Gettysburg National Military Park | TOURING THE BATTLEFIELD

Confederate cannon on Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg National Military Park

Confederate cannon on Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg National Military Park

Visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park can tour the battlefield along a 24-mile route that passes 16 points of interest. Most everyone does the tour in a vehicle, but it is also possible on bike, or if you have multiple days to spend and plenty of energy, on foot. However, not all of the roads are exclusively for visitors to the battlefield, roads on which vehicles tend to drive at slow speeds. Some of the battlefield is accessed via major thoroughfares. For safety reasons, a vehicle is the best way to tour the battlefield.

SELF-GUIDED TOURS

If you plan to tour the battlefield on your own, most likely you’ll want to be a little smarter when you get to the end. Therefore, I highly recommend that you begin your visit to Gettysburg National Military Park by going through the Gettysburg Museum and checking out the Gettysburg Cyclorama and Film, all of which are located in the Visitor Center. Having some knowledge of the battle will go a long way in helping you understand what you are seeing once you venture out to explore the actual battlefield. There is a fee for these attractions, and they are time-consuming activities, so be sure you have at least two hours to spend before purchasing tickets. The film and cyclorama presentation take about an hour, and if you aren’t willing to set aside at least an hour for the museum, you are just wasting your money.

For those doing the Gettysburg Battlefield Tour in their own vehicles, there are a number of ways to get information once out on the battlefield. There are wayside exhibits at each tour stop that impart basic information, and this is fine for those who just want to check off Gettysburg National Military Park from there lifetime list of places to visit, not to mention the cheapest way to go. However, there are better options for learning about the battle while still touring the park on your own.

My favorite way to tour a battlefield is to use some type of audio tour, either free or fee-based. The National Park Service offers a free video tour for those who are able to watch videos on their cell phone or other mobile device. Go to the National Park Service’s Virtual Tour web page, and when you get to a particular tour stop, watch the corresponding video.

If you have a CD player in your car, there are two CD Audio Tours for sale at the book and souvenir store inside the Visitor Center. Not only do these provide detailed information about the tour stops, both come with a booklet full of photos and battle maps. The stops on the CD match up with the designated stops on the battlefield. This is my preferred way to see battlefield. Cost is around $30.

There are also plenty of companies that sell battlefield tour apps for your cell phone that use GPS to trigger the commentary, so when you get to a particular stop the narration automatically begins. I have not used any of these and therefore cannot vouch for their quality. I recommend sticking to the CD tours sold at the Gettysburg book store—if you have a CD player—because these are produced by actual historians. No telling where the info on the private-company produced apps comes from.

National Park Planner has created a virtual tour of Gettysburg battlefield, complete with plenty of photos of what you will see at each tour stop. Feel free to use this as your source of information as you drive around the battlefield. At the bottom of each web page is a navigation menu that allows you to jump to the next or previous stop.

Tour Stop 1: McPherson Ridge

Tour Stop 2: Eternal Light Peace Memorial

Tour Stop 3: Oak Ridge

Tour Stop 4: North Carolina Memorial

Tour Stop 5: Virginia Memorial

Tour Stop 6: Pitzer Woods

Tour Stop 7: Warfield Ridge

Tour Stop 8: Little Round Top

Tour Stop 9: The Wheatfield

Tour Stop 10: The Peach Orchard

Tour Stop 11: Plum Run

Tour Stop 12 Pennsylvania Memorial

Tour Stop 13: Spanglers Spring

Tour Stop 14: East Cemetery Hill

Tour Stop 15: High Water Mark

Tour Stop 16: Soldiers’ National Cemetery (aka Gettysburg National Cemetery)

There is also a unit of Gettysburg National Military Park located four miles east of the main battlefield. Now known as East Cavalry Battlefield, this was the site of a cavalry battle on the afternoon of July 3, 1863, around the same time that Pickett’s Charge was taking place.

Cannon marks a Union artillery position on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg National Military Park

Cannon marks a Union artillery position on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg National Military Park

GUIDED BATTLEFIELD TOURS

Another option for a tour in your own vehicle is to hire a licensed battlefield guide to accompany you. Of all the tour options, this is the one that I did not do, as I just don’t see it being for me. I like to visit every tour stop at my own pace, which takes me all day. Hiring a guide for this long would cost a fortune.

