Somehow, it’s surprising that Gettysburg is so lovely.
Tucked away in South Central Pennsylvania, just 10 miles from the Maryland border, the little town was, after all, the site of the largest battle fought in the American Civil War. It was also the bloodiest single battle, with more than 51,000 casualties. But God, as he will, has healed here, and today both the Gettysburg National Military Park and the town itself are not only deeply historic, but breathtakingly beautiful. It’s just one of the pleasures that awaits faith-based groups that visit the area.
So, too, is Gettyburg’s notable meditative qualities. This is a place, according to Carl Whitehill, Visit Gettysburg’s vice president and director of communications, made for spiritual contemplation.
“There are a lot of powerful things that occur when people visit here,” Whitehill said. “It’s a destination that really allows people to connect, whether that’s connecting with their faith, their family or their friends. “It’s a very important part of the experience for people.”
A turning point in the American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought over the first three days of July in 1863. By the end of it, the Army of the Potomac had stopped the Army of Northern Virginia’s invasion of the North. Had the Union Army not been proved victorious, the Confederates might have won the war, forever fracturing the United States. But the cost was high: thousands of lives brutally ended in the formerly quiet, bucolic farmland outside of town.
Groups will want to begin their exploration of the area at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center, which offers not only a 22,000-square-foot museum but also a massive cyclorama oil painting and an engaging film. Then it’s on to a tour of the park, which covers 6,000 acres and includes more than 1,300 monuments. A licensed battlefield guide, who will hop on the motorcoach, is also a must. They can provide crucial context as well as take groups to special sites, like the Father Corby statue. It honors the beloved priest who blessed the men of the Irish Brigade before battle.
In addition to touring the battlefield and museum, groups will want to make time for some of these other activities during their Gettysburg visits.
Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center
Located on the Gettysburg campus of the United Lutheran Seminary and along Gettysburg National Military Park’s auto tour, this decade-old museum is housed in a historic building used as a field hospital during, and for months following, the battle. Groups will find it filled with engaging, interactive exhibits focusing on subjects such as the critical role faith played in the average soldier’s life. The museum offers all kinds of special opportunities for groups, including off-hour visits and hands-on programs that give guests the chance to “Become a Soldier,” practice “Civil War Emergency Medicine” and much more.
Lovingly tended and absolutely charming, Gettysburg’s downtown is not to be missed. Groups will appreciate time on their own to explore the many independent shops, cafes and art galleries, but there is also a wealth of companies offering guided walking tours through the town’s vibrant center. Gettysburg Licensed Town Guides provides groups with a wide range of both day and evening tour options to select from, lasting from 60 to 90 minutes and zeroing in on themes like Black history, President Abraham Lincoln’s “Visit, Civilian Experience” (of the battle) and more. Or the company can customize a tour to your group’s unique interests.
Farms and Fields
Gettysburg is well-known for the quality (and quantity) of apples and other fruit grown in the area, and making a stop or two at area ag operations is always a treat for groups. For a peek at a round barn more than a century old, head to the Historic Round Barn and Farm Market. Meanwhile, Hollabaugh Bros., Inc., gives group tours of the farm that can include activities like picking apples in the orchard, planting veggies and herbs, taking wagon rides and learning about everything from bees to current challenges facing food producers.
Eisenhower National Historic Site
There’s more than Civil War history waiting to be discovered in Gettysburg. Located next to the park, Eisenhower National Historic Site offers groups a look at the farm and home where President Dwight Eisenhower hosted less-formal meetings with world leaders and relaxed with his wife, Mamie. Group reservations are available. Whitehill also suggests a stop at the area’s brand-new museum, the World War II American Experience and Education Center, which contains a jaw-dropping collection of artifacts and memorabilia. Special group offerings include guided tours, on-site dinners, guest speakers and more.