GETTYSBURG — This historic Southcentral Pennsylvania town of 7,000 people is bracing for its most significant invasion since the armies of the North and South collided July 1-3, 1863.
As many as 200,000 visitors are expected to be in Gettysburg between June 28 and July 7 to take in some of the 400 scheduled events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the turning point battle of the Civil War.
“The eyes of the world are on us,” said Norris Flowers, president of the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Limiting congestion and getting visitors to where they want to go have been the biggest logistical challenges for anniversary planners, considering there will be days when as many as 35,000 people could be in town. A major objective is keeping traffic moving through Lincoln Square, where the crossroads for many of the activities tend to narrow.
The primary strategy in a 100-page traffic management plan for the 10-day period employs a generous network of satellite parking areas, and encouraging visitors to use an expanded Freedom Transit shuttle system.
“Our goal is to keep autos out and all the people in,” said Rich Farr of the York-Adams Transit Authority.
“Do some homework before coming to Gettysburg,” urged Carl Whitehill, media relations manager for the Gettysburg CVB. “Figure out what you want to do, where it is and the best way to get there. If you are heading straight to the re-enactment from Carlisle on July 4-7, you don’t need to come into the square in Gettysburg, necessarily.”
Satellite parking and Freedom Transit pickup will be available at Harrisburg Area Community College and Gettysburg High School lots on Old Harrisburg Road/Business Route 15, Gateway Gettysburg at the intersection of Route 15 and 30, Outlet Shoppes at Gettysburg at the intersection of Route 15 and 97, and the Eisenhower Hotel on Route 15, south of Gettysburg. Buses to both re-enactments will run from the community college and high school parking lots.
The Gettysburg CVB will use social media and radio station Great Country 107.7 for real-time updates.
A tourist area that usually welcomes 3 million visitors annually, Gettysburg is expecting 4 million guests throughout the 150th anniversary year. Carl Whitehill, of the CVB, said while there are a few open hotel rooms in town due to cancellations, visitors are making reservations as far away as Harrisburg and Hagerstown, Md.
“We often remind ourselves to put this in perspective of how big this is and how much attention is on us,” Whitehill said. “We need to enjoy this a little bit. We all will have our nose to the grindstone for 10 days, but I think we need to make sure we look up once in a while and enjoy this because we are part of a very significant moment in Gettysburg history. It’s exciting to be in the home stretch.”
The Gettysburg CVB website, www.gettysburgcivilwar150.com, is the source for information about the 150th anniversary in Gettysburg and a complete list of events.
Whitehill said planners have honed in on five “signature” events that will attract the largest crowds and demand the most of its transportation infrastructure.
Re-enactors from 16 countries will take to the fields of the David Redding farm on Table Rock Road, north of Gettysburg, for the National Civil War Battle Re-enactment, July 4-7, to bring history alive for tens of thousands of spectators.
It is the anniversary’s single largest activity.
For the 150th anniversary, a fourth day was added to this traditional event. This is the 18th year the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee has produced re-enactments. Planning for this year’s revival began five years ago, after the 145th anniversary event closed.
As many as 12,000 re-enactors are expected to participate in this year’s extravaganza. About 400 horses have been registered and 135 full-sized cannons will be used.
Two battles will be fought each day. Soldier and civilian re-enactors will re-create the 1860s through cavalry, infantry and artillery battles, encampments and demonstrations. Visitors can get an up-close look at cavalry, artillery and the lives that soldiers led during the Civil War, as well as hear period music and ghost stories, see Civil War weddings and medicine demonstrations, and get the chance to eavesdrop on discussions by military officers.
A highlight of the final day, July 7, is the battle “The High Water Mark” Pickett’s Charge at 3:30 p.m.
“Gettysburg is the Mecca for Civil War re-enacting, and this may be the last mega re-enactment with these kind of numbers the public will ever see,” event organizer Randy Phiel said. “As we move further from the Civil War and ancestors who fought in it, re-enacting is an aging hobby with young folks not replacing at the rate of retirements, and the economics cost. I know for many re-enactors this is their swan song.
“Re-enacting is not going away, especially at Gettysburg,” Phiel said.
A new battle re-enactment for the 150th anniversary was organized by the Blue-Gray Alliance and will take place on the Bushey Farm, south of Gettysburg near the intersection of Pumping Station and Bullfrog roads, June 27-30.
It is estimated that more than 7,000 re-enactors will participate, and spectators are estimated to number in the thousands. Actual re-enactments will be presented June 29 and 30 only. The site is closed to the public on June 27 and 28 when re-enactors will perform “practice runs” of the scenarios.
