Day 15: The Long Road of the Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg National Cemetery. Photo: Jenny Williams

Trip fatigue has set in. On a usual vacation, after about two weeks, I’m ready to come home. After three weeks (I’ve only had a true vacation that long once in my adult life), I was dying to come home. It’s been two weeks on this trip so far, and I’m definitely ready to come home. Except that we still have 25 more days to go. I will make the most of it, and I truly look forward to seeing the people we will see, but the appeal of the attractions and museums we will see has decreased considerably. I hope I regain my enthusiasm before we hit D.C. (We drive there on Day 18.) I suppose people who travel for really long stretches of time have to hit their stride at some point. But the annoyances of travel start to stand out more as time goes on.

Lincoln at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Photo: Jenny Williams

That being said, we saw some really interesting things in Gettysburg today. Gettysburg is a neat, historic town that happened to have one of the most famous (or the most famous) Civil War battles fought here. The town is in the middle, and the Gettysburg National Military Park encircles it. The easiest way to see the important sites is to do the well-marked auto route.

If you happen to come, stop by the Visitor’s Center first. There you can get a map of the whole town (including the auto route) as well as visit the museum and/or the cyclorama (though those cost money). A warning, though: They don’t allow backpacks in the Visitor’s Center. I wasn’t about to leave my netbook and iPad in the car, so I made the kids wait outside with my backpack while I ran in and got a map and a Junior Ranger booklet.

One typical view from the auto route. Photo: Jenny Williams

The Junior Ranger program is something that most (all?) National Parks have for kids to keep them entertained while they learn. It gives them something to do on their level that will make it easier to understand what they are seeing. My kids are sharing one booklet, and it has bingo, a word search, a monument study, a make-your-own-auto-route page, an in-depth study of the cemetery, and many more things. Kids do the activities to earn a certain number of points, and then get a certificate at the end. We’ll show their work in the morning when they’ve had a chance to do the items that they can do in the hotel room. They already did a number of them driving around today. We managed to do the whole auto route today, not too quickly, in about 4 or 4 1/2 hours. Considering there were 16 stops, that’s pretty leisurely. But there was a lot to see, and we got out of the car at about 1/4 of the stops, seeing some of the important sites more in depth.

Another view from the auto route. Photo: Jenny Williams

At the Visitor’s Center, thanks to GeekMom Patricia Vollmer’s advice, I also asked about trading cards. The park ranger guy was happy to give them to me, but he said normally kids have to earn them over several days of activities. Yet he gave me a complete set for each of my kids. So now they have Gettysburg trading cards. How cool is that? They don’t have anyone to trade with, of course, but they probably wouldn’t even if they could.

We actually started our driving tour at the Gettysburg National Cemetery, even though that was the final stop on the auto route. We mostly stopped there because we passed it first. I’m glad we started there because it was important for us to see the location where Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address, and seeing the site to the fullest involved a lot of walking and much of it in the hot sun. The cemetery is filled with all of the Union Civil War dead, and many veterans and other people from other times. There are many trees in the cemetery, and all are labeled as to what they are. I think they were trying to represent trees from different parts of the country, to bring everyone together as one. But that’s just a guess.

The Pennsylvania Memorial. Photo: Jenny Williams

Driving around the auto route, we learned that the route, and the town in general, are filled with regularly placed monuments and memorials for specific regiments, various important officers, and other reasons. The whole town is a museum. Every street and nook seems to have something there from the battle.

It was interesting to see battlefields that are now wheat fields. Or just empty valleys. It was hard to picture the sheer numbers of men, the blood, the desperation, the death. But driving through the forested areas, I could just picture the soldiers running around, hiding from each other, shooting and killing each other. I imagined where the sharpshooter was that mortally wounded my great great great grandfather at Little Round Top. Jeremiah Mosher Sample was well-respected by his company (of which he was the Captain), and was greatly missed.

Captain Jeremiah Mosher Sample. The star indicates that he was killed or mortally wounded. Photo: Jenny Williams

The Battle of Gettysburg is a very well-documented battle. There are so many signs to read, monuments to respect, scenes to consider, and graves over which to mourn. You can’t possibly see everything, even if you spent more time than we did. But the auto route gave us a really good overview of the battle, and some peeks into the importance of it all. The auto route seems designed to allow close study since you cal pull over just about anywhere along the route. Perfect for taking your time.

Despite all of my pre-planning for this trip, I got one pleasant surprise. One of the stops on the auto route was the Pennsylvania Memorial, which is a giant structure erected to honor not only those from Pennsylvania who died, but also every Pennsylvania soldier who fought at Gettysburg. The names of all of these soldiers are listed on the memorial. Fortunately, I knew that Jeremiah Mosher Sample was the Captain of Company E of the 139th Infantry, so it was easy to find his name listed. Since we had been unable to find his grave in Pittsburgh, it was especially satisfying to me to see his name listed here. It gave me some amount of closure for my search.

This is the general area on Little Round Top where Jeremiah Mosher Sample was shot by a Confederate sharpshooter. Photo: Jenny Williams

Being out and about most of the day, especially with kids, bathroom stops are important to find. Fortunately, they are regularly placed throughout town. The best one, though, was on a side route from the main auto route, kind of in the middle of nowhere. It was extremely clean, smelled fine, and had very few bugs.

After our auto route drive, we headed to the historic downtown and walked around a bit. I thought there would be some awesome shops, but I didn’t see anything worth mentioning. Perhaps we walked in the wrong direction? Mostly I saw galleries and restaurants. It’s just as well. For tomorrow we head to Amish Country!

The bathroom that was sparkling clean. Photo: Jenny Williams

Drove: Around town, including about 20 miles on the auto tour route.

States: Pennsylvania.

Weather: Humid, hot in the sun, cooler in the shade.

Kids: They both fell apart over a word search issue with their Junior Ranger booklet while driving around the auto route. Other than that, they were quite patient, and interested in most of what we did.

Best Part of the Day: Seeing “Captain J M Sample” listed on the Pennsylvania Memorial.

Worst Part of the Day: Feeling cut off from home.

What I’ve Learned on the Trip: My feeling that history is truly in the east and not the west is completely founded in reality, at least for the history in which I’m interested. I do miss being this close to the parts of the country that were so pivotal in our nation’s history.

Total GeekDads Visited: 5.


About Jenny Bristol

Jenny Bristol is a lifelong geek who spends her time learning, writing, homeschooling her two wickedly smart kids, playing board games, and mastering the art of traveling on a shoestring.
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One Response to Day 15: The Long Road of the Battle of Gettysburg

  1. AntonOlsen says:

    There is plenty of history in the west too, it’s just that most of it is very old and it is spread out farther.

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