Almost everyone (I hope) knows the name Gettysburg and what happened here. It was a monumental battle between the United States Army and the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. A three day battle which would end with the most casualties of any one battle in the Civil War. Over 46,000 men were killed, wounded or missing at the conclusion of those three days. It was a battle that pitted soldiers against each other in hand to hand combat, in impossible charges over open fields, and in insufferable weather conditions. It was a battle that would change the tide of the war, even though it would rage on for almost two more years.
Gettysburg National Military Park today includes most of the battlefield, and many of the other areas that were important to the battle, such as staging and supply areas and hospitals. It also includes the cemetery, which is quite possibly the most famous cemetery in the United States, due to a small speech given here by Abraham Lincoln when dedicating the cemetery several months after the battle. Lincoln’s speech was over in less than 2 minutes, but it has lived on in the collective hearts of the nation. I learned it in school, and I bet you probably did too.
The first land was protected in 1863, and gradually more land has been added over the last century and a half. Gettysburg was designated as a National Military Park in 1895, and eventually placed under the administration of the National Park Service. To date, 3,965 acres have been protected, with new land added to the park as recently as 2009. Gettysburg also protects over 1,320 monuments, 410 cannons, 148 historic buildings, 3 observation towers, and 41 miles of avenues, roads, and lanes. And although it is not known whether any remains have yet to be discovered on the battlefield, soldiers who fought at Gettysburg were found where they fell as recently as 1996; there are probably more men still resting there. It is truly sacred ground.
The Visitor’s Center protects the Cyclorama, a late 19th century room sized oil painting on canvas, that when viewed from a platform immerses the viewer in the scene. It is fascinating to see in person. Sadly, the park sold their Electric Map, a 30′ by 30′ display in relief of the battlefield with dozens of light bulbs that light up to show the troop movements on the battlefield. I saw it when I visited Gettysburg in 2008, and gained an understanding of the movement of the battle over those three days that is hard to appreciate from watching a movie. It may have been “old” technology, but it was effective. If you want to see a video of the Electric Map – there’s one at this website.
in 2010, 1,031,554 people visited the park, making it one of the more visited units within the Park System. Although I visited in 2008, I was looking forward to spending more time there, and we were going to see it on our trip!