Gettysburg has been on my list of places to see for several years, so we put it in our itinerary for our fall travels. We weren’t sure what to expect from the battlefield, so we stopped at the Visitor Center to come up with a game plan for the day.
The tour of the battlefield is a 24-mile auto tour that follows the 3 days of the battle in chronological order. There were bus tours available,
or you could hire a tour guide to ride in your vehicle, or buy the Auto Tour CD and follow along on your own.
We opted to buy the CD and do the tour on our own pace . . . it ended up taking us over 6 hours to complete the 2-1/2 hour tour! I think the only way you could complete that tour in 2-1/2 hours would be if you never got out of your vehicle! We spent plenty of time out of the vehicle, though, walking the grounds and looking at the multitude of monuments.
In June, 1863, General Lee thought that his best shot at gaining acceptance of the Confederate States of America and ending the Civil War was to defeat the Union Army on it’s own soil. So, he brought the Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania, where they encountered General Meade’s Army of the Potomac in Gettysburg.
The Auto Tour follows the 3-day battle in chronological order, beginning with the Confederate advance on Gettysburg at McPherson Ridge,
causing the Union Army to retreat through Gettysburg to high ground at Cemetery Ridge.
Out route took us along the line of the Confederate Troops as they advanced upon Gettysburg.
There are monuments to each individual brigade, as well as each state represented during the battle, and significant individuals.
North Carolina Monument – first southern state monument
In addition to the monuments, there are also hundreds of cannons from the battle.
The General Robert E. Lee monument is in the midpoint of the Confederate line along Seminary Ridge, facing east toward the Union line.
This field was all that separated the two armies. In the distance, you can see the monuments along Cemetery Ridge, indicating the location of the Union Army.
The next stop on our tour was Little Round Top, where the Union defended their high ground against multiple attacks from the Confederacy.
There were sharpshooters at this location, including a regiment from Michigan, led by General George Custer.
As we walked along the paths at Little Round Top. there was a Union Soldier there to discuss the battle . . . and anything else you wanted to talk about, including parallels with the political situation today!
His captive audience!
At this point, we were already 2-1/2 hours into the tour, and barely halfway through the tour stops! We were close to the campground, so we took a quick detour back to the RV for lunch, and then picked back up at the next stop.
Devil’s Den is an area of huge boulders just west of Little Round Top. The Union soldiers rushed down the hill and clashed with the Rebels in a bloody battle.
Around the corner, in an area now known as “The Wheatfield”, there was more fighting and soldiers dying throughout the field, including two Generals who were wounded in the battle.
General Sickle, of the Union Army, used the Trostle Farm as his headquarters during the battle and the barn still displays the evidence of that battle – a hole in the brick made by a cannon shell.
General Sickle met with his staff under this “Witness Tree”, which is still there today.
Father Corby was a Catholic priest in the Union Army who prayed with the soldiers and performed absolution on the battlefield.
Our drive began to take us through the Union line at Cemetery Ridge, where the most elaborate state monument, the Pennsylvania Monument, is located. It’s a beautiful structure, and lists the names of every single PA resident who fought in the war.
There is also the monument to General Meade, facing General Lee to the west.
The battle was getting closer to the city of Gettysburg, and civilians were at risk.
At Culp’s Hill, General George Greene had his troops build entrenchments which contributed to a significant successful Union defense of its right flank.
There’s a monument to him at the summit of Culp’s Hill, as well as a tall observation tower.
We climbed to the top, where the view was amazing!
On the final day of the battle at Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee ordered 13,000 Rebel soldiers to charge across a mile-wide open field and attack the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. This attack is known as Pickett’s Charge, and it brought the war to an end with a loss for the Confederacy.
This monument, known as the High Water Mark, identifies the furthest point that the Confederate Army reached before being driven back by the Union and ultimate defeat.
We had, at this point, been on this tour for another 2-1/2 hours, and I can’t imagine how we would have gotten through it any quicker. And we weren’t the only ones – we had been following this motorhome from Germany most of the day. I finally had a chance to get a picture of their driver!
It was a long day, but they were still smiling!
The last stop on the tour – Soldier’s National Cemetery
On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address, dedicating the land as a National Cemetery. The location of Lincoln’s speech is marked by the Soldier’s Monument, and surrounded by Civil War graves.
Evergreen (Civilian) Cemetery
Monument to the Gettysburg Address
So that wraps up our tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield. It was a long day, but it was a truly amazing place of beauty and reverence . . . a fitting tribute to the thousands who lost their lives there.