Battle action includes fighting near McPherson’s Ridge, Culp’s Hill, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, Wheatfield and Pickett’s Charge.
“We believe history is real. We experience it first-hand,” overall commander General Terry Shelton said. “And this event is an opportunity for the public to really immerse themselves in the experience.”
For more information, go to www.bluegraygettysburg.com.
A commemoration ceremony at the Gettysburg National Military Park that features country music star Trace Adkins and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on Sunday, June 30, will serve as a prelude to many of the 150th anniversary events.
The program “Gettysburg: A New Birth of Freedom” will be free, outdoors and public, near General Meade’s headquarters on Taneytown Road, beginning at 7:30 p.m. with a musical prelude.
Adkins will perform the national anthem, backed by the U.S. Military Academy Orchestra. Goodwin will deliver the keynote address. The ceremony will also include a “Voices of History,” dramatic reading of eyewitness accounts written by soldiers and citizens swept into the events of the Battle and its tragic aftermath.
The gathering will proceed to the Soldier’s National Cemetery to view luminaries marking each of the more than 3,500 graves of soldiers killed in the Battle.
The new Seminary Ridge Museum will open on Monday, July 1, 150 years to the day that fighting raged on its grounds and the structure was thrust into service as the battle’s largest field hospital. Its historic cupola was used as a lookout point during fighting.
The museum on the campus of the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary tells the story of the early stages of the battle, Civil War medicine, and the role that faith played in the conflict.
Skirmishes, an encampment, living history, period music and the Virginia History Mobile exhibit will be on the grounds for three days, beginning Saturday, June 29. Camps open at noon.
The grand opening and ribbon cutting on July 1 will take place at 10 a.m., followed by a ceremonial cannon-firing.
On July 3, a Pickett’s Charge commemorative march will put visitors in the footprints of soldiers on both sides of the fateful attack, at the Gettysburg National Military Park, from 3 to 4:30 p.m.
Nine National Park Service rangers will lead groups from Seminary Ridge, representing each of the Confederate assaulting brigades, across the same fields of destiny on July 3, 1863. Across the way, three rangers will assemble groups on Cemetery Ridge, where men of three Union divisions awaited the attack.
Other events are planned on the battlefield during the anniversary.
Living history encampments of two full battalions of Union and Confederate infantrymen, with artillery, will present demonstrations near the Pennsylvania Monument and Pitzer’s Woods throughout the days, July 1-3.
Key moment programs from July 1-4 will be 30-minute overviews of action at specific locations on the day of certain battles, such as McPherson’s Ridge, Barlow’s Knoll, Little Round Top, Devil’s Den and the High Water Mark. Shuttles will move visitors from the stadium lot at Gettysburg College to program sites.
Also on the schedule are overview hikes and “Voices of Battle” audio eyewitness accounts of the soldiers and civilians who experienced the tragedy of the battle.
A Confederate field hospital will be set up at the historic Daniel Lady Farm on Hanover Road, June 28 to July 4, for visitors to see demonstrations of pill making during the 1860s and minor surgery, such as bullet extraction, amputations and more.
Actor Stephen Lang will perform “The Wheatfield,” the personal story of a Medal of Honor recipient, at the Park Museum and Visitor Center, Taneytown Road, July 1 at 7 p.m. The world premiere of the short film “The Wheatfield,” written and acted by Lang, will follow.
An Independence Day Parade will make its way through downtown Gettysburg on July 3 at 7 p.m.
The 1938 dedication of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, off Mummasburg Road, will be commemorated on June 29 at 2 p.m., with Major General Anthony Cucolo, commandant of the U.S. Army War College, as the featured speaker. The Old Guard U.S. Third Infantry will also participate.
A free, commemoration Family Festival will take place at Adams County Winery, 251 Peach Tree Road, Orrtanna, on June 29, at 1 p.m., featuring living history figures, local authors, re-enactors, live music, family- and children-related activities, and official 150th anniversary wines.
On July 6, from 5 to 9 p.m., Confederate re-enactors will again take over the Shriver House on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg, as the original troops did during the Battle. Visitors will be able to learn first-hand from re-enactors. It is the only re-enactment in town at the place where original action occurred.
Special showings of the movies “Copperhead” and “The Gettysburg Story” will be offered at the Majestic Theater on Carlisle Street in Gettysburg throughout the 10 days.
Stage productions of the new Civil War drama “Children of Gettysburg” and the Broadway musical “The Civil War” will play at the Community Theatre on York Street in Gettysburg through July 6.
A complete schedule of 150th Anniversary events in Gettysburg can be found at www.gettysburgcivilwar150.com