A lonely statue appeared in the distance through the fog as we crested the hill to the fabled battlefields of Gettysburg. Rolling hills, studded with woods, and crisscrossed with Teton fencing gave no sign of the carnage that occurred here for three days in July of 1863.
This is as far as General Robert E. Lee of the Confederates made it north, as Union forces under the command of General George Meade fought them off. 8,000 combined deaths, 29,000 wounded, 10,000 captured or missing, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the Northern forces (Battle of Gettysburg).
Here, President Lincoln dedicated the Gettysburg National Cemetery in November, 1863, addressing the crowd with his famous Gettysburg Address (Speech). Rows of tombstones mark the graves of fallen soldiers, many unknown. A monument marks the spot where he gave his speech, along with a rare photo showing the President moving in the crowd.
An auto tour is the quickest way to tour the battlefield. A brochure marks stops along the way, where you pull over, read a description, then proceed to the next stop.
Stop number one is McPherson Ridge, where a row of Union artillery point to the exposed fields below. An observation tower at Oak Ridge (#3), points out fields of battle, and landscape identifiers.
Little Round Top (#8) was the most interesting. This was the strategic, high, position that allowed Union forces (at the last-minute), to gain advantage over the Confederates, holed up in the Devil’s Den down below. Sharpshooters from both sides, hidden behind hastily built granite fortifications, picked off soldiers from both sides. Multiple charges by the Confederates, trying to retake the high ground, led to the naming of the intermediate ground as the ‘Valley of Death’.
Pennsylvania Memorial (#12), is the Park’s largest. Climb to the top of this majestic granite structure and admire the viewpoint. Spangler’s Springs (#13) is the site of the first memorial at Gettysburg Battlefield. Today, there are 850 statues and monuments at this park – each unique and tastefully designed.
Every state involved in the conflict has erected a memorial to their heroes. Confederate and Union armies have monuments, as do each division, battalion, infantry and cavalry regiments. Famous generals, and soldiers of note from the battle have their own tributes.
Markers along the field denote the battle lines, the flanks, the number of soldiers, and the casualties. Original artillery, placed in their defensive firing positions, serve as silent sentinels to this epic battle. Placards describe each battle in chronological sequence, the regiments or battalions that were involved, their strategy, and the outcome. For true students of the Civil War, this could not be presented better.
My favorite memorial is the statue of General Gouverneur K. Warren (an engineer by trade) on Little Round Top, binoculars in hand, standing on an isolated rock, under fire of a Confederate sharpshooter, surveying and assessing the enemy strength in the fields below. Very poignant and courageous.
A spanking new Visitor Center will show you a film of the Battle in IMax, transport you through the grounds on a tour bus, or allow you to buy Civil War memorabilia at inflated prices. You would not believe the size of this visitor center – the only thing free are the restrooms.
The good thing is, you can hire a Civil War expert who will drive with you through the battlefield and offer a blow-by-blow description of how the battle unfolded. This seemed like money well-spent.
I thought it would be a great idea to take a horseback tour of the battlegrounds, just like the soldiers back in 1863, but that was not an option.
Honestly, we’ve been to most of the national parks in the United States, and I’d have to say this was the best – beautiful, moving, great statues, and historic. If you ever get close this area of Pennsylvania, this is a must-see. In fact, I’ll do one better – on a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 15.