“We entered Gettysburg in the afternoon, just in time to meet the enemy entering the town, and in good season to drive him back before his getting a foothold.”
– Union General, John Buford
Driving into Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is like driving back into history. The entire town stands as a monument and memorial to the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the most defining battles during the American Civil War. And while some may find the thought unsettling, that roughly 50,000 men surrendered their lives for this battle; I personally felt that Gettysburg made me feel nothing but pride and gratitude.
This trip was especially touching for me, as my third great-grandfather had served in the American Civil War on the Union side; he not only fought in the Battle of Gettysburg, but in the battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Nashville, and Five Forks as well.
The “327” on his collar represents the GAR post he belonged to, which was the Ulysses S. Grant Post 327, Brooklyn NY. He had originally enlisted a private, eventually becoming Corporal, and then Color Sergeant of Company H of the 13th New Jersey Infantry. There is even a monument for this regiment at Gettysburg National Military Park, though I unfortunately was unaware until we had already left.
While Gettysburg makes for an ideal weekend getaway, seeing as the town is concise enough to visit numerous stops in just a day or two, I wish we had visited at a time when the weather wasn’t hovering around 10 degrees (F.). I already know I’ll have to revisit during the warmer months when we’ll be able to take our time strolling the sights, taking in each and every monument.
That being said, I wouldn’t count Gettysburg out as a mini winter getaway; we were able to experience just enough history and other attractions in our short two days.
We had driven up early on a Saturday morning, which can typically take up to four hours. Luckily we experienced little to no traffic, and made it from New York in approximately 3.5 hours, arriving around 11:00AM.
Our first stop upon entering was Sachs Covered Bridge, which stands between the townships of Freedom and Cumberland, and was used during the Battle of Gettysburg by both Union and Confederate armies. Some people have also said they’ve experienced a paranormal presence while visiting the bridge; though we didn’t on our trip, can’t say I would be surprised.
After walking the bridge and taking in some of the surrounding area, we headed over to Gettysburg National Military Park, home to the Gettysburg Battlefield, other battle support areas, and monuments and memorials to those individuals and regiments associated with the battle.
The road leading up to and surrounding the park is a tour on it’s own, as you pass a variety of canons, memorial stones, and historic sights such as a Civil War hospital and Wentz House.
Once we reached the park, we were able to park easily and conveniently right near Longstreet Tower. Climbing to the top, you get a bird-eyes view of part of the Gettysburg Battlefield. There is also a guide that gives the names of some of the outlying buildings and areas you may see from the viewpoint.
We descended and made our way through the park, not following any specific trail, stopping occasionally to read plaques or take in the detail of individual monuments.
We were silent during much of the walk, as it’s a bit dismaying to remember that some of these monuments not only represent men who fought, but men who lost their lives at these very spots.
In the distance we were able to make out the top of Culp’s Hill Castle. Culp’s Hill played a major role in the Union defensive strategy during the Battle of Gettysburg, providing shelter from attack and camouflage within the wooded areas.
While the hike up to Culp’s Hill Castle is not strenuous by any means, the previous snowfall had left to some muddy conditions that had some people in our party sliding around or winding up with drenched shoes. Luckily, I had considered the weather and wore my favorite pair of Sorel winters boots – which not only keep your feet totally insulated, but also provide that duck boot lower half, keeping your feet insulated from water or mud.
Culp’s Hill Castle, also known as the Castle at Little Round Top, serves as memorial for the 44th New York and 12th New York infantry regiments. Though it looks like the top of building that could’ve been used as a forted lookout during a war, at the moment the only people taking in the view are visitors.
By the time we made it back down, which didn’t take more than fifteen minutes, the sun began setting, providing a beautiful backdrop the the historic landscape.
We were ravenous at this point and made our way to Lincoln Square, which is essentially the heart of the city. Here you can find blocks of small museums, shops, and restaurants all within walking distance. Lincoln Square is also home to the well-known Gettysburg Hotel, which opened its doors long before the Civil War in 1797.
It took a few minutes to find parking but when we did, we exited the car to find The Pub & Restaurant; From experience, restaurants with the most simple, to-the-point names tend to offer delicious food and so we decided that’s where we would grab dinner.
