GETTYSBURG, Pa. — In July 1863, the 2,400 residents of Gettysburg had little time to prepare for 170,000 Confederate and Union soldiers who advanced on the town. The soldiers clashed in a three-day battle that would paint its streets and pastoral farmlands crimson in the bloodiest encounter of the Civil War.
Today, the town of 8,000 braces for another invasion of as many as 70,000 Americans on July 1, 2 and 3 and a predicted 200,000 during the 150th observance of the Battle of Gettysburg June 28 to July 7. Officials and residents are working hard to be ready for the onslaught.
A sampling of the blow-your-hat-off experiences for Civil War fans brave enough to advance on Gettysburg during this special time: climbing the cupola where Gen. John Buford plotted his strategy while monitoring Confederates advancing on the town, seeing the official casting of President Abraham Lincoln’s face, viewing 3,550 luminaria on soldiers’ graves, joining thousands of visitors in a walk-the-battlefield special observance of Pickett’s Charge, and watching two major re-enactments involving 10,000 men.
Major events include:
—A commemorative ceremony on June 30 called “Gettysburg: New Birth of Freedom.”
—The openings of a “Treasures of the Civil War” exhibit, the Spangler Farm Civil War Field Hospital site and the new Seminary Ridge Museum.
—The Blue-Gray Alliance Re-enactment June 29 and 30 at the Bushey Farm, and the 150th Anniversary Gettysburg National Civil War Battle Re-enactment July 4-7 at the Redding Farm.
In addition, there are many smaller, more personal events that will bring the battle and its aftermath into focus. These include the Songs and Stories of a Civil War Hospital, in Gettysburg’s Christ Church June 29 and July 6, and Confederates Take the Shriver House, on July 6.
So anyone considering a visit needs an organized battle plan. Map out your plan of attack, using two handbooks.
The first, the 72-page Gettysburg 150th Anniversary Commemorative Events Guide, details programming by the Gettysburg National Military Park and its partner organization, the Gettysburg Foundation. It will be available at the Visitor Center and other locations in the park.
The second, from the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, will be all-inclusive, covering town and county events including the two major re-enactments, a new downtown Gettysburg Independence Day parade and Cashtown’s three-day observance of Lee’s Approach to Gettysburg. It also will cover satellite parking, shuttle routes for the 10-day observance, restroom locations and places to eat.
The printed version will be available at the Convention & Visitors Bureau office and its tourist information tents in town and at satellite parking locations. Although printing isn’t scheduled until mid-June, you can download a complete, calendar-style listing of all the 200-plus events for the 10-day observance at http://www.gettysburgcivilwar150.com. Click on “events.”
Reading the guides’ information will serve as a printed version of reveille. It’s your wake-up call to the challenges to be faced when deciding which events to attend.
“Don’t arrive without a room, if you intend to stay overnight,” says Carl Whitehill, Gettysburg Convention & Visitors bureau spokesman.
Most hotels in Gettysburg already are booked. “The best way to connect with available hotels is to call us at 800-337-5015,” Whitehall says. “We’re keeping a list, so visitors won’t have to make so many calls.” He reported some vacancies in Adams County in early May, but many visitors will wind up in York, Dauphin and Cumberland counties, or even in nearby Maryland.
Day-trippers shouldn’t have any worries, Whitehill says. Approach Gettysburg via routes 15 or 30 and you’ll encounter electronic signs directing you to satellite parking lots. “Leave your car behind and take free transportation into Gettysburg,” Whitehill advises. “At the in-town depot, you can board trolleys for most of the commemoration’s key observances.”
You will need your car, however, if you’re planning to attend one of the major re-enactments staged on the Bushey or Redding farms. Ample parking will be available on designated farm fields.
Could potential visitors become overwhelmed by so many things to do during the 150th commemoration? “I can’t say I’ve worried about that,” says Cindy Small, spokeswoman for the Gettysburg Foundation, which stages events in conjunction with the national military park.
“We have focused on providing all of the information we could about all of our events, so individuals and families can customize their experience, based on their interests,” Small says. “If they use our guide to do their homework, they’ll know what they want to do when they arrive.”
Besides daily park events for the 10-day observance, the guide also provides maps of park traffic patterns and shuttle routes that will change daily July 1-4, and information about the park’s Visitor Center and other special locations including The George Spangler House, Rupp House and David Wills House.
“We put pressure on ourselves to make this year very special,” says Katie Lawhon, spokeswoman for the national military park. “We’ve added many new ranger programs so there will be plenty for everyone to do.” The expanded programming means visitors will spread out to many sites on the 5,000-acre battlefield.
The huge re-enactments are expected to be the biggest draws, Whitehill says.