If you’re itching to get out of town this month, Memorial Day is a great time for an all-American road trip—the weather is lovely, and summer vacation has officially begun. The holiday commemorates the people who died while serving in our country’s armed forces, and we’ve previously pointed out some possible destinations with historical or military significance. Here’s one more spot to consider for a history-themed road trip: Gettysburg, PA.
An easy drive from Northeastern cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C., Gettysburg offers a mix of fascinating history and fun activities for the whole family. The town boasts fine restaurants, charming places to stay, and recreational activities galore.
Gettysburg National Military Park
The Battle of Gettysburg spanned three bloody days in July 1863, and it’s considered the most significant engagement of the American Civil War. The clash broke out when Confederate General Robert E. Lee marched the Army of Northern Virginia through the Shenandoah Valley following a victory at Chancellorsville in Virginia, planning to penetrate Union territory as far as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania or even Philadelphia. Lee’s forces engaged the Union’s Army of the Potomac, led by General George G. Meade, and the fighting began on July 1st. The next day saw even heavier fighting, and on July 3rd, Lee ordered a dramatic infantry assault by some 15,000 soldiers known as Pickett’s Charge. The Confederate army saw great losses and was forced to retreat.
The battle marked a turning point in the war, but the casualties were staggering: between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers from both sides perished in the conflict. On November 19th, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor fallen soldiers in his famous Gettysburg Address.
Today, there are a number of ways to take in the 6,000-acre military park. You can see the fields by horse, Segway, carriage, bus, or on foot, either with a guide or on your own. The park offers an orientation program to first-time visitors so you can get a better sense of the historical background of the site before embarking on a tour.
The Gettysburg National Military Park also features Living History programs meant to bring the past to life. Each weekend from April through the end of October, Civil War living historians are encamped on the Gettysburg battlefield. You can explore the camps, interact with the historians, and witness demonstrations of Civil War-era weapons.
Considering its rich history, it’s no surprise that the town of Gettysburg is home to a number of historical walking tours. Destination Gettysburg offers a self-guided walking tour of the downtown historical district. There’s also a Historic Church Walking Tour, a guided tour that provides visits to eight historic downtown Gettysburg churches.
Gettysburg is frequently featured on popular paranormal television series, and the town offers a number of ghost tours that take you through Gettysburg most haunted streets and buildings.