How to Make the most of Gettysburg
January 4, 2009 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Two Canadians planning a stop in Gettysburg, PA and trying to see as much as possible without breaking the bank. How do we make the most of it?

A little background - My father and I (Canadians) are planning a road trip Richmond, VA and would like to stop and see Gettysburg on the way back to break up the drive a bit. We are both are interested in history, but I wouldn't say we are extremely knowledgeable when it comes to the Civil War, or the particular events of the Battle of Gettysburg.

1) We would be visiting the first weekend of May - What are the crowds like?

2) How much time should we budget to spend?

3) The Battlefield tour. Self guided or with a tour bus? Is a tour worth the cost? Any particular tour operator you would recommend?

4) Beyond the battlefield, any other sites that you would recommend that would be *must sees* in the town? For example, the Eisenhower Historic site.

Any other suggestions to make the most out of the visit would be appreciated.
posted by BlzOfGlry to Travel & Transportation around Gettysburg, PA (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Allow about 4-5 hours. Start at the Visitors' Center. These podcasts are a great way to do a self-tour. Get out of your car and walk. You'll get a much better feel for the area than cruising around in your SUV like everyone else is.
posted by TrashyRambo at 10:55 AM on January 4, 2009

An excellent way to prepare for the trip is to read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. It's available as an audiobook, so it might go well with a long road trip.

And definitely walk around. Don't miss Big Round Top and Little Round Top - lots of the main action in Shaara's book follows Joshua L. Chamberlain and the 20th Maine.
posted by jquinby at 11:16 AM on January 4, 2009

I was lucky enough to be there for the opening of the restored Cyclorama. I was with a bunch of people who all did it in a variety of ways. They sell a combo ticket for the short film, Cyclorama, and 2.5 hour bus tour. They also cell an audio CD for the self guided auto tour. The new museum will take about 90 minutes to go through, the film and cyclorama about 30 minutes (They don't let you linger at the cyclorama). I did the bus tour, and I felt it was just OK, but that would depend on who was giving the tour. The nice thing about the bus tour is the narrator is live, and can answer questions. We got out of the bus three times, one was a rest stop at a tourist shop, the others were o0n either side of the battlefield where Pickett's Charge took place. We climbed one of the roundtops (I can't remember which).

Oh there is free wifi in the new giftshop. Or at least it was an unsecured wifi router...
posted by Gungho at 12:42 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A visit to the battlefield doesn't need to cost you a cent. May is a beautiful time in that part of Pennsylvania and the crowds won't be that bad even on a weekend. I haven't been to the new visitors' center and I see by the website that they charge for some things, but you can skip those if you want to. Beforehand, read Killer angels and/or see the movie Gettysburg.

Planning your trip to the park:

Presentations by the rangers are excellent. They are free and can be very moving. Check the schedule since the ones at each day's battle site may be done only a few times a day (day 1 at Peace Light, day 2 at Little Round Top [I think], day 3 at Bloody Angle) and you will want to do them in chronological order. I'd suggest doing these first, then following your particular interests when you see what other ranger presentations are on the schedule.

I suggest you walk in the cemetery to see where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address and realize that one of the gravediggers was a woman, six months pregnant. The battle took place in July, and burying the bodies took months. One county resident, a boy at the time, went to see the battlefield a few days after July 3 and was so horrified by the thousands of bodies of men and horses, and the smell, that he wouldn't go back for years.

The story of Gettysburg's civilians was for a long time totally overlooked, but to me it's more fascinating than the military part. Residents spent three days in their basements and could only tell how the battle was going by the color of the uniform pants rushing by. Afterwards Gettysburg families took wounded soldiers of both sides into their homes and cared for them. Many farms, churches, and the Lutheran seminary were turned into hospitals. Around the center of town are historic markers pointing out such places.
posted by sevenstars at 12:45 PM on January 4, 2009

Best answer: We just went to Gettysburg this past Thanksgiving. I am not very knowledgeable about Civil War battles or battlefields but found this to be an interesting place to visit.

I would also recommend the bus tour and the Cyclorama. The bus tour took us around to areas that I never would have explored on my own or known were there. We thought our guide did a very thorough job of explaining the battle and the battlefield. The tour was a little hurried and I would've liked more time to explore the various areas of the battlefield as we progressed through the tour. To be fair, we went on the last tour of the day so I don't know if that was a factor or not. I didn't know what the cyclorama was until I went to it but it was pretty unusual and worthwhile.

We arrived around noon and barely had time for the cyclorama, the museum, and the bus tour. I would plan to get there earlier in the day to have more time for exploration. We didn't have time to visit the cemetary. If you are going in May, you would probably have more daylight for exploring than we did.

I wish that I had studied up on the battle some BEFORE I went so that I would have had more points of reference for the tour. I would recommend this to anyone planning a Gettysburg trip.
posted by tamitang at 1:22 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend getting a private tour by a volunteer tour guide from the visitor's center. These guides are well trained and knowledgeable about the history and the geography. I don't remember exactly how much it cost, but I do recall that depending on how many people are in your group it can, as it did for us, work out to be less expensive than the bus and it is far more personal.

I learned more in two hours than in all my years of school. My teenage son, often bored in history class, was completely fascinated as were the other teenagers with us. The tour guide drove our car so we could spend more time looking at the places he was describing. He explained the chronology of the battle beginning to end, stopping in places along the way where we got out and explored further. Nothing can help you understand the magnitude of the battle better than visualizing it from where it took place. I would go back and would tour it the same way again, as each guide has a different perspective to offer.

We got good advice, to get there early morning so there was a guide available right away. Once they're all out you have to wait for somebody to get back.

Take advantage of any available special events. Sometimes there are encampment demonstrations or other special presentations. When we were tired of walking we sat in the short movie about the Gettysburg Address, which also provided much information in a short period of time.

May is a great time to go. Enjoy!
posted by Breav at 2:51 PM on January 4, 2009

Every trip I ever took to Gettysburg or any other major American historical site (Valley Forge, Williamsburg,, dozens) has been a day trip. And one day never feels like enough. Never. I stronly recommend watching a re-enactment if you can. If you can't, my next suggestion is a quiet picnic lunch (Which I supplement with a good cry). But I'm a bit...sentimental about historical sites. As evidenced by what I'm about to say.

Now, there isn't any way I can say this part politely, so I just have to say it. Keep in mind, this isn't specifically directed at the original poster. It's just something I think folks need to be reminded of, especially when they're visiting a place without a tour guide who (hopefully) do the reminding on the bus.

When you go to Gettysburg, or any other hallowed ground, please be respectful of the place. Despite that many of the folks who surround you will have a total disregard for the gravity of the events as connected to the present.

That is to say, that Gettysburg, and all other battlegrounds, are quiet places. Gum chewing, cell phone talking, games of tag by all but the youngest children, and fart jokes have no place on this particular trip.

But you knew that.
posted by bilabial at 11:27 PM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

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