Gettysburg: Coming away changed – Road Trip 2020

Cannon at Gettysburg sams

If you go to Gettysburg and take the time, maybe take a tour, maybe just drive around, read some of the monuments, read some of the plaques, you will come away changed.

Author Jeff Shaara

Deciding where to go on a road trip in the middle of a pandemic didn’t happen without a lot of discussion beforehand. But because we had only experienced a brief pass-through of the battlefield years ago, we chose Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as a major stop in 2020 for its history, excellent National Park Service resources , and relative safety outside. What we didn’t expect was that, as Jeff Shaara said in the quote above, we would come away changed.

Section of the painted canvas in the Gettysburg Cyclorama

We drove about one and a half hours from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, arriving in Gettysburg for an afternoon at the Visitor Center. Then by spending two nights near town, we had time to stroll leisurely on the second day through the battlefield. If you’re traveling with a family, we highly recommend the Inspiration Guide (free upon request) by Destination Gettysburg outlining multiple activities for families (bus tours, farm days, camping, trail rides, etc.). But as a couple mainly interested in history and the site, we focused on the resources at the Visitor Center and a self-driving auto tour.

Lone runner at Gettysburg sams

Stop 1: “The Birth of Freedom”

Narrated by award-winning actor, Morgan Freeman, the well-produced movie The Birth of Freedom (in the Visitor Center) offered not only historical footage but also re-enactments of milestone events in the battle. Graphic charts and depictions of troop movements helped us understand the monumental and difficult decisions made by leaders on both sides as well as the outcomes of battles. Names we’d only read about came alive on the screen: Cemetery Ridge, Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill and others. And we began the change Shaara mentioned — moving from part-time history buffs to concerned citizens moved by the decisions leaders made, the fighting (even among family members), and the tragic toll of this Civil War.

Waiting for the movie to begin, Bert checks out the resources in the Visitor Center.

Stop 2: The Cylorama

After months of extensive research, artist Paul Philippoteaux and his talented team painted an oil-on-canvas rendering of one of the turning points of the Gettysburg battle: Pickett’s Charge. After technicians mounted the canvas (measuring 42 feet high, 377 feet in circumference) inside a circular room, they brought the painted canvas to life using lights, sounds, and narration to produce an almost-real experience for viewers. In this theater-in-the-round, you can watch as spotlights focus on various war scenes, accompanied by sound. Moving indeed.

Phillippoteaux’s canvas brings the war to life in the Cyclorama.

Stop 3: The Museum

Relics of the war, hands-on experiences, multi-media presentation — all await you at the Museum at the Visitor Center. I’m always drawn to the remnants of real life — uniforms, vessels, notes and pictures — while Bert reads about artillery, troop movements, vantage points, etc. Again, we were moved not by what the men had, but by how they survived with how little they had. A visit to the Museum (highly recommended) is included in the all-inclusive package you purchase at the ticketing desk.

Museum at Visitor Center, Gettysburg
Extensive collections can keep you busy at the Visitor Center lobby and Museum.

Stop 4: The Virtual Tour

Before you even leave home, you can take the Virtual Tour, 16 stops on the battlefield narrated by rangers stationed throughout the park. Containing maps, footage and placement of various battles, the Virtual Tour will help you plan your own auto tour.

General John Buford’s role in the battle of McPherson Ridge is described in Virtual Tour Tour Stop #1b

Stop 5: The Auto Tour

With map in hand and the well-marked areas at various sites, you can tour the battlefield at your own pace, in your own time. (Or look into engaging a Licensed Gettysburg Tour Guide.) A drive through Gettysburg will allow you to see parts of the battlefield in “big picture” format — the whole area, for example — but it also will afford you the opportunity to park, walk up to monuments and markers, and explore on your own. Take in the vantage points just as the troops would have, learn more about the strategies and tactics, or just appreciate the monuments from various states and divisions. But be prepared for the quiet — there’s a reverence here that made us appreciate where others had fought and died for what they believed.

Stop 6: The Gettysburg National Cemetery

Located within the National Military Park, Gettysburg National Cemetery is the final resting place for over 3,500 soldiers, (some identified, some unknown) killed in the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, deemed the turning point in the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln attended the dedication of the cemetery on November 19, 1863, and presented what is now known as “The Gettysburg Address” on the premises. The cemetery is open daily, (check the times online as they vary by date), and visitors are free to roam, read headstones, and remember those who lost their lives in this battle.

We have no doubt that you will see Gettysburg National Military Park on your own terms, in your own time. Grateful for the opportunity to explore on our own, we were moved by many things — open spaces, state monuments, names of people whose lives were lost. And we hope that you, too, will experience Gettysburg with a sense of reverence and respect for the cause as well as the casualties.

