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Pennsylvania's Gettysburg National Military Park - An Overview

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The Soldiers' National Cemetery, Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

The Soldiers' National Cemetery, Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

© BIGDOG3c via Flickr

Contact Info:

Address: 1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 17325

Phone: 717-334-1124 ext. 8023

History:

The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most critical battles of the Civil War and occurred over the first three days of July 1863. Often referred to as the "High Water Mark of the Rebellion", it was the culmination of the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee and the "Army of Northern Virginia". Though it seemed like the Confederate Army would be victorious, the battle turned against Lee on July 3, 1863, and the general ordered his army back to Virginia. The Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg was of crucial importance, moving Lee back to Virginia and bringing an end to the hopes of the Confederacy for independence.

The battle created much stress and devastation to the residents of Gettysburg. Farm fields and gardens quickly became graveyards. Churches and public buildings were used as hospitals. Conditions were poor and many wealthy residents grew concerned how the wounded soldiers were being treated. Every farm field or garden was a graveyard. Churches, public buildings and even private homes were hospitals, filled with wounded soldiers. They decided to hound Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin for state support to purchase a portion of the battlefield to be set aside as a final resting place for the soldiers. Gettysburg lawyer David Wills (see The David Wills House below) was appointed the state agent to coordinate the establishment of the "Soldiers' National Cemetery." It was dedicated on November 19, 1863.

The Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association was established in 1864 to preserve portions of the battlefield as a memorial to the Union troops that fought. In 1895, the lands were transferred to the Federal government and Gettysburg National Military Park was established. Administration of the park was transferred to the Department of the Interior- National Park Service in 1933, which continues to protect, preserve and interpret the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address to visitors.

Learn more about the Battle of Gettysburg at the About.com American History site.

When to Visit:

The summer months can be extremely hot and humid, with occasional severe thunderstorms, so the spring and fall are your best bet. The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., April 1 to October 31, and 6 a.m. to 7 pm., November 1 to March 31.

The Museum and Visitor Center is open daily throughout the year. The center does close on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.

Getting There:

Gettysburg National Military Park is located in Adams County, PA and is easy to get to by car or air. If you are driving from North or South, follow US 15 to Gettysburg and watch for signs (near the exit at Rt. 97) that will direct you to the Visitor Center. If you're coming from East or West, drive into Gettysburg on US Rt. 30, turn South on Baltimore Street (Rt. 97), and follow signs to the Visitor Center, which will be on your right at the stoplight.

For those of you flying in, Harrisburg International Airport at Middletown, PA is the closest air terminal - approximately 35 miles north of Gettysburg. (Find Flights) Another option is Baltimore-Washington International near Baltimore, MD. Gettysburg also has a small airfield on Rt. 30 that will accommodate private aircraft.

Although there is no commercial bus service to the park, Freedom Transit provides public transportation for visitors from the Museum and Visitor Center to points in downtown Gettysburg and all around town. You can find routes and more information on the Freedom Transit website.

Fees/Permits:

Entry to the park is free of charge, but there is an admission charge for the Gettysburg Museum Experience, the film "A New Birth of Freedom" narrated by Morgan Freeman, and to view the Gettysburg Cyclorama program. Please note that America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes, Golden Age and Golden Eagle passes are not accepted for entrance to the museum and Visitor Center.

You can buy tickets, which includes museum exhibits, film and cyclorama, for $10.50 per Adult; $9.50 per Seniors and Active Military (with proper ID); and $6.50 per Youth (ages 6-18). Children under 6 years old are admitted free. Group rates are also available: $7.50 per Adult groups (groups with 16+ members); and $6.00 per Youth groups (groups with 16+ members). Tickets may be purchased on the Gettysburg Foundation website.

Major Attractions:

The National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center: This is the place to begin your visit to Gettysburg National Military Park. You can find maps, brochures, computers, and all the information you need on how to visit the park and what to see around Gettysburg.

