Discover 16 Things to Do in Gettysburg on Your Next Visit

McPherson Ridge at Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg was the most costly in lives lost, lasting three days, and was the turning point in the Civil War. You can tour these battlefields, which cover over 6,000 acres of farmland, woodlands, and rolling fields and pay respects to the sacrifice these soldiers gave during those three days in July of 1863. If you are wondering what there is to do and see while visiting, here are several things to do in Gettysburg. And this is the perfect place to learn some history and do a little social distancing at the same time.

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Gettysburg National Miltary Park InformationFarm fields at Gettysburg National Military Park

What is impressive about this National Park is that it looks almost like it did back in 1863. The farms, fields, hills, wood fences, cannons, and monuments provide you an opportunity to ponder on what happened in this peaceful area that fateful Fourth of July weekend. Just remember, as you explore within the park, be respectful of the historical monuments and cannons as they mark positions, and honor the great sacrifices of the fallen soldiers.

For you to experience and see everything in the national park and the nearby town, it is recommended to spend 2-3 days in Gettysburg. Besides the monuments and battlefields to explore, you can enjoy the sights, museums, and culinary dishes in town. The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. between April – October. From November through March, the park closes at 7 p.m. There is no entrance fee for the park. If you want more information or the latest open hours, check their website.

Gettysburg Museum and Visitor CenterThe Firearms of Gettysburg

The first place on your things to do in Gettysburg is to visit the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum. This state-of-the-art museum features twelve galleries exhibiting artifacts from the battle, interactive displays, and films about the Civil War and the battle of Gettysburg. You will find displays on firearms (long guns and pistols), band instruments, soldier uniforms, and all the accouterments found on those uniforms. Definitely take some time and explore the museum thoroughly, and don’t forget to stop into the gift shop to take home a souvenir. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. between April – October (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). From November through March, the museum closes at 5 p.m.

How to See the Park and BattlefieldsMonument to Battery L - 1st New York Light Artillery - Reynolds' Division

There are a couple of ways to see this national park. You can book a battlefield bus tour or drive your vehicle. For those driving themselves, there is a self-guided auto tour that takes you to 16 different stops within the park. The 24-mile auto tour takes about 2-3 hours to complete, but you can choose to skip any of the stops on the trip. As you are in control of what you want to see, this is an excellent option for those looking to explore national parks and maintain social distancing practices as most of the monuments are spaced out. The only crowded area I found was on Little Round Top.The Gettysburg Battle Lines July 1-3, 1863

Battlefield Bus TourGettysburg Battlefield Bus Tour

We chose to take the bus tour since we were on a time crunch visiting Gettysburg. The bus tour takes approximately two hours and takes you to all the significant battle sites. There is a guide that narrates the history of that fateful three days in July. And it was extremely comfortable to be driven around in the air-conditioned coach on a hot day. Helpful hint – try to sit on the driver’s side of the bus (left), you will be able to get better photos of the sites while driving by them. It costs $35/adult for the battlefield bus tour.

McPherson Ridge – McPherson FarmWood Fence and McPherson Barn at Gettysburg

McPherson Ridge was the site where the battle began on July 1st at 8 a.m. The Confederate infantry was met near the McPherson barn by Union calvary. Heavy fighting continued throughout the day on McPherson’s land, which was planted in corn and wheat. John Slentz’s family were renting the farm and were ordered out of the area as the fighting got worse. They took refuge in the town. When they returned after the battle was over, they found the house ransacked and turned into a hospital for the wounded.

Oak RidgeOak Ridge at Gettysburg

Oak Ridge is where the Union troops held the line against the Confederate advance for most of the first day. Unfortunately, by the late afternoon, the Union line from McPherson to Oak Ridge began to break down. The Union forces retreated to Cemetery Hill. With the Confederate Army having the upper hand at the end of the day, General Lee decided to continue the offensive even though he only had 70,000 troops compared to General Meade’s 93,000 soldiers.

