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Gettysburg National Military Park
National Park Service
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania


Gettysburg was the site of one of most gruesome battles in Civil War and American history, taking place on July 1, 2, and 3, 1863. July 1st, an unexpected battle erupted between Union Army of the Potomac and Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee, with both sides meeting near the small town in Adams County. The Battle of Gettysburg came to a conclusion on the 3rd after the climax of the Confederate Pickett’s Charge, where some 5,000 American men laid down their lives in the stretch of an hour. Over all, an estimated 50,000 soldiers (Union and Confederate) died or were horribly wounded as a result of the fighting there. Gettysburg is regarded as a turning point in the American Civil War, and the mark for the decline of the Confederacy.

The preservation of a park there stems from original private efforts on behalf of veterans and groups who purchased small areas of the battlefield in an attempt to preserve the sacred land.

In 1863, near the lines of the Union soldiers, a Soldier’s Cemetery was created in Gettysburg for the internment of about 3,500 Union and Confederate bodies, organized by State. The project of establishing an official cemetery was pioneered by then Governor of Pennsylvania Andrew Curtin. At the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, Curtin’s speech lasted 2 hours trying to capture the significance of the cemetery. President Abraham Lincoln followed Curtin with a speech that lasted only minutes: his world famous Gettysburg Address. Erected in the Cemetery approximately 300 meters from the site of the speech is a monument bearing a bronze bust of Lincoln and engraved plates bearing the words of Lincoln’s oration - the only known monument to a speech in the world.

The United States Congress passed a bill February 11, 1895 to officially create the “Gettysburg National Military Park.” The park has slowly expanded its land to preserve as much of the original battlefield as possible. It currently encompasses about 6,000 acres of land. On that land, besides much of the preserved natural landscape, are numerous monuments numbering almost 1,500 to various divisions, brigades, corps, and commanders. The monuments vary from simple iron plaques to stone monuments and bronze statues.

There is a 2 - 3 hour AutoTour in which one can drive through parts of the park and see important areas and highlights, following a marked route. Guided Tours are provided by various groups and the National Park Service. A museum is present on the grounds, the “National Park Service Visitor Center,” featuring exhibits showing hundreds of original weapons, uniforms, and artifacts. However, on a side note, the museum is projected to be torn down in a few years and removed to a place not on the actual battlefield grounds. Also part of the National Park Service’s facilities at Gettysburg is the ‘Cyclorama’ - a 360° oil-on-canvas painting of Pickett’s Charge, done by French painter Paul Philippoteaux. It also has a 15 minute audio presentation, which oddly enough is highly biased towards Confederate sympathy, and fails to mention that Gettysburg was a Union victory or much of anything regarding Union troops.

I was thoroughly impressed with the park on my visit this past weekend. The battlefields are still preserved in such a way as they are not ruined greatly by roads and modern modifications to the landscape. The whole Gettysburg park is extremely impressive and commands reverence and respect from visitors. Being able to walk across the field of Pickett’s Charge where 5,000 men died, looking at the same group of trees they aimed for as their objective is a very chilling and humbling experience. The vast area that composes the battlefield, from Little Round Top to Devil’s Den to Pickett’s Charge requires at least one full day to sufficiently tour and appreciate.

Admission to the Military Park, cemetery, and museum/visitor center is free to the public. The Cyclorama run by the NPS costs $3 admission. You can view the official website of the park, run by the NPS at http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm

Sources:

Personal Knowledge
Professor John Vallely, Siena College, Loudonville, NY.
http://www.nps.gov/gett/

U.S. National Parks and Monuments

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