The David Wills House: Attorney David Wills' home in Gettysburg was the center of the immense clean-up process after the Battle of Gettysburg and where President Abraham Lincoln put the finishing touches on his Gettysburg Address. It opened to the public in February 2009 with a museum featuring 6 galleries, Will's office, and the bedroom where Lincoln stayed the night before he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

The Soldiers' National Cemetery: This is the final resting place for many of the Union soldiers who were killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as those who died in all of America's wars since 1865. The cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War: Over 22,000 square feet of exhibit space hold artifacts of the Battle of Gettysburg, inter-active exhibits, and multi-media presentations. The center also hosts the film, "A New Birth of Freedom", narrated by award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, and the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama, which depicts the final fury of Gettysburg- "Pickett's Charge".

Things to Do:

Licensed Battlefield Guide: You can have your very own personal guide who will drive your vehicle around the park for a 2-hour long visit full of history. Guides are assigned on a first come, first served basis starting at 8 a.m. each day and may be reserved in advance for organized bus groups by calling 1-877-874-2478. Note there is a fee: 1-6 people= $55.00; 7-15 people= $70.00; 16-49 people= $105.00; and 50+ people= $140.00.

Self-guided Auto Tour: Using a brochure, the audio tour will take you around the park to numbered stops at high-points of the battle, monuments, and field exhibits. This is a great option for those with limited time. There is no charge for the Self-guided Auto Tour.

Hiking and Biking: What better way to get around the sites to see than by foot or bike. There are plenty of designated trails and pathways near the Museum and Visitor Center, as well as within the park. Be aware that bicycles are not allowed on earthen trails or walkways and must remained on paved surfaces only.

Scout Groups: There is the "Boy Scouts of America Gettysburg Heritage Trail Guide", which gives scouts a challenging course through the park. The guide booklet is available at the park bookstore.

Junior Ranger Program: For the kids! Ask for the Activity Guide for Junior Ranger Candidates at the information desk in the Visitor Center, and complete at least 3 of the 7 activities in the booklet during your day at the park. Return the booklet to the information desk where a park ranger will review it with you. If you have successfully completed 3 of the activities, you’ll receive a patch and certificate making you a Junior Ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park!

Summer Programs: From mid-June through mid-August, Gettysburg National Military Park offers a variety of ranger-guided programs for visitors. Subjects range from battle history to medical practices of the Civil War, and include battlefield hikes. Summer programs are offered at the Visitor Center, on the battlefield, in the Soldiers' National Cemetery, and can be found on the official Gettysburg National Military Park website.

Horse Trails on the Battlefield: There are designated trails for horseback riding throughout the park and although the park does not offer horseback rides, they are available from a commercial business on Taneytown Road near the battlefield. Contact the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau for more info.

Accommodations:

There are no rooms or campgrounds available within the park. However, scouting and organized youth groups that visit the park may camp at McMillan Woods Youth Campground, located on West Confederate Avenue. The campground is open from mid-April through the end of October every year. Any organized youth group with adequate adult supervision (minimum of one adult for every 10 youths) is welcome to use the camping area. Adults who accompany a group must be supervisors, like troop scoutmasters or youth counselors, not family members.

From November 1st through mid-January, reservation are made on a lottery basis. You must print out the Campground Reservation Form and fax or mail it to: Gettysburg National Military Park; Attn: Campground Coordinator; 1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100; Gettysburg PA 17325; Fax: 717-334-1997. Other dates and accessibility information can be found on the official Gettysburg National Military Park website. You will still have to print out the Reservation Form and fax or mail. You can call 717-334-1124, ext. 3131 if you have other questions.

Other hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, campgrounds, and places to stay may also be found through the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Pets:

Pets are welcome at Gettysburg National Military Park! But keep in mind the following rules:

  • Pets are not allowed in park buildings or in the Soldiers' National Cemetery at any time.
  • Only seeing-eye dogs may enter the park Museum and Visitor Center with their owners.
  • Pets must be restrained on a leash at all times while in the park and owners must clean up waste after their pets.
  • If pets are to be left in personal vehicles, remember the car can reach over 100 degrees on a warm day so be sure they have proper ventilation with adequate water.
  • If your animal is a bite risk or is startled by large crowds, please use a proper anti-bite collar and harness.

Areas of Interest Outside the Park:

Eisenhower National Historic Site: Check out the home and farm of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mamie Doud Eisenhower. This is the place the President could relax with its putting green, skeet range, and view of South Mountain. It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. The home, grounds, barns, and cattle operation are available for public tours. The site is very accessible thanks to a shuttle bus which departs from the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center.

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