Last week I paid for the majority of my Ireland trip. It left a pretty devastating hole in my bank account I’ve been trying not to look at. I decided I should probably put in my head that my four day Memorial Day weekend would have to be cheap; I even considered using it as a work weekend.
As my luck turns out, it’s been 87, sunny and gorgeous. It took approximately one text and a phone call for my buddy to convince me to go out with him in Harrisburg on Friday night. He also wanted to do some sort of day trip on Saturday, like me, preferably something cheap. I sent him some options and he picked Gettysburg. It’s only a forty minute drive from Harrisburg, he’d been there before, and it’s largely free.
There’s a ton to do in Gettysburg: a ton of shops and restaurants downtown, guided tours, ghost tours, and a multitude of museums. Since we were both on a bit of a budget, and it was a gorgeous day out, we opted to spend most of our day on a self guided tour. We stopped by the Visitor’s Center to get a battlefield map and were on our way.
Gettysburg National Military Park is comprised of 6,000 acres and over 1,500 monuments. You can tour it by foot, bicycle, guided tour guide, or car. We chose car as none of us felt like walking long distances in the 80 degree weather, and again, we’re cheap. Had I been there on a more mild day, I would’ve loved the chance to walk the entire thing. That being said, we saw a lot and the car allowed us to jump around and stop at sites that interested us most. The map was easy to follow and is free at the Visitor’s Center.
I’m a bit of a history buff, but in my experience a lot of historical attractions become stale and a little too family-oriented. And, if we’re talking about wars, I’m partial to 20th Century conflicts (WWII is my jam…is that insensitive to say?). The Civil War sometimes seems too long ago to relate to. Gettysburg destroyed these preconceived notions.
One thing that blew me away was the sheer size of the park and the ridiculous number of monuments. As mentioned prior, over 1,500 monuments dot the landscape. This explanation, taken from the Visitor Center website, does far more justice to this than I could.
Almost as soon as the Battle of Gettysburg ended, efforts to commemorate and honor those who fought at Gettysburg began. Soldiers’ National Cemetery was the first to receive a monument in 1869. A white memorial urn honors the 1st Minnesota Infantry, which suffered extreme losses during the fighting on July 2, 1863. Over the years, veterans of the Battle of Gettysburg placed more monuments and markers in locations where their units had fought on the battlefield.
Memorials were generally erected in the center of a particular unit’s formation; flank markers — small, square stones — indicate the ends of the line. Initially, many Union veterans objected to the idea of placing Confederate monuments on the battlefield, but as the bitterness of the Civil War subsided, the idea of Gettysburg monuments honoring Confederate sacrifices was accepted. The United States War Department began to encourage the installation of monuments to Confederate troops in the late 1800s. The first monument to a Confederate regiment, the 2nd Maryland Infantry CSA, was dedicated in 1886 at Culp’s Hill.
Each state pays for it’s own companies’ monuments. Pennsylvania’s monument is rightfully the largest and most elaborate. It was funny though, to wonder why, for example Pennsylvania loved it’s fallen so dearly, while several of Ohio’s companies received little more than a small rock.
There are also specialty monuments to specific soldiers, ethnicities, and even one for all the fallen horses. The monuments were erected from where each company started, and it wasn’t uncommon when driving through the town to see monuments in the lawns of private homes. The town itself was fun to walk through as almost so many buildings had plaques with some sort of history displayed in the front. Almost the entire town has historical significance.
Each monument lists the number of men killed, wounded and missing. The number of missing almost always put the numbers of wounded and killed put to shame.
I was also impressed by how well preserved the park is. They’ve restored it so that standing at any monument, the park should like as close as possible to how it looked during the battle in 1863. In multiple locations, especially particularly scenic panoramas, a painting depicting the 1863 scenery stands, showing you what you’d be seeing during the height of battle. Horses, shoulders, and weaponry aside, the similarities between painting and present are eerie and breath taking.
We spent about four hours touring the battlefields before seeking refuge in town for some hydration and food. As we spent only about an hour in town, I’ll cover the things to do in Gettysburg in another post for those of you who want to make it a longer day or weekend trip.
I took more scenery pictures than I normally do in Gettysburg. Mostly, because I finally learned how to download apps to my I-Phone and so now think I have professional photograph skills, but also because I was generally impressed with the views.
Enjoy the pictures and check back for my second Gettysburg post coming soon (and by soon, I mean in two weeks when school is done and I’m not going crazy).