A visitor reads information from atop Little Round Top, at the… (Patrick Smith, Baltimore…)
The site of the largest and most storied of all Civil War battles, Gettysburg National Military Park has the grandest visitor center of the battlefield parks. The 22,000-square-foot museum features relics and interactive exhibits on the struggle, a film and the restored Cyclorama, a 360-degree painting done in the late 19th century depicting Pickett's charge — the climactic, futile attempt by Lee's army to break the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded then by Gen. George G. Meade.
Practically surrounding the old town, Gettysburg battlefield park almost requires locomotion to see it all. The park service offers guided bus tours, escorted auto tours and a self-guided auto tour, with short walking trails along the way.
For the hardy, though, there's a trail guide put together by the Boy Scouts of America that covers hiking most of the battlefield. Years ago, I accompanied my Cub Scout son and a friend of his on the day-long 9-mile "Billy Yank" trek in blistering summer conditions similar to those soldiers on both sides endured during the battle.
Halfway through, my two young charges sat down at one of the countless monuments and declared themselves too hot and tired to go on. Feeling a bit like a sergeant facing a mutiny, I told them we had to keep walking — either back the way we had come, or forward to the line of trees in the distance.
Forward we went, and after resting a bit in the shade, we finished the hike in grand style. I'll never forget the final leg, trailing those two boys as they charged across the same broad open field where Pickett's men had gone down in history.
The United States is a better place for how Gettysburg turned out, but, Uncle William, wherever you are, we came to understand that day a bit of what you and others on both sides went through.
Getting there: Gettysburg National Military Park, 1195 Baltimore Pike (Route 97), in Adams County, Pa.
Hiking time: Allow a full day
Admission: Park entry is free. Admission to the visitors center and museum is $10.50 for adults, $9.50 for seniors and $6.50 for youths. Children under age 6 are free.