Exploring the Battlefield at the Gettysburg National Military Park

Exploring the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg Pennsylvania.

If you’re looking for information about touring the battlefield at the Gettysburg National Military Park, you’re in the right place!

The statue "Winged Victory" on top of the Pennsylvania monument dome was created from melted down Civil War cannons and stands roughly 100 feet above the ground.
The statue “Winged Victory” on top of the Pennsylvania monument dome was created from melted down Civil War cannons and stands roughly 100 feet above the ground.

The Gettysburg National Military Park preserves a large portion of the ground on which the Battle of Gettysburg took place, one of the defining events in our nation’s history.

Pennsylvania historical marker near the site where the first shots of the Battle of Gettysburg were fired.
Pennsylvania historical marker near the site where the first shots of the Battle of Gettysburg were fired.

The battle, fought July 1-3, 1863, pitted the roughly 70,000-strong Confederate Army of Northern Virginia (commanded by General Robert E. Lee) against the roughly 94,000-strong Union Army of the Potomac (commanded by Major General George G. Meade).

Informational signage about Major General George Meade on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Informational signage about Major General George Meade.

Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, with combined losses between the two opposing armies of (roughly) 8,000 soldiers killed in action and another 40,000 wounded, captured, or missing in action.

The graves of unknown Union soldiers with the New York Monument in the background.
The graves of unknown Union soldiers at the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg.

Although the Union victory here did not end the Civil War, it essentially forced General Lee and his Confederate army into a defensive war of attrition, eventually leading to his surrender in April, 1865.

Statue of General Lee on top of the Virginia Monument on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Statue of General Lee on top of the Virginia Monument on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Recognizing the significance of the Battle of Gettysburg, private citizens began purchasing parts of the battlefield to preserve it as early as September 1863, just two months after the battle.

2 of the 147 historical building on the Gettysburg battlefield.
2 of the 147 historical building on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Eventually veterans groups and then the the Federal Government became involved, and through a combination of land purchases, land donations, and eminent domain, the Gettysburg National Military Park was born.

Sign near the entrance to the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center.
Sign near the entrance to the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center.

Today the park encompasses nearly 6,000 acres, including large portions of the original battlefield and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery as well.

One of the many monuments at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
One of the many monuments at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg.

At a ceremony dedicating this cemetery created for the more than 3,500 Union soldiers killed in action there, President Lincoln gave what would become known as the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in American history.

Lincoln Address Memorial at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
Lincoln Address Memorial at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Touring the Gettysburg Battlefield

My advice to first-time visitors to the Gettysburg battlefield is to explore the Visitor Center at the Gettysburg National Military Park before you do anything else.

The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.
The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.

Through a combination of short films, interpretive exhibits, and relics, the museum and visitor center will help you better understand the cast of characters, the critical events, and the geographic features of the Gettysburg battlefield that helped shape the 3-day battle’s outcome.

Exhibit inside the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War at the battlefield visitor center.
Exhibit inside the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War at the battlefield visitor center.

That way, when you step onto the battlefield, you’ll have a general idea of what you’re looking at, as opposed to trying to blindly decipher the importance of the roughly 1,400 monuments, tablets, plaques, and markers on the grounds!

The monument to the 4th New York Independent Battery near Devil's Den, with Little Round Top in the background.
The monument to the 4th New York Independent Battery near Devil’s Den, with Little Round Top in the background.

How to Tour the Battlefield

There are a myriad of ways to tour the Gettysburg battlefield, each with pros and cons as far as expense, flexibility, and personal attention.

There are numerous ways to tour the Gettysburg battlefield, each with advantages and disadvantages.
There are numerous ways to tour the Gettysburg battlefield, each with advantages and disadvantages.

If you want to tour it on the cheap and at your own pace, you can simply pick up a free self-guided driving tour map at the visitor center and strike out on you own – there is NO FEE to drive around the Gettysburg battlefield.

The monument to Lieutenant General James Longstreet along West Confederate Avenue on the Gettysburg battlefield.
The monument to Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet along West Confederate Avenue on the Gettysburg battlefield.

If you’d rather have someone else do the driving while an expert narrates, you can book passage on a guided bus tour.

The monument to the 42nd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment featuring the Delaware Indian Chief Tammany, symbol for the New York City's Tammany Hall political organization.
The monument to the 42nd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment featuring the Delaware Indian Chief Tammany, symbol for New York City’s Tammany Hall political organization.

If you want the ultimate combination of expertise and personalized attention, you can hire a Licensed Battlefield Guide to take you on a private tour, where you can tweak the tour to your own specific interests (that’s what I did on my most recent visit).

