A Stop in Gettysburg on the way Home

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cyclorama, Gettysburg National Military Park

We are checking out of the Hershey Lodge today and driving to Gettysburg, PA on the way to Baltimore. Our morning began with packing and then the farewell wedding breakfast. It was one last chance to see the family and visit with the couple. They are off to Jamaica tomorrow. It is tough to find a safe honeymoon location at a destination that is open to American/foreign visitors. As US citizens, we are fortunate to have ready access to vaccines. Other countries are not so lucky and are far behind us in vaccination rates and control of Covid-19. Even within the US, things are different. A cabbie a week ago told me he had been driving lots of DC and New York visitors in from the airport. They were visiting Houston since things are so “open”.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Gettysburg National Military Park Pennsylvania

When we knew we were making this wedding trip, I took a look at what was in the area knowing we would have some free time. We decided to fly out early Monday morning rather than leave on Sunday and miss the breakfast. This way we have time for an afternoon outing. Knowing we would be in the area, the two things that immediately caught my attention were a trip to Amish Country and Gettysburg. Today we are seeing my first choice, Gettysburg.

Chapel at the Lutheran Cemetery, Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg PA

Boris had already arranged a tour before we left and we found that several other wedding guests had visited the historic site on this trip before the wedding. All were impressed with their visit and highly recommended a tour. Gettysburg is about halfway to the airport car rental drop off from Hershey.

Gettysburg PA

Gettysburg PA

We first took a tour through the town of Gettysburg itself. It is very charming and historic with nice inns, bed and breakfasts, and dining spots. I loved the landscape and buildings connected with the Lutheran Seminary. We even saw a few log cabins in town. We came in York Road through town, along Seminary Ridge, past Gettysburg College and back out York. We were actually covering part of the battlefield; I just didn’t know it. Two of the significant tour sites are in town, the Gettysburg Train Station and David Willis’ House.

Lutheran Seminary at Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg PA

I would have liked to eat in town, but Boris had his eye on a Perkins we saw when we got off the freeway, so we headed back out York. There were lots of places to grab something to eat at the York exit. It was only a short distance to make the trip into town and out again so it really wasn’t out of the way to return to the Perkins and then use Highway 15 to go to the Visitors’ Center. We had also been warned that there were ticks in the field so I wanted to get some spray for my legs before we crossed the battlefields. After lunch and the bug spray stop, we went around Highway 15 to Baltimore Pike, the recommended exit to reach the Visitors Center.

Log Cabin, Gettysburg, PA

Photo ©Jean Janssen Tickets and complimentary brochure from Gettysburg National Military Park

We went inside, checked in, toured the museum, saw the film, and visited the cyclorama. The complex is part of Gettysburg National Military Park and is run by the National Park Service. I knew the private tour came at a fee, but I was shocked we had to buy tickets to enter the other areas of the building. I have never paid for the offerings for sites managed by the National Park Service. Adults cost $15, so we paid $30 plus they asked us to make a donation to the foundation. It would make it pretty expensive for a family. With all the online resources available and if you are on a budget, I would recommend you do some web research, check out the CNN Lincoln series that came out this summer, and pick up one of the free park guides available at the welcome center for background and skip the cost of the building exhibits. (I am sure Boris will disagree.) There is a nice gift shop with more detailed guides; that might be a better investment. As you will read later, a private or bus tour is definitely worth the price of the ticket. I admit I love history and do read a lot, but there was no new information in the twenty-minute film.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside the Visitors Center, Gettysburg National Military Park

A bit of background on the cyclorama from the National Park Service: “Cycloramas were a very popular form of entertainment in the late 1800s, both in America and Europe. These massive, oil-on-canvas paintings were displayed in special auditoriums and enhanced with landscaped foregrounds sometimes featuring trees, grasses, fences and even life-sized figures. The result was a three-dimensional effect that surrounded viewers who stood on a central platform, literally placing them in the center of the great historic scene. Most cycloramas depicted dramatic events such as great battles, religious epics, or scenes from great works of literature. Hundreds were painted and exhibited in Europe and America during the 1800s, yet most were lost or destroyed as their popularity died out with the introduction of a more entertaining art form, motion pictures.”