Our waiter, who was very attentive and patient, let us know on arrival that this spot was known for their sandwiches. Obviously, we all knew immediately which section of the menu to turn to. I ended up choosing the buffalo grilled chicken sandwich, which was made with a homemade hot sauce, blue cheese, and jalapeños, on whole grain bread. Optional sides include fries, coleslaw, or applesauce.
I knew I had made a great choice from the first bite. Not only was the portion of chicken generous, but it was juicy and cooked to perfection. This was one of those meal’s I was sad to finish. Fortunately, our meal at The Pub & Restaurant was concluded with large, delicious complimentary chocolate chip cookies.
I devoured my food way too quickly for photos, but the atmosphere was just as warm and accommodating as our waiter.
For our final experience, we had booked a spot at 1863 Escape Room; I have yet to not enjoy an escape room experience, but being able to try one that was themed to the Civil War era seemed like a must-do on this trip. Tickets run $28 a person, and guests have the option of two different rooms: The Spirited Study and Rebel Recon. We went with the latter, and unfortunately missed our escape by one clue! But the theming of vintage weapons, tools, and maps was so authentic, and the room was challenging but very fun.
The morning of our second day began complimentary breakfast at our hotel followed by an hour of snow tubing at Liberty Mountain Resort, because is a winter trip compete without a little outdoor snow activity?
Once we defrosted and grabbed and grabbed a quick lunch, we headed back into the town center to visit The Gettysburg Heritage Center, which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. The Gettysburg Heritage Center is basically broken up into three different segments: The museum, the Gettysburg Animated Map, and the Cellar Experience. Did I mention tickets are only $8.95 per adult?
We decided to see the Gettysburg Animated Map first, which is essentially a 20 minute short film on the regiment movements of both the Union and Confederate armies. While history buffs may be intrigued, this may go over the heads of younger children. At the conclusion of the film, a red light shines bright in the theater showing a replica set up of the final moment of the battle.
The museum portion not only showcases life in Gettysburg during the Battle of Gettysburg, but before and after the war as well. While the Battle of Gettysburg is a primary focus, it’s interesting to learn about the development of the town and other informative facts about Gettysburg.
Artifacts, information, and a couple of immersive films are scattered throughout the area, as well as an area where guests can dress up as a Civil War soldier. Kids may get a kick out this, but clearly so can a group of adults.
After roaming the museum, it was time for the Cellar Experience. In one portion of the museum sits the replica external portion of a house. Beneath that are two doors leading into “the cellar”. During the Battle of Gettysburg, many civilians took shelter in their cellars, sometimes for days at a time. The war and danger was not confined to one small area, instead every day people were often living right in the firing zone.
We didn’t know what to expect when entering the cellar – after all the room was designed to look like any old basement. There are two “windows” in the cellar, with screens that give off the vibe of looking out of a cellar window. Slowly, we began to see the boots of soldiers running passed the windows, then gun fire. The loud sounds of muskets seemed to penetrate the cellar, almost making it seem like the soldiers were right in there with us. Wait, where they?
Suddenly we heard sounds from above, of soldiers running across the floor upstairs looking for us and rummaging through our belongings. These sounds only got louder and more intense. Finally, everything seemed to cease. We heard some soldiers yelling, and saw some carrying injured friends passed the windows, and dropping their guns.
The Cellar Experience was an amazing yet haunting experience, and while it gave me an image to imagine when trying to think up what it must’ve felt like to be a civilian stuck in the middle of war – I’ll never be able to imagine how terrified these families must’ve felt.
We spent the hour after the heritage center roaming the town center, enjoying shops like FourCorners Comics, Sweeet!, a candy store where you can find every old-school candy brand to kickstart your nostalgia; and A Little Irish Too, the cutest Irish shop that I couldn’t leave without purchasing a pair of Celtic stud earrings and a bag of brown bread scone mix imported from Ireland.
We grabbed dinner a bit early, as we had booked a tour with Ghostly Images, a tour company that offers battlefield bus tours and a walking tour of the Jennie Wade House and apparent haunted orphanage. I’ll be going into detail on this tour in another post, which I will then link here. But the hour and a half tour was the perfect way to end our short weekend in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
In just two days, we managed to cram in history, haunts, fun, and relaxation. This trip definitely made me feel more connected to my ancestor, and showed us that Gettysburg is so much more than a page out of a history book.