The Eternal Light Peace Memorial at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
The Eternal Light Peace Memorial on the battlefield.

When deciding how you want to tour it, keep in mind that the Gettysburg National Military Park covers 6,000 acres and has more than 40 miles of roads (many one-way) running through it.

A map showing the size and location of the Gettysburg National Military Park in relation to the town of Gettysburg.
A map showing the size and location of the Gettysburg National Military Park in relation to the town of Gettysburg.

So if you really want to get the most out of your visit, my advice is to take some form of guided tour first, and then go back and revisit anything you wanted to examine more closely on your own, once you have a better grasp of the layout of the park.

There are approximately 400 cannons on display at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
There are approximately 400 cannons on display at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Highlights of the Gettysburg Battlefield Tour

Every single person that tours the expansive Gettysburg battlefield will take something different away from the experience, but here are 10 of the locations, monuments, and experiences I found to be the most powerful during my most recent visit.

Sunrise over the General Meade monument on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Sunrise over the General Meade monument on the Gettysburg battlefield.

1. Sunrise over the Gettysburg Battlefield

For a place that witnessed so much death and destruction, the tranquility of watching the sunrise over the battlefield is worth waking up early for.

A beautiful predawn sky over the Gettysburg battlefield in March 2023.
A beautiful predawn sky over the Gettysburg battlefield in March 2023.

Visitors are permitted on the battlefield from a half-hour before sunrise until a half-hour after sunset.

Sunrise over the monument to the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry Regiment on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Sunrise over the monument to the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry Regiment on the Gettysburg battlefield.

I found Cemetery Ridge in particular to be a spectacular spot to watch both the sunrise and sunset over the battlefield.

Sunset over the Gettysburg battlefield with the 11th New York Infantry monument in the foreground.
Sunset over the Gettysburg battlefield with the 11th New York Infantry monument in the foreground.

2. The John Burns Monument

John Burns was a Gettysburg local in his seventies who joined in the fight against the Confederates on the first day of the battle, survived despite being wounded 3 times, and became a folk hero after the battle.

The John Burns monument on the Gettysburg battlefield emmulates the Minuteman statue in Lexington Massachusetts.
The John Burns monument on the Gettysburg battlefield emulates the Minuteman statue in Lexington, Massachusetts.

3. Sallie the Dog

Sallie was an American Pitbull and canine mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry, accompanying the soldiers into battle where she would bark furiously at the enemy.

Sallie the Dog on the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment monument at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Sallie is one of two dogs depicted on monuments at Gettysburg and the only one representing a dog who was actually in the battle.

Sallie was separated from her regiment during the chaos of the Battle of Gettysburg, but survived and was reunited with the survivors of the the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry after the Confederates retreated; today she stands eternal watch at the foot of the regimental monument on the battlefield.

Monument to the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

4. The Devil’s Den

There is perhaps no Pennsylvania rock formation more famous than the Devil’s Den.

Devil's Den on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Devil’s Den on the Gettysburg battlefield.

This jumbled mass of large volcanic boulders became the scene of intense and bloody infantry fighting on the second day of the battle.

Looking east towards Little Round Top from Devil's Den on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Looking east towards Little Round Top from Devil’s Den on the Gettysburg battlefield.

One of the most famous photos of the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg was taken at the Devil’s Den.

An informational sign about Civil Was photography featuring the image of a deceased Confederate sharpshooter at Devil's Den on the Gettysburg battlefield.
An informational sign about Civil Was photography featuring the image of a deceased Confederate sharpshooter at Devil’s Den on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Today the scene at that exact spot is eerily similar.

The spot at Devil's Den where one of the most famous photos taken after the Battle of Gettysburg was created.
The spot at Devil’s Den where one of the most famous photos taken after the Battle of Gettysburg was created.

5. Seminary Ridge

Seeing first-hand this vast open space that the Confederate troops had to cross to attack the Union position on Seminary Ridge on Day 1 of the battle really helped me to understand why the casualties were so high on this portion of the battlefield.

Facing east towards Seminary Ridge on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Facing east towards Seminary Ridge on the Gettysburg battlefield.

6. The Opening Gun of the Battle of Gettysburg

Although it may be just 1 of the 400-plus cannons on display at the Gettysburg National Military Park, this particular cannon, manufactured in Phoenixville PA, fired the first Union artillery shot of the battle.