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cyclorama, Gettysburg National Military Park

The Gettysburg cyclorama depicts the third and final day of fighting at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. The painting was completed in one year by a team led by French artist Paul who interviewed many veterans of the battle. It opened for public viewing in Chicago in 1883, 20 years after the battle took place. It has been moved several times and and was purchased by the National Park Service in the late 1940s. The painting was installed in the newly constructed park visitor center in 1962 where it underwent a massive restoration. The painting underwent another restoration, this time at a cost of 13 million, beginning in 2003 and was rededicated in its own theater at its current location in 2008.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cyclorama, Gettysburg National Military Park

After you leave the theater where the film is shown, you take escalators up to view the painting from a multi-level platform. The platform allows you to move around and get a full 360 degree view. There is a light and sound show that accompanies the narration. Particularly impressive are the artifacts and props at the bottom of the display which often make it hard to distinguish the edge of the painting where art blends with reality.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Our Foundation Guide at Gettysburg

After our interior visit, we met our guide Mike for a two-hour private guided tour of the battlefields. Mike will drive our car and make multiple stops along the way as well as give us background information as we are driving around the complex and the city of Gettysburg. The tour roughly follows the battles which occurred over a three-day period, July 1-3, 1863. At times we did a bit of backtracking to make it work. He started out by stopping at Cemetery Ridge, near the Visitors Center. George Meade who led the Union forces had a reputation for moving troops slowing. On this occasion Union Troops surprised Confederate Commander Robert E. Lee by arriving at the area first and establishing the most strategic stronghold at Cemetery Hill.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Cemetery Hill Gettysburg National Military Park

Up to this point in the war, it was Lee who most often found victory in the battles in the southern Confederate States. He was ready to push forward and gain a significant military victory on northern soil. Gettysburg was not a random location; it was the crossroads of several major roads. Union troops won morning skirmishes on July 1, but afternoon fighting saw the Union troops defeated and retreating through Gettysburg to Cemetery and Culps Hills.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Gettysburg National Military Park

One of the fascinating and impressive things about the military park is that they have worked hard to present the buildings and landscape as it appeared in 1863. This was only possible because shortly after the battles the citizens of Gettysburg, appreciating the significance of these events, began buying up the land. Veterans returned to tell their stories and join in the preservation efforts. Eventually, the area was controlled by the War Department and later the National Parks Service under the US Department of the Interior. Even today, they continue to buy up property and restore fencing and farm buildings to their 1863 look. Sometimes that even means demolishing modern improvements.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Gettysburg National Military Park

Photo ©Jean Janssen Gettysburg National Military Park

I know a lot about history, but not military history. Boris really let me take the lead on questions. He has visited Gettysburg many times and knows just about everything there is know about American (and most international) military history. (and he thought Mike was doing a great job…) Having the background and strategic thinking about the staging of the battles and well as the reminders of conditions in the 1860s provided by Mike really put the history in a whole new light. At one point he stopped and pointed out the types of cannons and artillery used. When I think cannons, I think cannon balls. That is what the bronze ones fired, but we saw more of the ridged type cannons which utilized three different types of shot depending on the distance and conditions. Fascinating. Even seeing the mechanisms used to move the cannons put everything in a new light. When he made a reference to the type of shot used at the end of the third day and I got it, everything came all together. As you have probably figured out by now. I loved the tour. It was worth every penny of the $75 cost.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Boris stands beside a Confederate cannon as he looks toward the Union position at Gettysburg National Military Park

Photo ©Jean Janssen The markings on this cannon with its ridged interior tell us the the cannon could be used for three different types of shot, its manufacturer, the year it was manufactured-1862, and its weight. Gettysburg National Military Park

On July 2, 1863, Lee attacked the Union forces on multiple fronts. By this point, both armies were almost at full strength. The attempt was made to squeeze the Union troops. Federal political appointee Sickles, who had no military experience, complained of rough terrain and failed to follow Meade’s order. Sickles pulled the line out too far leaving open portions of the ridge. During the fighting Sickles was injured and returned to Washington to tell his side of the story to President Lincoln who visited his bedside. Sickles’ version that he was the mastermind behind Union success was accepted by many, perverting military history at the time.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The location of the North Carolina Memorial is where the Confederate army positioned itself in the morning hours of July 2, 1863.

