Saturday, July 26, 2008
If You're Down on America, Visit Gettysburg
Gettysburg: Where 165,000 soldiers fought for their beliefs... Where Abraham Lincoln helped to mend a torn nation with his powerfully concise Gettysburg Address... Where millions have stood to reflect on the national and international importance of the events that happened on this hallowed ground. Since the smoke cleared from the battlefield in 1863, Gettysburg has been a must-see for all Americans.
If you're feeling down on America--thinking we've lost our purpose, that the world no longer respects us--a visit to Gettysburg will replenish your faith in our country and refresh your patriotism. Standing at the summit of Little Round Top, you cannot appreciating the sacrifices our fellow citizens made to preserve the Union.
Touring the battlefield at Gettysburg is a moving experience. Most people visit for a day, but the three-day battle requires more time. To grasp fully the strategic and tactical implications of Gettysburg, which took place July 1, 2 and 3, 1863, you'll want to devote almost as much time (2.5 - 3 days) to touring the battlefield and the town.
If you're planning a visit to Gettysburg, your best bet is to prepare ahead. Watch the movie Gettysburg based on the book by Michael Shaara. To place the battle within the political tempest of the Civil War, read James M. McPherson's seminal work, Battle Cry of Freedom. A little preparation will enhance your visit to Gettysburg.
Once you arrive in town, start your visit at the new Museum and Visitors Center at Gettysburg National Battlefield. This premier facility opened just two months ago and has thankfully replaced the old "Cyclorama". Watch the 22-minute film, "A New Birth of Freedom," narrated by Morgan Freeman. Devote three hours to tour the Museum and Visitors Center, which leads you through the battlefield and its aftermath.
Grab lunch at Olivia's--it's a little out of the way but the food is great and the service excellent.
In the afternoon, take a battlefield bus tour (take advantage of the discount available at the Visitors Center: Buy your movie ticket and bus tour at the same time). Make sure you get on a tour with a real, live guide. Some tours are canned audio; the licensed battlefield guides are highly knowledgeable and engaging. The tour takes about two hours; you'll begin and end at the Battlefield Bus Tour center in the middle of town.
Pass on the "Package Plans": After you've toured the Visitors Center the side attractions seem hokey and old-fashioned. Invest the money you save in either a ghost tour of town or a horseback ride tour of the battlefield (more on those below).
Return to your hotel for a rest--it's expensive to stay in town but there are a lot of options. Choose a hotel with a pool so you can have a quick and refreshing dip before your evening activities. I recommend dinner at the Appalachian Brewing Company on Buford Avenue. This restaurant is right near Lee's HQ and across from Seminary Ridge. After dinner, as the sun sets, walk through the Seminary--look to the West and you'll see the fields the Confederates crossed on days one and two.
In the evening, if you're not too worn out, sign up for a ghost tour of Gettysburg. Many people aren't aware that the town of Gettysburg was the scene of fierce urban combat, as the routed Union forces retreated on day one through the town to a defensive position on Cemetery Ridge.
The ghost tours recount brutal house-to-house fighting, along with grisly stories of civilian houses turned into makeshift hospitals where Confederate and Union wounded lay side by side. The town is apparently pretty haunted but the only ghosts I encountered were those left in my wallet. Nevertheless, the ghost tours provide an excellent perspective on the fighting in town, as well as the rudimentary and brutal medical care given to the wounded.
In my next entry, I'll share with you what you should do on Day Two of your trip to Gettysburg.