Side path for Pickett’s Charge

We spent July 16-17 exploring Gettysburg. There is so much to be seen, one could spend years and never experience it all, but for those looking for the highlights tour, there are a few things I’d recommend.

The first day, we bought tickets to the museum, cyclorama, and film–definitely worth the $12.oo admission fee. Having visited many Civil War sites, I have seen many museums and films on the Civil War. Gettysburg is exceptional in both respects. But, the cyclorama is a wonder to behold. It is 27 feel high and 359 feet in circumference. A painting alone of that size would be magnificent, but the cyclorama blends from the canvas into reality the same way dioramas do, but on a much grander scale. It is an incredible experience to just pause and savor the scene.

Devil’s Den

After enjoying the visitor center (and the air conditioning), we set off to tour the area. For our first day, we chose to just drive around, really discovering the scope this battlefield had to offer. We also used the time to decide where we wanted to spend our second day. The big highlights for my students were Little Roundtop, which is an incredibly scenic hill with a castle-like watch tower, and Devil’s Den, a breathtaking arrangement of boulders which generations of boys have been tempted to climb. My students were no exception. In addition to the site actually referred to as Devil’s Den, the area across the road, aptly named “The Slaughter Pen” also offers a variety of boulders which are fun to climb and offer a marvelous view of the area. This was definitely my students’ top priority to revisit.

The Slaughter Pen

On the second day, we returned to Devil’s Den, this time taking the podcast tour from http://www.civilwartraveler.com. A friend and I had discovered this website when we were visiting Gettysburg and saw a couple taking a tour using their Iphones. This website offers podcasts to a number of different battlefields, and they are absolutely amazing. I love them especially because they not only physically walk you through actual events of the battle, but also take you “off the beaten path.” The tour for Devil’s Den takes the listener off-roading, down the backside of the hill, through the woods, and over the rocks on a re-creation of the path actually taken by soldiers. The thing I loved most about these tours is discovering places where so few people get to go. I love seeing things outside the traditional tour–quite literally seeing what the soldiers saw. It is a surreal experience, and we loved it! This site offers tours for a number of major battlefields, and I’d recommend them for anyone.

Letter to Chamberlain at the 20th Maine Monument–Love the “comrat”

We had planned to take 4 tours, but the heat made us cut that number back. After Devil’s Den and more climbing, we headed to Little Round Top. One of my students is a huge fan of Chamberlain, so we took the little trail off to his memorial. We were able to sit in the shade and listen to that part of the podcast, so we could learn more completely what Chamberlain actually accomplished. I also appreciated the notes left by fans. Additionally, Little Roundtop is one of the most scenic spots in the park for photography. It truly is breathtaking.

View from Little Roundtop

From their we drove to both sides of Pickett’s charge. It begins at the Virginia Memorial and ends at the Bloody Angle. The podcast tour from http://www.civilwartraveler.com on this one is awesome too, but we were too hot and worn out to walk it. But just standing at both sides of the route the soldiers took as the charge was made helped us to appreciate the men who had the courage to walk across a wide open field, costing about 7,000 men their lives in one fell swoop. It truly is an amazing piece of history.

Bloody Lane at Sunset

Though there was so much more we could have explored, we decided to call it a day. I discovered that an extra 10 minutes on the drive home would take us by Antietam Battlefield–the site of the bloodiest day in the Civil War. We decided it was worth it and headed out. Though we arrived after the visitor center had closed, I was able to take my students around to some key sites, including Dunker Church and Bloody Lane. We took time to climb the watchtower and get a bit of the layout of the battle. Then, each of us took time just to walk or sit in Bloody Lane as the sun was setting and think about the valiant men who had sacrificed their lives on this soil. Truly a full day of amazing exploring.

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