Rates for a licensed tour guide vary depending on how many people are in your party but typically run $35 / hour, and a two-hour tour is standard. Be sure to book a guide at least a week in advance during the busy tourist season. I see personal guides as a great way to go for visitors who know nothing of the battle and want somebody to show them the highlights of the battlefield or for a visitor who knows a lot and wants a guide to cover a specific topic. For me, I get plenty of info from the CD tour, and I can travel at my own pace. If a personal tour guide fits your needs, visit the Licensed Battlefield Guides website for pricing and how to make a reservation.

The Gettysburg Foundation, the organization that owns and operates the Visitor Center, offers a guided tour of the battlefield by bus (the tour is given by a licensed battlefield guide). Tours last two hours, and there are seven tours each day during the tourist seasons starting at 10 AM, with the last tour at 3 PM. Visit the Foundation’s Tour the Battlefield web page for more information and pricing.

I did take a bus tour but found it somewhat lacking. The bus only stops at two of the 16 tour stops, so most of the tour involves information being presented rapid-fire as the bus passes by a location, and if you can’t see the location due to being on the wrong side of the bus, it’s hard to understand what’s going on. A true Civil War buff, or even someone with a medium interest in the battle, is better off touring the battlefield on his own with the aid of one of the CD audio tours or the National Park Service’s free video tour. The bus tour is great for those who have limited time to spend at Gettysburg National Military Park but still want to learn the basics of the battle and see the highlights of the battlefield. Taking the bus tour and learning about the battle from a licensed guide is better than quickly driving around the battlefield and relying on nothing more than the wayside exhibits at each stop.

Visitors board the bus for a tour of Gettysburg National Military Park

Visitors board the bus for a tour of Gettysburg National Military Park

ARMY ORGANIZATION AT GETTYSBURG

Before heading out to the battlefield, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the typical organization of the Civil War armies in July 1863.

  • REGIMENT is the primary fighting unit.
    • Typically named after the state or region the men came from and an ordinal number that describes the chronological creation of the regiment. For example, the 2nd New York Infantry is the second infantry regiment formed from New York.
    • Typically started out with 1,000 men divided into 10 companies of 100 men, each commanded by a captain. However, as the war wore on, these numbers fell drastically.
    • Typically commanded by a colonel
  • BRIGADE is a unit made up of multiple regiments
    • Typically four regiments make up a brigade, but some brigades had as few as two regiments and as many as five.
    • Union brigades were named with ordinal numbers (2nd Brigade) while Confederate brigades often took on the name of their commanding officer (Johnson’s Brigade). Brigades could have nicknames as well.
    • Typically commanded by a brigadier general, the lowest level of the general rank.
    • There are also artillery brigades, which are the same as infantry brigades only the sub units are called batteries instead of regiments.
  • DIVISION is a unit made up of multiple brigades.
    • Typically comprised of three to five brigades
    • Divisions may also have an attached artillery brigade and a cavalry brigade.
    • Typically named using ordinal numbers and written spelled out (e.g. First Division, Second Division)
    • Typically commanded by a major general, the second level of the general rank
  • CORPS is a unit made up of multiple divisions.
    • Pronounced “core” when singular and “cores” when plural. The P is silent at all times.
    • Typically comprised of two to four divisions. Nearly all corps at Gettysburg, both Union and Confederate, were comprised of three divisions, but a few had only two.
    • There were infantry corps and cavalry corps.
    • Typically named with roman numerals (e. g. I Corps, XI Corps)
    • Union corps were typically commanded by major generals and Confederate corps by lieutenant generals, the third level of the general rank.
  • ARMY is comprised of multiple corps.
    • Typically comprised of at least two corps. At Gettysburg, the Union army had seven infantry corps, a cavalry corps, and an artillery reserve. The Confederates had three infantry corps and a cavalry division.
    • Union armies were typically named after waterways (e. g. Army of the Potomac) and Confederate armies were named after states or regions (e. g. Army of Northern Virginia).
    • Commanded by a general, the highest general rank.
    • A country typically has multiple armies operating in different regions.

The monument in the photo below is dedicated to the 61st New York Infantry Regiment, which was part of the 1st Brigade of the First Division of II Corps. Being from New York, it is a Union regimental monument, but of course you’d have to know which states fought on which side. Confederate regimental monuments, of which there are very few at Gettysburg, are usually inscribed with “Confederate States of America” or “CSA.”

61st New York Infantry Monument (1889), Gettysburg National Military Park

61st New York Infantry Monument (1889), Gettysburg National Military Park

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Last updated on September 12, 2022
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