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Three remarkable days of battle in 1863 and one historic Presidential address have etched Gettysburg into the national consciousness. Yet, you could spend days on end exploring the splendor and history lessons that are Gettsyburg today. Whether you’re a seasoned history buff or a family like ours just dropping in for a summer day of fun, there is always something new to discover!
It was fascinating to overhear the amateur historians retelling what they’d read about battle strategy as they toured the historic monuments. For those of us who hadn’t read much about Gettysburg since high school history class, there was the Gettysburg Heritage Center as a great starting point before heading out by car into vast Gettysburg National Military Park.
At the center, we picked up a loaner iPad via InSite Gettysburg that became our perfect traveling companion. While a passenger assists with the device, InSite Gettysburg uses voice and visuals to tell the story of each stop on the tour. If you get mixed up and start in the middle of the tour like we did, the device uses navigation to pinpoint the correct tour stop.
My kids’ favorite InSite Gettysburg feature was the ability to have their photo etched in our family history alongside historic figures. We captured this battlefield shot with the background created by volunteer reenactors with Battalion M 2nd US Artillery. I suppose if your were really intent on historical accuracy you could edit the SUV from the background.
Reenactor Dave Thompson is proud of how weekend outings this like his group’s “bring the history to life.” Thompson, Erik Sapp and others wore period clothing and set up tents just like both Confederate and Union troops would have during the historic battle.
Female reenactors also brought along household items to show an up-close sense of life in the 1800s.
When the kids weren’t climbing the tower of the Pennsylvania Memorial or scrambling atop boulders at Devil’s Den, they wanted to explore downtown Gettysburg with our family.
Downtown, where buildings proudly display plaques noting they are authentic to the Civil War period, we were invited to tour the Shriver House Museum. There, the girls learned how 7-year-old Sadie and 5-year-old Mollie lived with their mother while their father went off to war. The middle-class family had to abandon their home for a while, returning to a place half-wrecked by occupying Confederate soldiers. My daughters were fascinated with the details of daily family life and perhaps were able to understand the history better because of it.
A new exhibit on display at the museum features this wartime destruction in the Shriver family’s sitting room and kitchen. “It really opens people’s eyes to how untidy war is, it’s not a pretty thing,” shared Museum representative Kim Corradetti. “War is messy, it’s ugly and it smells!”
Historic downtown Gettysburg is bustling with historic sites, shops and dining options. Yet with young children it’s sometimes good to get away from all that and feel the grass under your feet again. That’s why the 44-year-old silver maple tree in the front of Martin House Bed & Breakfast was a welcome site.
The kids enjoyed the swing and a place to run outdoors. Inside was a thoughtful library of everything from Gettysburg history books to children’s books, sitting areas including one that offered television, and of course, a comfortable place to rest. Breakfast was delightful and hearty, highlighted with locally grown peaches.
B & B hosts Duke and Lynn Martin are knowledgeable about not only Gettysburg history, but history more specific to the Jack’s Mountain area where they live. Both volunteer at their local library and have given civilian Civil War educational talks. They even have a printed, local driving tour they offer guests. The Martins are on the popular Gettysburg Wine & Fruit Trail.
I had my misgivings before visiting whether Gettysburg would be a good fit for a family vacation. Turns out, the kids had plenty of opportunities to stretch their legs, explore at their own pace, and ask if we could spend even more time there. Not having enough time to discover everything — that’s what makes a great travel spot one we’ll want to return to again.