TOURING GETTYSBURG - 2011
Trekker: Dick Miller
Flight: Seattle to Baltimore
Flight: Seattle to Baltimore
Our webmaster, Mike Movius, has suggested that members share their battlefield visits on the PSCWRT web site. I am going to take up Mike’s suggestion with this brief piece on my wife’s and my trip to Gettysburg in early September. We stayed there a day and a half, which is ample time to visit the new Gettysburg Visitors Center and to do the highlights of the battlefield. Of course, one could spend many more days there studying the battlefield and its 850 monuments in depth and exploring the town and its attractions.
Prior to our visit, I brushed up on the battle by reading Steven E. Woodworth’s Beneath a Northern Sky: A Short History of the Gettysburg Campaign. Many students of the battle list Stephen Sears’ Gettysburg as the best history of the campaign but the book is over 500 pages long and Woodworth’s short history gave me the necessary foundation for understanding the events of the three days. I recommend it to anyone wanting a brief accounting of the Gettysburg campaign.
There are many ways to tour the battlefield. During our time there, I saw plenty of guided tours, both large groups traveling by bus and personally led tours with two or three people. The Visitors’ Center sells an audio guide to the battlefield; one can’t help noticing the audio guide’s clearly marked signs directing drivers around the battlefield in a rough chronology of the fighting. I decided that I wanted to explore on my own and chose to purchase Mark Grimsley’s and Brooks Simpson’s Gettysburg: A Battlefield Guide, which had been recommended by both Steven Woodworth in his book as well as a man I spoke to who was walking his dog at the High Water Mark. I bought a used version from Amazon for $4.95. For the most part, the book’s directions are easy to follow and because the book also guides the reader around the battlefield in chronological order, I was able to confirm my location by the audio guide signs. The only problem I found with the guide was that some landmarks used to orient the reader--most notably the old cyclorama building--are no longer there. Perhaps Grimsley and Simpson have updated their guide with the opening of the cyclorama in the new Visitor’s Center.
The day I toured the national park, the battlefield was shrouded in mist and a light rain started around noon. Standing at the High Water Mark, I could barely see the Virginia Monument about a mile away where Lee’s veterans stepped off on July 3. Regardless, with the help of Grimsley’s and Simpson’s narrative, I could easily imagine the hopelessness of that “charge” with men under artillery fire for most of that long mile. Walking the battlefield, I could understand why Davis’ Mississippians, trapped by the railroad cut’s steep embankments, were forced to surrender on the first day or visualize the 24th Michigan and the 19th Indiana regiments slugging it out with the 11th and 26th North Carolina regiments, separated by only forty yards in Herbst Woods. Looking down the wooded and rocky slopes of Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top, I got why holding the high ground was so important to the Federals.
I spent about six hours touring the battlefield and in that time, covered all twenty stops in Grimsley’s and Simpson’s guide. Readers with more time can take advantage of the book’s “excursions” through the Wheat Field, from the Confederate vantage point for Pickett’s Charge, and to the cavalry battlefields of July 3. I read the “Orientation” and “What Happened” sections of the guide; Grimsley and Simpson also offer “Analysis” and “Vignettes” at many stops. I’m sure the guide will have something to offer any visitor, no matter how many times he has toured the battlefield.
Finally, some suggestions about the trip itself—for what they are worth. My wife and I stayed at the Brickhouse Inn, a bed and breakfast in town on the Baltimore Pike. Admittedly, it is more expensive than the hotels on the outskirts of town, but staying in a home contemporary with the battle and only yards away from buildings where Confederate sharpshooters picked off Federals on Culp’s Hill—well, that thrill made the price worthwhile for me. The Brickhouse Inn is within a brief walk of the Dobbin House, a highly recommended restaurant dating back to an 18th century inn. My wife and I ate downstairs in the tavern and we were not disappointed. We also had lunch at the Tipton Grill, at 135 Baltimore Pike, which is low key, inexpensive, and offers good sandwiches.
While I was traipsing around the battlefield, my wife spent the day in town. She had hoped to find some antique stores to occupy her time, but frankly, there isn’t much in historic Gettysburg except stores relating to the Civil War. Civil War artifacts, re-enactors’ garb, books, toy soldiers, Civil War art—the shops are all there. One final suggestion—the American History Store, at the intersection of Baltimore Pike and Steinwehr Avenue, is the best Civil War book store I have ever seen and much better than the “book store” at the Visitors’ Center. Skip the Visitor Center’s store, unless you collect snow globes like my wife and I do, and do your book shopping at the American History Store.