One of the benefits of taking a private tour was that at the beginning Mike asked if there was anything we wanted him to particularly focus on. The tour is usually an outline of the three days that made up the Battle of Gettysburg. I asked Mike if people often make special requests. He mentioned that one guest wanted to focus specifically on the three days of fighting around Culps Hill. Boris told him that he had 4 uncles that had served and we wanted to know where the Texas regiments would have been concentrated. I also mentioned that I had a Southern father (Texas) and a Union mother (Michigan) and he told me there was a place where the two collided. When we got to the southern end where the Texas regiments were lined up, Mike took a picture of us by the Texas monument. In the photo, we are both showing the effects of the 95 degree (Fahrenheit) temperature.

I learned that at this time in our history, regiments were recruited from geographic areas and kept together. While their leadership might change, the men fighting together were neighbors and family, often multiple generations of the same family. They already had a bond. Fighting together brought them even closer.

Photo ©Jean Janssen View of Devil’s Den from Little Round Top, Gettysburg National Military Park

Photo ©Jean Janssen Little Round Top, Gettysburg National Military Park

Still focused on day 2, we drove by the Peach Orchard (there is still an orchard there), the Wheatfield, and up the ridge on Little Round Top. This is where Sickles’ line was out too far. The terrain varies so much here, even though it is a relatively short distance between fields of battle. Fighting here stopped between 5 and 6 pm on day two. With no daylights saving time, it would have been dark by 8 pm. Little Round Top was also the spot where Michigan regiments retreated allowing the Texans to come in. Boris and I nominated Mike to be the one to tell my mom that particular piece of information.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Gettysburg National Military Park

Union Troops had lost ground on July 2, but had held. Confederate Troops had even made it onto Culps Hill and a Georgia regiment had almost broken the line along Cemetery Ridge. Lee was ready to squeeze the Union troops, encouraged by the day’s progress. Because the flanks had held, Meade was determined to stay and fight.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Facing the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg National Military Park

When the tour focused on day 3, July 3, 1863, that early education on artillery by Mike came in helpful. Southern states had a different economy based on agriculture with slave labor. They had fewer men of fighting age. They also didn’t have the factories and manufacturing capacities of the northern states. Their artillery was often faulty. The 12,000-man Pickett’s charge would take place this day, but not before the field was partially cleared by cannon fire. The field was thick with smoke. Meade ordered some of the cannons rested and fitted with artillery for close contact. With no long-range visibility, this reduction in cannon fire was interpreted by Lee as success in damaging Union cannons. Actually, Confederate shot was faulty. The charge against the Union center was unsuccessful. On July 4, the Confederate army retreated, Lee immediately accepting full blame for the campaign’s failure.

Photo ©Jean Janssen The final field of battle, location of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863 Gettysburg National Military Park

As stated in the park brochure, “[more] men fell during the Battle of Gettysburg than in any other battle on American soil before or since…Total casualties…for the three days of fighting were 23,000 for the Union army and as many as 28,000 for the confederate [sic] army.” It is important to note that casualties include killed, wounded, captured, or missing men. There were not over 50,000 dead at Gettysburg as is often mistakenly stated. However the number of dead was staggering; the Gettysburg community was left to deal with the fields littered with bodies and wounded in almost every building in the community.

Local Gettysburg Attorney David Willis was called upon to buy land for a proper burial ground. The cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863. The principal speaker was Edward Everett. He was the draw that day and he spoke for over two hours. However, many will not even remember that Everett spoke or what he said. What is truly remembered in American history are the “few appropriate remarks” made by President Lincoln. Known now as the Gettysburg address, many students and lovers of history can recite his remarks from memory.

Lutheran Seminary, Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg PA

It was a fabulous tour. We paid for 2 hours; Mike was with us for 2 hours and 45 minutes. As a Foundation-not a federal-employee, he was able to accept tips. Mike had gotten wonderful training. Leaving Gettysburg, we headed back to the Baltimore car rental center and turned in the car. It was much easier than the pick up. We took an Uber to the hotel where we had dinner. The hotel chains are still struggling to get enough employees as tourism picks up. Morning flight back to Houston. Wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

–Natasha

About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
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