As spring and summer approach, I seem to find myself talking more and more about Gettysburg. People stop me and want my take on what to see on their visits. It seems odd to me, considering most of these people are my age and have never visited Gettysburg (I was 16 on my first trip there. My wife was 6), but better late than never! So, here are my top ten (or so) things to do in Gettysburg.
1. If you have never been before, then the Visitor Center on the battlefield is the place to start. There is a film, museum, the Gettysburg Cyclorama , a gift shop, and you can get info on ranger-led tours. There is a fee, but, if you have never been before, it is well worth it. Check out this link to learn more.
2. If you have never visited before, consider one of the Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides. These fantastic men and women will hop in your car and drive you all over the battlefield. They can do general tours or more specific tours. Becoming one of the Guides is harder than becoming a doctor. These fellows know their stuff inside and out. You can learn more about them here.
3. My favorite parts of the field? If it is your first time, try and soak up as much of the overall battlefield as possible. If you are a repeat visitor, or know about an ancestor's regiment, then it is possible to follow in a soldier's footsteps. I don't know how many times I have been to Gettysburg, but when I do go (about once a year), I tend to follow specific regiments or brigades around. There are a few places I do visit almost every time - the North Carolina monument on Confederate Avenue; the famous Copse of Trees on the opposite side; the 26th North Carolina Monument on Meredith Avenue; the position of the Rowan Artillery on the far Confederate right (Warfield Ridge area); East Cavalry Field (almost no one there, even on peak days). Honestly, you will need to find your ideal spot on the field.
|A part of my Gettysburg collection.|
4. Before you go, do a little reading. If there is a regiment you are interested in, look for a regimental history. Or, if it is a person, look for a biography. My overall favorite book on Gettysburg is Edward Coddington's The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command but that is probably a little much for first-time visitors. You might want to check out Stephen Sears's Gettysburg (2004) or maybe Allen Guelzo's Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (2014). There are literally books on every aspect of this battle - the Confederate advance, the Confederate retreat, each of the three days, and books on various parts of each day. There is even a magazine devoted to the battle.
5. So what time of year is the best time to go? Hmmm... I've been three of the four season - (dead of winter is the one season I've not tramped the fields). I've been to the re-enactment twice (1988 and 1998 - 1998 was the largest reenactment ever held). I've been Memorial Day weekend; I've been in October. June is a pretty incredible time of year - the lightning bugs are amazing. Personally, I would say spring or fall. Summer can be pretty crowded and really hot.
|North Carolina Monument|
6. Where do I stay? Probably my favorite is the Comfort Suites on Baltimore Pike. But I've also stayed at two or three other places in town, and even out of town, in Emmittsburg for example. I like to be in town, like the Quality Inn or one of the bed and breakfasts.
7. Where to eat? If it is your first time, the Farnsworth House is a must. I also have enjoyed O'Rourke's, the Reliance Mine Saloon, the Appalachian Brewing Company, Gettysburg Eddie's, and yes, even General Pickett's Buffet. The Sunset Ice Cream Parlor is a nice treat, too, especially for the kids.
8. Shopping - I honestly don't do a lot of shopping in Gettysburg. Sometimes we might walk down Steinwehr Avenue and go to the Regimental Quartermaster store, the American History Store, or the Irish Brigade Gift Shop (and Abraham's Lady with the Mrs., but they closed the brick and mortar recently and went totally online). But, I'm really there to have boots on the field, and I will often spend from sunup to after dark on the field.
|26th North Carolina Monument|
9. Ghost tours? Sorry - I've never been on one and don't have any plans to go. My opinion is that any self-respecting ghost goes and hides from the tours. If you want to get in touch with the spirits here, just sit quietly in an out-of the way spot on the field somewhere, take a few deep breaths, imagine what the soldiers were experiencing there, and be respectful of their lives and deaths.
10. Other Civil War sites nearby? If you have a couple of extra days, hit the Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, and Harper's Ferry, both in Maryland. I've probably explored along the banks of Antietam Creek as many times as I have Gettysburg, and I actually like the area better - no T-shirt shops or Ghost tours.
So there you have it, my top ten for first-time Gettysburg visitors.