This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more information.
When my husband and I started planning our trip to Gettysburg, we were pretty clueless. We’d never been there, and I had no idea what to expect. Jeff at least had seen the film Gettysburg with its all-star cast including Tom Beringer and Martin Sheen. I basically knew it was a heartbreaking battle with many casualties. Oh, and President Lincoln gave a little speech there. As we were planning, I started hearing about people who had used Licensed Battlefield Guides to tour Gettysburg. I was intrigued for a couple of reasons. 1. The guide actually gets in the driver’s seat of your own car and drives you around. 2. The price for this more individualized tour cost less for our family than the bus tours I had seen. It seemed like a no-brainer to hire a guide!
We read that we should have reservations, so as soon as we had our dates, we called to schedule the guide. You will probably have to leave a message and they will get back to you. We scheduled a guide for a Sunday morning in June. The standard tours are two hours long, but you can make arrangements for a longer tour or for a more in-depth look at a topic you are more interested in. We got everything arranged, and everything was good to go. Until we got anxious to begin our trip, so we left two days early.
This happens almost every long trip for us. If you aren’t flying, and you have the time off, it’s easy to tell yourself to just jump in the car already and get this trip started. So we do. The problem is, I usually have some reservations made because I am a bit of a planner. We decided to go to Harrisburg to the National Civil War Museum, which is really good, and we spent some time at Chocolate World in Hershey to “fix” our schedule. We still ended up in Gettysburg a day ahead of schedule, and that’s where the Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides’ excellent customer service comes in. They worked with us to move our time up. I was afraid we would have to keep our Sunday time because there wouldn’t be any availability, but they made it happen. And they did it with patience and kindness. That’s how we were scheduled with our guide, Susan Strumello.
Susan was a wonderful guide! She is a retired elementary school teacher, and she knew how to keep my seven-year-old daughter, Kristin, involved in what she was talking about. She was so enthusiastic and easy to talk to. Here is a short video of what it’s like to have a Licensed Battlefield Guide drive your car. Keep in mind the actual tour is two hours with stops along the way.
To meet your guide, you wait at the Visitor’s Center at the Gettysburg National Military Park. We got there about 8:15 a.m. for our 9:00 a.m. tour. We like to be early for things when we can. There is a great gift shop there. We actually went in several times during our stay. Also, the Visitor’s Center is where the museum, film, and Cyclorama are, so we got our tickets for those for after our tour. You do have to schedule your time for the film and Cyclorama, so to get the best times, get there early. There is also a nice cafe, and we ate there for lunch.
Soon, Susan arrived! After brief introductions, we headed out to our car.
Susan told us she has driven just about any kind of vehicle, and I don’t doubt it. We settled in. Jeff sat in the passenger seat, and Kristin and I were in the back. The tour pretty much starts as soon as the guide starts the car. Susan explained that she would take us through the battle chronologically, so she drove us through Gettysburg to the other side of town. Now, I won’t pretend to be some great Civil War scholar, so bear with me.
I will reference the movie, Gettysburg, here and there. It is one of Jeff’s favorites, and it really helped me to understand the battle more, even though there are a few discrepancies, but that is usually the case with movies. We even watched the movie again when we got home. If you would like to purchase your own copy of the movie, I have provided and affiliate link to the film below. By clicking and purchasing the film, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.
Now, back to our guide experience. She first took us to McPhearson Ridge where Brig. General Buford is sitting. If you’ve seen Gettysburg, this is where Sam Elliott is hanging out with his men. Maj. Gen. Reynolds and his men eventually join them, but Reynolds is killed as the Confederates engage them at this ridge.
The Union holds off the Confederates for awhile, and Gen. Lee, played by Martin Sheen in the film, arrives in the area. The Union army retreats through the streets of Gettysburg and positions themselves on Cemetery Hill. Gen. Lee orders Gen. Ewell to attack, but he waits, and the Union is reinforced. Gen. Meade arrives that night, and the Union prepares its artillery for battle.
Meanwhile, the Confederates occupy Gettysburg, and they move through town to a treeline below Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge. Also, the Confederates occupy Seminary Ridge where Gen. Lee is able to get a birdseye view from atop the Lutheran Seminary in the cupola.
The Battle of Gettysburg was certainly a battle in which it was important to have control of the high ground. There are many ridges and hills around the city. While the Confederates had an initial victory, they forced the Union into a position of great power. The Union was able to fight from high positions at Cemetery Hill and Little Round Top, while the Confederates ultimately were in low ground on an open field.
Here is a view of Big Round Top, which is next to the more famous Little Round Top, from the Confederate Line across the field. Meanwhile, Gen. Longstreet, played by Tom Berringer in the film, and Gen. Ewell are commanded by Gen. Lee to attack the flank of the Union at Culp’s Hill. Gen. Longstreet’s delay
As Gen. Meade arrives at the battlefield with his troops, they form a “fish hook” along Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top. The 20th Maine, commanded by Col. Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels in the film, is positioned in the woods near Little Round Top, which looks like this.