Virginia MemorialVirginia Memorial in Gettysburg

The Virginia Memorial was the first Confederate monument added to Gettysburg. It is located by an open field where ‘Pickett’s Charge’ occurred on July 3rd, 1863. This would be the last and decisive battle at Gettysburg. General Lee ordered an infantry assault of 12,000 troops (three brigades of Virginians) against the Unions strong position at Cemetery Ridge with only 6,500 soldiers. Lasting only an hour, the Confederate Army had over 50% casualties and were forced back. This was the culmination of General Lee’s campaign to push into Pennsylvania, and he lost substantially. Bronze statue of Robert E. Lee on his horse Traveller top of Virginia Memorial

The Virginia Monument is one of the most massive monuments within the national park. A 14-foot bronze statue of General Robert E. Lee is mounted upon his horse Traveller. At the base of the pedestal is bronze statues of Confederate soldiers. From left to right, they are a professional man, a mechanic, an artist, a boy, a businessman, a farmer, and a youth. This was to show that soldiers came from all walks of life. Bronze group of figures representing the Artillery, Infantry, and Cavalry of the Confederate Army on the Virginia Memorial

Little Round Top Little Round Top in Gettysburg

Little Round Top got its name well after one of the most-well known fights at Gettysburg. Major General Governeur K. Warren and Colonel Strong Vincent (who was mortally wounded in this fight) led the Union to defend this position successfully. They only arrived moments before the Confederate Army showed up. The 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment led a dramatic bayonet charge down the hill. At the peak of Little Round Top looking over the valley below, I can imagine a large regiment screaming ‘Charge’ and racing down the steep hill with their bayonets drawn. What a frightful sight for the Confederates that must have been!View from Little Round Top in GettysburgView from the tour bus of Little Round Top

There are so many monuments scattered on this hill. One of the ones I wanted to find was for the 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment that provided support in defending the Union Army position on Little Round Top. I was so excited to see that my home state represented the Union well. 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment Monument on Little Round Top at Gettysburg

Devils DenDevils Den Things to do in Gettysburg

The Devil’s Den (a ridge with large boulders) is a short 500 yards away from Little Round Top. The Devil’s Den got its name from the belief that a rock in that ridge bears a hoof-shaped imprint – a mark believed to be made by the Devil himself. The facts are that archaeological evidence shows that humans used this area for hunting as early as 5,000 years ago.

This area with Little Round Top saw fierce fighting on July 2nd, 1863. The Union troops of only 2,996 men defended Little Round Top and Devil’s Den. The Union suffered 565 casualties (134 killed, 402 wounded, 29 missing) where the Confederates (4,864 troops) suffered 1,185 casualties (279 killed, 868 wounded, 219 missing).

The Wheatfield – Rose Farm

The Wheatfield was another area of intense fighting on July 2nd. Along with the fights at Little Round Top, Devil’s Den and the Peach Orchard, these fights were the costliest of the battle. General Lee’s plan to attack the flanks of the Union army this day did not go as planned. Twenty thousand soldiers engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat with the farm in the center of it all. Charge and countercharge by the Confederates left this 19 acres of wheat strewn with over 4,000 bodies dead or wounded. The farmhouse and barn rendered shelter to the Confederates, and the other farm buildings were used as a Confederate field hospital.

The Peach Orchard

The Peach Orchard owned by the Sherfy Farm is smaller today than when it stood back in 1863. The Peach Orchard is where the Union held the line against the Confederates forces advancing. The Union troops cannon bombarded the Confederates trying to cross by the Rose Farm toward the Wheatfield. With the heavy fighting and the destruction of most of the orchard, the Confederates broke through and took over this area by the end of the day. There are over 400 cannons positioned around Gettysburg today. The majority of the cannon tubes are original from 1863. However, the carriages have been re-made from cast iron to resemble the wooden ones from the battle. The Peach Orchard was eventually restored and replanted by the Sherfy’s.

