In July 1863, over 170,000 soldiers converged on the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in a battle that changed both the course of the Civil War and ultimately the nation. Later that same year President Abraham Lincoln delivered the now-iconic Gettysburg Address at Soldiers' National Cemetery, the final resting place of 3,500 Union soldiers. While Gettysburg is best known for its role in the Civil War, there's another side to this charming town celebrating traditions as well as the area's bountiful harvest. Here are seven ways to experience Gettysburg on the battlefield and beyond.
Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg National Military Park is the most visited of all the military parks in the U.S., with more than 6,000 acres of preserved hallowed ground. It's a place of learning, reflection and patriotism. It also has one of the largest outdoor sculpture collections in the world comprising more than 1,300 monuments and markers. The park's Museum and Visitor Center is home to the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a 377 feet by 42 feet circular oil painting, which serves as a vivid memorial to the soldiers who took part in Picketts Charge. Guided tours of the battlefield are offered by car, bus, horseback, bicycle and Segway.
Gettysburg Heritage Center
Pick up an iPad from InSite Gettysburg at the Gettysburg Heritage Center. Part GPS and part tour guide, the software directs you to auto stops along the battlefield route. The high-tech difference in this tour is the augmented reality that offers a real-world view as virtual horses gallop across the road and Civil War soldiers fight on the field.
When you stop into the Gettysburg Heritage Center to pick up your iPad, be sure to check out the exhibits. The exhibit space depicts the small town life of Gettysburg on the eve of the battle with a train station, general store and theater marquee. The aftermath of the battle comes to life with interactive displays and authentic artifacts. Also on display is the hearse that transported President Lincoln in Washington D.C. after his death.
Seminary Ridge Museum
Walk the halls where wounded soldiers suffered, experience General Bufords view from the cupola and stand where many from both sides lost their lives at the Seminary Ridge Museum. The Voices of Duty and Devotion exhibit tells the story of the fighting on Seminary Ridge on July 1, 1863. Pledging, we have come to stay, the outnumbered Union troops fought to hold back the Confederates as reinforcements from both armies continued to arrive. The staggering losses on both sides left the wounded and dying to seek shelter in the seminary. Exhibits throughout the museum graphically depict what happened within the walls of Schmucker Hall as it became one of the largest field hospitals in Gettysburg.
Ghosts of Gettysburg
With all the blood that was shed in Gettysburg, it is no surprise this town is often referred to as the most haunted town in America. Mark Nesbitt, a former National Park Service Ranger, has researched the stories shared with him over the years and has written several books about the ghosts of Gettysburg. Armed with Mark's stories and a few other tales, period-clad guides lead spirit-seeking (or just curious) visitors on candlelight walking tours through the town. Our tour was led by Ann Griffith whose animated tales of Gettysburg's afterlife was entertaining and educational. Ironically, Ann is scared of scary things so she typically seeks the friendlier spirits among us.
Land of the Little Horses
When you need a break from the battlefield and the ghosts left in the battles wake, check out the family-friendly and quite adorable Land of the Little Horses Farm. Situated on 100 acres just west of Gettysburg, the Land of Little Horses Farms animals include miniature horses, sheep, donkeys and cows. There are performing animal shows, educational displays and events to keep everyone entertained.
Bluegrass music is big in Gettysburg and is celebrated with two yearly festivals, one in mid-May and the other in late August. Dozens of musicians come together for four days of music, workshops, food and good times. The Old Trailer Main Stage at Gettysburg has hosted performances by the biggest and the best in the genre including the Father of Bluegrass himself Bill Monroe.
The Gettysburg area is also apple country with over 20,000 acres of apple, peach and pear trees. Every spring the countryside blooms with thousands of apple blossoms when the community hosts the Annual Apple Blossom Festival. Highlights include live entertainment, wine tasting, hundreds of arts and craft demonstrations and the presentation of the Pennsylvania Apple Queen. In autumn Gettysburg celebrates the harvest of all its apples with a National Apple Harvest Festival held over two weekends in October. In addition to more than 300 craft vendors, the festival offers apples in every form, from jellies, cider and pancakes to pizza, syrups, sausage and applesauce. Freshly-popped kettle corn, open pit beef and sweet potato fries bring visitors back every year, while hayrides, a petting zoo and a puppet show are fun activities for the entire family. Antique farm equipment and cars are also showcased along with an antique apple cider press.
Whether you plan to visit for history, ghosts, bluegrass or apples youll leave remembering Gettysburg as a very special place.
Have you been to Gettysburg? What was your favorite experience?
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