Gettysburg: An In-Depth Encounter With History
Luring curious visitors to its momentous battlefield just days after cannon smoke cleared, Gettysburg has long been a history buff’s objective. And for good reason: It presents an unparalleled rendezvous with the Civil War. Nowadays, Gettysburg accomplishes that mission as never before, thanks to a new Visitor Center and Museum, new attractions and newly successful efforts to restore the battlefield to its exact appearance in 1863. Whether you’re a Civil War enthusiastic or merely curious to learn more about the country’s past, the LLTD weekend at Gettysburg—led by its foremost guides—promises to bring history alive, dramatically, comprehensively and memorably. This is a weekend to experience the preeminent event of the Civil War in its totality.
In the afternoon, arrive in Gettysburg, a bustling, well-preserved south-central Pennsylvania municipality of 7,500 residents. Founded before the Revolutionary War and now linked eternally to the Civil War battle that took place on nearby farmland and meadow, Gettysburg is a charming town of more than 100 restored structures, all clustered around central Lincoln Square. You’ll be staying 15 minutes south of Gettysburg in the tiny enclave of Taneytown, Maryland, just below the storied Mason-Dixon Line. Established in 1754 and nuzzled at the foot of the quiet Catocin Mountains, Taneytown is home to the Antrim 1844 Country House Hotel, a smartly restored mansion surrounded by handsome estate buildings sprinkled about on the 24-acre property.
After settling into your room (complete with fireplace), head to nearby Frederick, Maryland, a 1740s town distinguished by an aggregation of sky-punctuating church spires. Running through its 75-block historic district are brick streets bordered with a range of 18th- and 19th century architecture. One of the showpieces, built in the 1890s and masterfully restored in 2006, is the Houck Mansion, nowadays the home of Volt restaurant. Chef Bryan Voltaggio, a native of Frederick, is committed to farm-to-table cuisine, and you can choose either a four-course or seven-course kitchen menu, or a multi-course vegetarian menu, all featuring fresh, seasonal, local offerings. Since opening his renowned restaurant in 2008, Voltaggio became a finalist on the sixth season of Bravo’s Top Chef.
Return to the Antrim for the night.
At breakfast in the Antrim’s dining room, meet your guide for the day. Your eminent guide provides narration on the top-selling audio tour that most visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park buy at the Visitor Center bookstore, but you will have him entirely to yourself for this day of “total immersion” in all things Gettysburg. His facility of bringing the Battle of Gettysburg alive—its scope, its drama, its significance, its heartrending tragedy—is without peer. While you’re enjoying breakfast, your guide will brief you on the scope of the day’s activities, all of which will bring about a thorough and stimulating grasp on the Battle of Gettysburg.
You’ll head by car to the Military Park, where your guide will lead you through the newly opened Museum and Visitor Center, interpreting its highlights. Replacing a former, faulty facility, the center now provides a vastly improved presentation of the battle. A dozen galleries hold multimedia presentations and interactive stations that explain—along with your guide—the reasons for the war. Other displays also help bring the war to a more personal level, describing the lives of soldiers on each side, the role of Gettysburg women in the battle, and the issues that impelled so many men to put their young lives on the line. The Birth of Freedom, a 22-minute film narrated by Morgan Freeman, gives a gripping overview of the battle, with Sam Waterston as the voice of Abraham Lincoln, delivering a definitive reading of the Gettysburg Address. The centerpiece of the Museum and Visitor Center is the cyclorama, a 360-degree, 277-foot-long painting entitled The Battle of Gettysburg. Finished in 1884 by French master Paul Dominique Philippoteaux, his magnum opus, likened to the 19th-century equivalent of an IMAX movie, was newly unveiled in 2008 after a $15 million, five-year restoration, leaving it looking better and better displayed than ever before. From a central viewing platform, you will immerse yourself in the painting’s entire 42-foot height—12 feet of which were hidden in the previous facility—while listening to a narrative, complete with lighting, sound effects and music, that dynamically tells the story of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, a defining moment in the Civil War.
Grab a quick bite at the Museum’s lunch room, which has sandwiches as well as Pennsylvania Dutch specialties. There is also an extensive museum bookstore and a country store where you can buy locally made preserves.
Next, by car, you and your guide will commence your tour of the battlefield, the hallowed ground that pays pay homage to the 51,000 men who in July 1863 became casualties in the largest battle ever to take place on North American ground. Measuring six miles by seven miles, the park has 35 miles of scenic avenues along lovely, rolling Pennsylvania countryside. Peppered with 1,320 monuments, the area holds the largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the country. Amid this beautiful landscape—in searing contradistinction to the bloody battles that took place—your guide will help you fully comprehend how the chance encounter here of 75,000 Confederate soldiers and 97,000 Union led to the turning point in the War Between the States.
Your guide will next lead you to the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Its dedication four-and-a-half months after the battle was the reason Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg to deliver his timeless words. Designed by landscape architect William Saunders, the cemetery contains, in addition to graves, the Soldiers National Monument at its center, the Eternal Light Peace Memorial (dedicated by FDR in 1938 on the 75th anniversary of the battles) and a monument to Lincoln’s address. Finishing off the day, your guide will take you into the town of Gettysburg to show you homes and business of local residents who played key roles before, during and after the battle. Wayne will also take you to the David Wills House, newly reopened to the public in 2009. In a second-floor bedroom, you will see where Abraham Lincoln finished composing the Gettysburg Address, the fitting end to a day that reverberates with history.
Dinner is in nearby Fairfield, eight miles southwest of Gettysburg at the Fairfield Inn, dating from 1757. There, you can order chicken and biscuits, just as General Lee did, 150 years ago—and the recipe hasn’t changed a jot since. Other selections include roasted local game and steaks. Return to the Antrim for the night.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the Antrim and check out afterwards.
You can choose to conclude your weekend of history in Gettysburg by leaping from the 19th century into the 20th—with a visit to the Eisenhower National Historic Site. Board a shuttle bus from the Visitor Center at the battlefield to the home and farm of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. He and wife Mamie bought the place in 1950 and, after Ike was elected the nation’s 34th president, used it as a weekend retreat, inviting world leaders like Nikita Khrushchev, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle. When his presidency ended in 1961, Ike and Mamie retired here. Tour the unpretentious farmhouse and take a stroll around the working farmyard, where cattle still graze and Eisenhower’s own vehicles stand in the garage.
Depart at your leisure, returning home or continuing on to your next Willing Foot destination.