Sherfy FarmSherfy Farm in Gettysburg

The house was built in 1840, and the farm itself covered 50 acres, including the Peach Orchard, Big and Little Round Top, and Devil’s Den. During the fighting of July 2nd, 1863, the family was still in residence at the farm even though the Union Army had set up around it. After a close scare by a Confederate mini-ball that struck close to the mother-in-law, Union officers urged the family to leave. The family went to stay at the neighboring Trostle Farm. Which was a good thing as the house was riddled with bullets that you can still see today in the brickwork. The Confederate wounded took shelter in the house and barn until the barn was destroyed by fire in the battle.

When the family returned home, they found their property in destruction. There were bloodstains on the floor, their house ransacked, bullet holes in the walls, artillery round holes in the roof, trenches of buried soldiers in the yards along with 48 dead horses left on their property. The worse part was that the charred remains of the barn were left along with the bodies of the wounded that did not get out before the fire consumed the barn. An excerpt from a soldier from the 77th New York Infantry that saw the destruction left from the battle wrote:

“As we passed the scene of conflict on the left was a scene more than unusually hideous. Blackened remains marked the spot where, on the morning of the 3rd, stood a large barn. It had been used as a hospital. It had taken fire from the shells of the hostile batteries and had quickly burned to the ground. Those of the wounded not able to help themselves were destroyed by the flames, which in a moment spread through the straw and dry material of the building. The crisped and blackened limbs, heads, and other portions of bodies lying half-consumed among the heaps of ruins and ashes made up one of the most ghastly pictures ever witnessed, even on the field of war.”

Federal assistance was made available after the war, but the Sherfy Farm did not qualify as the rule stated that the loss had to be by the actions of  Union forces. The destruction of the Sherfy Farm was blamed entirely on the Confederate Army. The Sherfy family was given no assistance to help clear and repair their farm. Showing their determination and persistence, the Sherfy Farm and Peach Orchard eventually got back to prosperity with no help from the government.

Cemetery Ridge View of Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg National Military Park

Cemetery Ridge played a crucial role in the Union’s strategic position, which resembled a fishhook. The ridge is only 40 feet high, but the hill is two miles long. The Confederate Army launched several attacks on this ridge during July 2nd & 3rd but were never successful. Along this ridge, you will find several monuments and statues. Monuments at Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg National Military ParkMonument for Union Soldiers on Cemetery Ridge

George Gordon Meade MonumentGeneral George Gordon Meade monument at Gettysburg

General George Gordon Meade was the commander of the Union forces during the battle of Gettysburg. He successfully repelled Lee from pushing his military campaign into Pennsylvania. His tactical strategy in keeping Lee from advancing won the battle, but he was criticized for letting Lee go and not pursuing him. Even Abraham Lincoln wrote to General Meade, explaining his displeasure that Meade did not follow and decimate Lee’s army.

Pennsylvania Memorial – Abraham Trostle FarmPennsylvania Memorial and Abraham Trostle Farm in Gettysburg

The Pennsylvania Monument is on Cemetery Ridge and is the largest in the national park. This position was the crucial center of the Union stronghold in Gettysburg. The tip of the sword of the statue of Winged Victory on top of the dome is 110 feet high. You can take the spiral staircase to the roof of the monument to get a panoramic view of the battlefield. The Winged Victory statue is made from melted down cannons from the Civil War. The total number of men from Pennsylvania that fought in the battle of Gettysburg was 34,530, 1,182 soldiers died, and 3,177 were wounded during the fighting, and 860 were classified as missing.

The Trostle family farm was another casualty of the battle. The family left so abruptly that they left their dinner still on the table. When they returned to the farm after the fighting was over, they found their home and farm in the same state of disaster as other farms in Gettysburg. Their home was ransacked, bullet holes riddled their barn, and a considerable artillery hole was in the barn brick wall. All of these holes can still be seen today. Their farm didn’t fare any better. They returned to find 16 dead battery horses in their front yard and over a hundred on their farm. Just like the Sherfy’s, the government did not provide any assistance for the Trostle family to repair or clean up their farm. This was an absolute travesty of the federal government not to provide financial support to these farmers after the battle was over.

