A weekend in Gettysburg: A trek back in time

Senior editor Gay Nagle Myers visited the battlefields of Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania on a recent weekend. Her report follows:

y 8 a.m. on Saturday, men in blue and gray wool uniforms -- bayonets at their side, Winchester rifles shouldered and flags unfurled -- clustered at the encampment.

Aromas of strong coffee and fresh-baked bread wafted from the cook tent; cannons gleamed in the morning sun; and horses whinnied softly.

This was Gettysburg, where on three decisive, divisive days in July 1863, the biggest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War unfolded and where, 139 years later, history lives on.

The re-enactment scene I witnessed took place not on the 6,000-acre battlefield itself, but on the lawn of the National Civil War Wax Museum, just steps from budget motels, restaurants and small galleries.

Gettysburg, population 6,000, remains a shrine to the battle that took place here.

Farmhouses still stand that bear the scars of bullets and cannon shells, and Lincoln's 10-sentence Gettysburg Address is broadcast from dozens of venues each day.

For history buffs, it just doesn't get any better.

Here are some highlights:

• The park has 35 miles of avenues with guideposts and accessible pull-off lanes for cars, bikes, motorcycles, shuttle trolleys and double-decker tour buses.

More than 1,300 markers and monuments and 400 cannons pay homage to soldiers and regiments.

Hikers are permitted on marked trails. Horseback riding also is available, and park rangers conduct free walking tours frequently during the day.

An 18-mile auto tour traces the three-day battle in chronological order. Motorists can rent three-hour audio tapes for $12 for a self-guided driving tour.

• Entry to the park and Visitor Center is free.

The center's exhibits lay out battle plans, detailed sketches and poignant photographs.

Many of the historical attractions, tours and museums charge modest admission fees; a $20 Visitors Pass covers entry costs for multiple attractions.

• Across from the Visitor Center is the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a round building that houses "Pickett's Charge," a 50-foot-high, 400-foot-long circular mural painted in 1884.

Admission to the building and its exhibits is free.

Entry to the Cyclorama is $3, and it is well worth it. A narrated tape describes events depicted in the mural.

• The National Cemetery dedicated by Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address is a short walk from the Visitor Center.

Plain white stones and hundreds of small, marble blocks inscribed with numbers mark the graves of the battle's unknown soldiers.

The graves radiate out in semicircles from the Soldier's National Monument, where Lincoln delivered his historic speech in 1863.

After I had taken the two-hour Battlefield Bus Tour, visited some exhibits and bought a tape of Civil War songs, I headed back into the park to watch men in gray and blue reenact artillery practice and battle maneuvers.

I could have sworn I spotted Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, up there on Seminary Ridge.

Military Park a popular drive-through

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- The National Military Park surrounds the town of Gettysburg on three sides. Battle mementos, monuments, statues and bronze plaques are as much a part of the Main Street mix as the wood-frame houses, souvenir shops and antique stores.

The Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau together with the National Park Service makes a visit here informative, personal and certainly memorable.

More than 1.86 million visitors arrived last year, up from 1.6 million in 2000.

Chris Rebmann, one of 135 licensed tour guides with Gettysburg's Battlefield Bus Tours, attributed the increase to a surge of patriotism and pride as well as Gettysburg's proximity to large urban centers in the Northeast and Midatlantic states.

"More people came here last fall after Sept. 11 than in any other autumn before," Rebmann said.

The increase has continued this year, as well.

Motorcoach business dropped off for a while after Sept. 11 but has picked up again, although the majority of visitors still arrive by car, said Rebmann. -- G.N.M.

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI