closed. There usually is a 1/2 free movie inside but on this day the power was off so we skipped this building totally. What we would have seen is very large painting. One of the placards showed a piece of it so you will get the general idea of what you are missing.
~Your child can become a Junior Ranger.
~There is no food service or lodging but youll find lots of both nearby.
~There is no general camping in the park but youth groups can camp with permission.
~If your child is a Boy Scout I would recommend picking up the $1.50 pamphlet called Gettysburg Heritage Trail Guide.
This Park, Cemetery and battlefield were not on my must do list but my husband wanted to go. Im glad I did. I learned a lot about our history that I had forgotten and once again reaffirmed my belief that peace wont be attained through fighting. Four stars.
I have visited many National Parks some of the more recent ones are listed on my profile page
Read all 28 Reviews
Write a Review
Best time to go: September-November
Recommended for: Anybody
Review Topic: Overview