Common soldiers at the base of the State of Virginia Monument, Gettysburg

Some have asked us for recommendations related to travel, so here are a few.

  • Book lodging early as many people especially during the coronavirus restrictions want to travel to places out in the open. An extensive list of lodgings available are in the Inspiration Guide, but we found that, even a month in advance, the bed and breakfasts we liked were not available. So, we booked a hotel on the outskirts with a short drive to downtown.
  • Downtown Gettysburg was crowded when we went in September. Parking and seats at outdoor restaurants were at a premium. Our advice: Go early, if you can, or be prepared to wait in line for dining.
  • Do your homework before leaving home. Watch the Virtual Tours. Check out a book on Gettysburg from the library. Or click on the National Park Service website and the section Plan Your Visit for information on dates, times, and availability that may have changed with Covid-19 regulations.
From the fields, a view of the Pennsylvania State Memorial in the distance.

Whatever you do — don’t miss Gettysburg. It’s a battlefield, of course. But so much more. We feel that you, too, will be impressed with the preservation of land, the statues and monuments, and the information from the national park service that will help you better understand the Battle of Gettysburg. Mostly, though, as author Jeff Shaara so aptly said: ” . . . you will come away changed.”

Travel through history,

Rusha and Bert

Be sure to check out our next post on the houses and farms of Gettysburg.

And if you’ve missed any of our previous posts on Road Trip 2020, click on the links below to see where we’ve been. As always, thanks for traveling with us.

13 thoughts on “Gettysburg: Coming away changed – Road Trip 2020

  1. We Travel Happy

    This is an awesome road trip you had. I’ve been plotting your stops on Google maps (hahah) because I’m not so familiar with this part of the US, and wow, that’s some driving for you and Bert. My kids would love this stop. They’re into history and museums especially the ones related to wars. I’m a few posts delayed in reading your road trip series but it’s because I really really read them 🙂

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Thank you so much. I don’t know how to plot a trip on a map and then take a screen shot, but I need to add that to the posts. It would help people see where we’ve been. It’s beautiful country, especially since we stayed off the interstate to view barns and rural scenery. We love doing this, so I hope we get to go in another direction . . . maybe after Christmas.

      1. We Travel Happy

        My family loves road trips too. They enrich our souls I think. We did one in the west, at California Pacific Highway 1, from San Diego all the way to Tahoe. It was Christmas season that time. Such an epic adventure for my family. Where do you plan to go after Christmas? I’m excited for you guys.

      2. Oh, the Places We See

        I’m with you when you say road trips “enrich the soul.” And I’d love to travel Pacific Highway again. So lovely. We have no plans to travel in the near future or after Christmas. We have a couple of medical issues to deal with in December, but there’s also the pandemic and the cold. We’re trying to be positive and creative, but our blog may focus more on beautiful East Tennessee rather than faraway destinations. Thx so much for asking. We love our readers!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You’re so right. Both statements! I thought the mural painting and cyclorama would be kinda cheesy, but it was more good info in a unique setting. As far as the lessons: I definitely agree with you. But we’re still a partisan country, just different issues.

  2. lapoubelle1969

    Remarkably tranquil-looking countryside that belies the horrors that it has witnessed. This is definitely on my list of historic sites that I’d love to visit (if that isn’t the wrong word to use).

  3. Dawn M. Miller

    I love Gettysburg and visit often. i have family nearby, siblings, cousins, etc. The last time I took an actual vacation there I did a bus tour. It was well worth it. The guide was excellent.

  4. Anonymous

    Hi, Rusha. It’s your former (and old) suitemate from UT, Betty Drury McConnell. Nancy Stanley, my best friend in high school, sent me your blog about your trip to Staunton because I went to Mary Baldwin before transferring to UT. I loved reading it and have enjoyed every one you’ve written since then. I’m going to go back and do some traveling via your blog since Conn and I are staying pretty close to home these days. It’s great to see you and Bert on the blog. I’m doing well, live in Hendersonville, TN, have three children and seven grandchildren. We’ve enjoyed traveling in the past and hope we can do some again in the future. In the meantime, I’ll travel with you! Much love! Betty

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      So excited to hear from you! I immediately thought of you when we were at Mary Baldwin, because I had never heard of the school until you told me about it. I think it’s Co-ed now. Still gorgeous — old buildings painted a pale yellow.
      Can’t believe you have three children and seven grandchildren, but how blessed you are. I have two sons, both married, and one granddaughter who is 11. (Spoiled, of course!)
      Thanks so much for reading my blog. It’s great to have you traveling with us. And we love your area — we were just in Waynesville on Thursday night. We took the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville and soaked in those gorgeous fall colors. Wishing you all the best! Rusha

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