Civil War Hospital – Lydia Leister FarmCivil War Hospital - Lydia Leister Farm

Lydia Leister’s Farm served as General Meade’s headquarters until the shelling got too close. On July 2nd, Meade held his council of war session in the house’s tiny main room. Lydia and her two daughters left before the fighting began. When she returned, she also came home to a mess left in her yard. Her house had several bullet holes in the walls, there were 17 dead horses in her yard, a pile of burnt horses around her best peach tree which killed it, her fence rails burned, and apple trees destroyed. She also received no compensation from the government for her loss of property. But, just as the other farmers did, Lydia rebuilt her farm and prospered all by herself. Today you can peer into the windows and see where General Meade held his war council.

Culp’s Hill – Daniel Lady FarmDaniel Lady Farm in Gettysburg

The Daniel Lady Farm was the headquarters of Confederate General Richard Ewell. The farm consisted of 146 acres and was used as a staging area for the battles on Culps Hill. After the battle, the army used the stone farmhouse and barn located on the property as a field hospital. The farmhouse and barn survived the fighting with only minor damage (a few bullet holes and bloodstains on the floors). Today the Daniel Lady Farm offers tours, camping for reenactors and scouts, living history demonstrations, and educational workshops. You can find the latest information on the Daniel Lady Farm website. The admission fee for the house and barn tour is $10.

David Wills HouseDavid Wills House in Gettysburg

The David Wills House is best known for where Abraham Lincoln stayed overnight to finish the Gettysburg Address. This museum features seven galleries of interactive designs showcasing Wills contributions, Lincoln’s overnight stay, and the Gettysburg Address. Wills contributions included managing the enormous task of giving proper burials for the fallen soldiers left at the battlefield. David Wills also was instrumental in the planning for the national cemetery.

Soldiers’ National CemeteryMonuments Outside Soldiers' National Cemetery

The Soldier’s National Cemetery is a short walk from the Gettysburg visitor center. This serene area of the national park is the final resting place of more than 3,500 Union soldiers that fought in the battle of Gettysburg. After the battle, bodies of the dead soldiers lay scattered over the farms. Gettysburg citizens were concerned about an epidemic caused by the hastily dug shallow graves. Thus, the plan for a soldier’s cemetery was organized and carried out within four months to allow the Union soldiers a proper re-burial.

Lincoln Address MemorialLincoln Address Memorial

Abraham Lincoln delivered the infamous cemetery’s dedication remarks on November 19th, 1863. His two-minute speech became known as the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln’s speech honored the brave men who fought and said their sacrifice was a cause to continue fighting for the preservation of the nation. The Lincoln Address Memorial commemorates the momentous speech with a copy of it flanking both sides of an Abraham Lincoln bust. The Soldiers’ National Monument marks the exact spot where the address was given.

Soldiers’ National MonumentSoldiers National Monument at Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg

The Soldiers’ National Monument was dedicated in 1869. The granite memorial has a large column protruding from a four-post pedestal. On each side of the foundation are four marble statues representing war, history, plenty, and peace. The sculpture “Genius of Liberty” is placed at the top of the center column. The monument marks the spot for the location of the dedication ceremony where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

Where to Stay in Gettysburg

If you are planning on staying for a few days in Gettysburg, there are plenty of places to rest your head after a day of exploring. If you need to look further away, all you have to do is expand the map. You can check the prices and book one of these accommodations.


Booking.com

Other Things to Do in Gettysburg

Here are some other things to do in Gettysburg if you are interested.

SummaryView of Gettysburg battlefield from Little Round Top

Gettysburg Battlefield is an incredible national park to visit. I was only able to spend a short time there, but I definitely want to go back to explore deeper and maybe take a ghost tour. Have you visited Gettysburg? What did you think of your visit?

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Further Reading

If you are coming to Pennsylvania for a visit, check out these posts for further travel inspiration:

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