Perhaps no other place can conjure such powerful ghosts of blue and gray, smoke and battle, loss and death as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: It was along the ridges near this small city, 117 mi/189 km west of Philadelphia, that the Civil War reached a crucial turning point. Today, it's the country's largest battlefield shrine and a must for anyone interested in Civil War history.
Gettysburg National Military Park surrounds the city and encompasses the battlefields. Begin at the Museum and Visitor Center, where you can tour the excellent Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War. It's an impressive collection, including uniforms and weaponry used during the conflict. Located inside the Visitor Center is the Cyclorama, a massive 360-degree canvas-in-the-round depicting Pickett's Charge, the third (and last) day of the battle. Painted by French artist Paul Philippoteaux, it's one of only two paintings of its type remaining in the U.S. Before heading from the Visitor Center to the battlefield itself, you can orient yourself using an electronic map.
A road circles the site of the major engagements of the three-day battle, and there are many turn-offs and information signs along the way. There are numerous ways to see the area: You can tour on your own (a recording can be purchased that provides narration and music); you can join a group tour and explore the battlefield on horseback, bicycle, bus or even on a Segway; or you can hire one of the National Park Service-approved tour guides to escort you around the battlefield. (Members of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides are particularly good.) No matter how you decide to experience the battlefield, we recommened hiring a licensed guide—it makes the site much more personal and evocative.
Whatever method you choose, take some time to venture away from the roads and the information points. When you're out among the boulders of Devil's Den, for instance, where fierce fighting took place, you get a better feel for the danger of the battle and the courage of those fighting it. Another must-see is the place where the climactic end of the battle, Pickett's Charge, took place. It's a broad expanse of about 1 mi/1.6 km. The Confederates tried to cross it in the face of withering Union fire. They didn't make it.
After seeing the battlefield, walk over to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his "few appropriate remarks"—better known as the Gettysburg Address—to commemorate the battlefield cemetery in 1863.
If you have time to spend a second day in Gettysburg, visit the Eisenhower National Historic Site (President Dwight Eisenhower's only permanent home), Jennie Wade's House (home of the only civilian killed in the battle of Gettysburg) and Robert E. Lee's headquarters, known as General Lee's Headquarters Museum.
If you're so inclined, you can also visit a number of other attractions, including the Hall of Presidents and Hall of First Ladies (presidents and first ladies in wax), the American Civil War Museum (life-sized scenes in chronological order from slavery to the assassination of President Lincoln), the Gettysburg Express (scenic train ride) and the Soldier's National Museum (great Civil War memorabilia).
There's also the Lincoln Train Museum. What do Lincoln and trains have in common? Well, he rode one to Gettysburg to give his speech, and you can ride along on a simulation of that journey and see a collection of toy trains. And for those visitors seeking a recreational outlet, two of Pennsylvania's most popular ski resorts—Ski Liberty and Whitetail Resort—are nearby.
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