Union Gen. Sickles is positioned in the center of the Union Line. He fails to follow orders to maintain his position, and he chooses to move his position to the higher area of the famous Peach Orchard. This weakens the Union Line. The Gettysburg Foundation has worked tirelessly to return the battlefield to how it looked at the time of the battle. The Peach Orchard is no exception. It has been replanted, and when we were there, there were green peaches on the trees.
Because of the break in the Union Line, Gen. Sickle’s men are attacked. Much of the heaviest fighting is at the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, and Devils Den. Though Gen. Sickles breaks the line, the Union ultimately maintains their position.
Here is the Wheatfield. The fighting here is horrific, and it changes hands several times.
And here is a view of Devils Den from Little Round Top.
The rocky area is Devils Den. Later in the day, we explored this area even more. You may have seen the famous photo of the sharpshooter at Devils Den. Here is what is looks like now.
There are walking paths all around Devils Den. Here is Kristin on the top.
You can see Little Round Top in the background. It is known for all of the large stones on its side. And now, there are monuments at the summit. In fact, there are monuments all over the battlefield to help people remember what happened and who was involved. There are also many cannons on the battlefield.
At the Confederate Line in the trees, Gen. Lee’s monument looks out over the battlefield. Gen. Lee is riding his favorite horse, Traveller.
Okay, now back to the battle. On the last day, Gen. Lee decides to attack the Union in the center of the Line. Gen. Lee has had some success, and he knows if he can win Gettysburg by taking the high ground, he can go to Washington, D.C. and present his terms to President Lincoln. Both sides know the importance of this battle, even though the war still continues for two more years.
Gen. Lee also thinks he can surprise the Union because it won’t be expected that he will attack right in the center. The fighting begins early in the morning. Gen. Lee puts Gen. Longstreet in charge of the attack. The plan was to attack at the “copse of trees” where Gen. Hancock was positioned. The Confederate troops stretched a mile wide, but the Union artillery continued to weaken the Confederates. Remember, the Confederates were on an open field marching straight into artillery and musket fire.
Towards the end of the battle, Gen. Pettigrew and Gen. Pickett lead the famous Pickett’s Charge at the Angle. The feat is impossible for the Confederates. Some men make it to the Union Line, and those men are pulled over to the Union side. Besides those few men who made it to the Union Line, the Confederate army retreats.
Here are some pictures from the Union side at the Angle.
There is honeysuckle all over the battlefield, but there is an abundance here in the Angle area.
Gen. Meade’s monument is near the Angle. I especially liked this view of it from the lower part of the Angle area.
The battle ends here, and Gen. Lee retreats. Gen. Lee is famously quoted as saying the battle was “all his fault.” Coming off an initial victory and perceiving an opportunity with the newly appointed Gen. Meade caused Gen. Lee to ignore some of the things that would ultimately cause the Confederate Army’s defeat, such as their lower position. The people of Gettysburg are left to deal with the death and destruction.
Again, I’m not claiming to be a Gettysburg expert. And I know I’ve oversimplified some things and left out some details. But I don’t think I would’ve understood this battle at all without our Licensed Battlefield Guide. On our first night in Gettysburg, we drove around and tried to understand what we were seeing. But our guide told us the story, and we could ask questions as they came to us. Yes, you can do the bus tour or an audio CD, but the attention of the Licensed Guide can’t be matched. Our guide also brought pictures, maps, and artifacts to help us understand the battle. It doesn’t get more personal than with your own personal guide!
After our tour, we went back to the Visitor’s Center to see the film and Cyclorama, which I think are worthwhile. We took a lunch break, and then did the museum, which is not to be missed. Then, we drove back to the battlefield again.
It’s such a place of reflection. I want to remember what people did there; both sides were fighting for what they believed. I wanted to have some time just to sit and think. I am so thankful for what my forefathers did to protect our great country. We spent four days in Gettysburg, and every evening but one was spent on the battlefield.
There were always other people sitting and reflecting, enjoying the summer evening. We’d stay until the park closed, watching the monuments change as the sun went down.
You can see Devils Den again in the above picture.
The above picture is the Pennsylvania Monument. You can go upstairs inside it to a viewing area.
This monument with the eagle near Culp’s Hill represents the nation at war because its wings are outstretched.
I think the battlefield was most beautiful at dusk. The monuments are striking, and you can’t help but reflect on all your blessings in life.
I think everyone should make a trip to Gettysburg at least once. It has heightened my understanding and appreciation for my country.
I consulted this source to help me remember the details of the battle:
You may also be interested in the book that Gettysburg was based on. I have provided an affiliate link below.
Also, another great resource on the Civil War is the Ken Burns documentary. Jeff and I have been watching it again since we’ve returned from our trip. Here is the link to purchase it.