Gettysburg Family Vacation
Tour the famous battlefield and stand in the spot where President Lincoln gave the “Gettysburg Address.”
When my son, Alex, was 5 years old, we visited Colonial Williamsburg, Va., a lovely, recreated historic village. I’d explained to him that everything we would see and do there was just like in the “olden days.” One morning, we ate breakfast in a candlelit tavern. When the costumed waitress delivered Alex his breakfast he tugged at my sweater and whispered in my ear, “Is the waffle old, too?” [Read more about Colonial Williamsburg.]
Fast forward 13 years. Alex is now 18 and we recently visited Gettysburg, Pa., a historic destination that goes all out in paying tribute to both the Civil War battle that was fought here and Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” Of course, Alex wasn’t quite as naive as years back, but just as curious: “Where did Abraham Lincoln give the “Gettysburg Address”? How many soldiers died on the battlefield where we stood? Where can I charge my iPhone?”
Bloodiest Battle in North America
Tucked in the Allegheny Mountains, Gettysburg is the real thing—you will actually stand at the spot where President Lincoln gave his “Gettysburg Address” and roam the battlefields by foot, bike or car where 51,000 soldiers lost their lives during the three-day battle that took place here. When visiting, you can’t help but be moved by the significance of events that took place here in 1863.
And yet there’s more to Gettysburg than 1863 history, soldiers and war. The pretty town is vibrant with great restaurants, cafés and shops, and there’s a prestigious liberal arts college at the heart of it all—Gettysburg College—which brings a young vibe to an otherwise historic setting.
What to See
Battlefields and ghosts. Gettysburg is home to both, and offers many opportunities for visitors to follow in the footsteps of soldiers and to feel the whispery breath of spirits. Here are the top six things you should do at Gettysburg:
Tour the battlefields. You can do so by bus and other guided tours, but for families the most flexible way is to do so by jumping in your car, popping in an audio CD, and cruising the battlefields. Monuments are well marked and there are plenty of photo ops if you care to stop. You can pick up an audio CD at the Farnsworth House Bookstore, Dobbin House and other lodgings including Hickory Bridge (where we spent several nights.) Another thrilling way for families to experience the sprawling battlefields is by bicycle.
Civil War Houses
New to the Gettysburg scene is the restored David Wills House. Built in 1818, this is where Lincoln put the finishing touches on his “Gettysburg Address.” David Wills was a lawyer who was instrumental in post-battle recovery efforts for the Gettysburg community and who invited Lincoln to pay homage to Gettysburg after the famous battle that took place there. Today, the house is a National Park Service museum. www.davidwillshouse.org
The Shriver House Museum gives a different glimpse of life in Gettysburg away from the battlefields, with a peek at civilian life in the home of George and Hettie Shriver during the Civil War time period. www.shriverhouse.org
Military Museums and Monuments
Visit the Gettysburg National Military Museum & Visitor Center. Take in the 22-minute movie, A New Birth of Freedom, for a well-done introduction to the Battle of Gettysburg. Then, stick around for newly conserved Gettysburg Cyclorama Painting, a 360-degree historical look at Pickett’s Charge, the peak of the fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg. www.gettysburgfoundation.org
The Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg National Military Park is where, before a crowd of 10,000 who gathered to honor those who died here, President Lincoln delivered his much-celebrated “Gettysburg Address.” www.nps.gov/gett
Civil War Reenactment
Each July, the annual Civil War Battle Reenactment takes place with tons of family events, five main battles, a living history village and more. As you can imagine, it gets crowded and you should make reservations in advance. www.gettysburgreenactment.com
Kids love spooky ghost tours, especially at night, and there are several from which to choose. Ghost of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours (the tours are based on Mark Nesbitt’s award-winning books), Farnsworth House Civil War Mourning Theater & Haunted History Walks (the Travel Channel rated Farnsworth “one of the most haunted inns in America”) and Sleepy Hollow of Gettysburg Candlelight Ghost Tours (recommended by the Paranormal Investigators and Research Association).