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Gettysburg rich in history, offers stories of soldiers who fought therecomment (0)

August 21, 2008

By Linda Holloway

About 90 minutes away from Lancaster County, Pa., you will find the quaint town of Gettysburg. Our first stop was the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center where our vehicle was commandeered by Bill Dowling. With the help of Dowling, a licensed battlefield guide, we embarked on an amazing history lesson without opening a book.

The tour took us across terrain where 165,000 soldiers fought with the Union and Confederate armies at the largest battle ever fought in North America. Here, at the Battle of Gettysburg, more than 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured in a battle that lasted three days — July 1, 2 and 3, 1863. During these three days, more than 7 million bullets were fired.

Gettysburg played one of the most significant roles in American history. I have to admit it was my husband, Larry, who first thought of visiting Gettysburg. It didn’t take long for me to join the enthusiasm of the approximately 1.7 million annual visitors who come from all over the world to learn about its historical and cultural significance at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

After Dowling learned we were from Alabama, he told us about the story of the battle from the perspective of Alabama soldiers. He unfolded facts and churned our emotions with human-interest stories of the “Alabama boys” as he called them, and he often referred to Gen. Robert E. Lee as “Bobby Lee.” Dowling also pointed out landmarks such as the Alabama State Monument and the significance of a nearby field. “There was a crimson tide (flowing) from this location,” Dowling said.

He explained that Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law’s brigade of Alabama soldiers marched 24 miles in 12 hours to reach Gettysburg to participate in the battle. We exited the car and traced their footprints for a short distance. “The dehydrated Alabama soldiers were unable to refill their canteens and exhausted themselves trying to dislodge the Union soldiers on Little Round Top.”

The park covers 6,000 acres and has more than 1,300 monuments. One of the best views of the battlefield and a popular destination in the park is Little Round Top — the southernmost end of the Union defensive line at Gettysburg. The first Confederate monument dedicated in the park was the Virginia monument that depicts Lee on his horse, Traveller. Here we found a group of students with their teachers participating in an outdoor history lesson.

Autumn is the perfect season to visit the park since you can enjoy the brilliant fall foliage along winding roads. Peak leaf time is usually mid-October, but last year, the foliage extended until the end of the month. You can tour the battlefield by hiking, biking, horseback riding and driving. You could also try a Segway Personal Transporter or travel by bus with a battlefield guide or stereo tour.

We joined a crowd gathered to view a re-enactment of Union soldiers firing a cannon by the Louisiana State Monument of Seminary Ridge. Our journey ended at the Soldiers National Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address Nov. 19, 1863. Make sure to call ahead to the visitors center if you would like to reserve a licensed battlefield guide who will provide a two-hour tour in your vehicle or tour bus.

The day after our guided tour, we visited the park again and walked the paths of history with a better understanding of the magnitude of those three days in 1863. 

A walk through downtown Gettysburg will make you feel as though you have stepped back in time. You can sign up for walking tours by a licensed town guide who will showcase the history of Gettysburg from the residents’ points of view. Enjoy browsing quaint specialty shops, many with Civil War-themed merchandise, and explore antique shops. Take time to visit a variety of museums and dine in historic buildings.

Tour the Jennie Wade House Museum, Soldiers National Museum and Hall of Presidents, and save some time for the American Civil War Museum. This museum includes 300 lifesize figures in 35 scenes, plus a battleroom auditorium that depicts the Battle of Gettysburg. Featuring an extensive collection of model toy trains, the Lincoln Train Museum is a favorite spot for children and adults.

The stone-clad General Lee’s Headquarters Museum is located on Buford Avenue. In this house on July 1, 1863, Lee and staff established their headquarters to make plans for the Battle of Gettysburg.

Another favorite stop is the Eisenhower National Historic Site. President and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower owned only one home, their Gettysburg farm. During his two terms as president, Eisenhower used the farm as a weekend retreat.

Enjoy a tour of the house and grounds. Children ages 6–12 can participate in a Junior Secret Service Agent Program as well.

There is no shortage of good food in downtown Gettysburg, but for Civil War-period dining, enjoy game pie, spoon bread and pumpkin fritters at Farnsworth House Inn on Baltimore Street. Built in 1810, the house was riddled with 100 bullet holes during the Civil War.

Eight miles west of Gettysburg, you will find the Cashtown Inn, where the history lesson is as good as the food. Ask the waiter for the copy of the history of Cashtown and the Cashtown Inn, which includes the fact that Confederate Brig. Gen. John Imboden made his headquarters at the inn in July 1863. Try the spinach salad, New York strip or the pecan chicken.

You will have nearly 70 lodging options in Gettysburg. Couples often enjoy the historic inns in Gettysburg; but for groups and families, lodge at the Eisenhower Hotel and Conference Center.

Children will enjoy the Allstar Funland at the hotel that offers two go-cart tracks, miniature golf, a playground, outdoor batting cages, fishing and paddle boats on a 14-acre lake. The hotel is conveniently located two miles from the battlefield.

For more information, call the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-337-5015 or visit www.gettysburg.travel. For park information, call 717-334-1124 or visit www.nps.gov/gett. For battlefield guide reservations, call 1-877-874-2478 or visit www.gettysburgtourguides.com.

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