The opening cannon of the Battle of Gettysburg was a 3-inch ordnance rifle manufactured in 1862 at the Phoenix Iron Company in Phoenixville, PA.
The opening cannon of the Battle of Gettysburg was a 3-inch ordnance rifle manufactured in 1862 at the Phoenix Iron Company in Phoenixville, PA.

You’ll find it at the base of the monument dedicated to Union Brigadier General John Buford along U.S. 30, just west of Gettysburg.

The monument to Union Brigadier General John Buford along U.S. 30 just west of Gettysburg.
The monument to Union Brigadier General John Buford along U.S. 30 just west of Gettysburg.

7. Rickett’s Battery Monument

Although today his name is synonymous with Pennsylvania’s most famous waterfall hike and the state park named for him, Captain Robert B. Ricketts served with distinction as an artillery officer at Gettysburg, and was promoted to Colonel by the end of the war.

Rickett's Battery monument on East Cemetery Hill on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Rickett’s Battery monument on East Cemetery Hill on the Gettysburg battlefield.

8. The High Water Mark of the Rebellion Monument

This bronze book flanked by cannons marks the spot where the famed Confederate assault known as “Pickett’s Charge” came to a disastrous end in the face of Union artillery and infantry fire on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg; this is considered by many historians to be the turning point in the Civil War.

Monument marking the "High Water Mark of the Rebellion" on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Monument marking the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion” on the Gettysburg battlefield.

9. The Pennsylvania Monument

The Pennsylvania Monument is the largest monument on the Gettysburg battlefield, reaching a height of 110 feet at the tip of Winged Victory’s sword.

Sunset illuminating the Pennsylvania monument on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Sunset illuminating the Pennsylvania monument on the Gettysburg battlefield.

A spiral staircase takes visitors up into the base of the dome, which offers a panoramic view of the battlefield.

Looking west over the Gettysburg battlefield from the top of the Pennsylvania monument.
Looking west over the Gettysburg battlefield from the top of the Pennsylvania monument.

10. The Maryland Monument

Perhaps no monument on the battlefield better illustrates the “brother against brother” undercurrent of the Civil War more poignantly than this one, which depicts two wounded Marylanders, one Union and one Confederate, helping each other on the battlefield.

The Maryland monument on the Gettysburg battlefield depicts two wounded Marylanders, one Union and one Confederate, helping each other on the battlefield.
The Maryland monument on the Gettysburg battlefield depicts two wounded Marylanders, one Union and one Confederate, helping each other on the battlefield.

More than 3,000 Marylanders served on both sides of the conflict at the Battle of Gettysburg.

More than 3,000 Marylanders served on both sides of the conflict at the Battle of Gettysburg.
More than 3,000 Marylanders served on both sides of the conflict at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Why Tour the Gettysburg Battlefield

A question some will ask is “why would anyone want to tour a place where so much death and misery occurred?”

Fall foliage at Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg
Soldiers’ National Cemetery at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

And my answer is that while it’s true the Battle of Gettysburg was one of one of the darkest days in America’s history, the Gettysburg National Military Park itself serves as a symbol of remembrance, reunion, and renewal.

Informational signage on the Getysburg battlefield depicting one of the reunions between Union and Confederate veterans of the battle.
Informational signage on the Gettysburg battlefield depicting a reunion between Union and Confederate veterans of the battle.

The park does not glorify the Civil War; it humanizes the costs of the Civil War on this its bloodiest battlefield.

Monument to the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Monument to the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment depicting a fallen soldier.

The park is also a testament to the healing of the battlefield itself.

One of the many farms on the battlefield at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
One of the many farms on the battlefield at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

That these farms and fields ravaged by war are peaceful and pastoral once more is both a symbolic and ecological victory, well worth honoring and preserving.

Worm fences were popular in Gettysburg at the time of the Civil War, as they did don require post holes to be dug in the rocky soil.
Worm fences were popular in Gettysburg at the time of the Civil War, as they did don require post holes to be dug in the rocky soil.

In short, few historic sites in Pennsylvania will have a larger “in-person” impact on you that the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Silence and respect marker at Gettysburg National Cemetery.
Silence and respect marker at Gettysburg National Cemetery.

However you choose to tour it, you’ll likely come away from your visit to Gettysburg with a renewed sense of respect for those who fought and died on this hallowed ground in 1863.

Sunset over The Angle on Cemetery Ridge at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Sunset over The Angle on Cemetery Ridge at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

11 Must-See Attractions in Gettysburg is you guide to more of the best things to see and do in Gettysburg.

Some of the best things to see and do in Gettysburg Pennsylvania.
Some of the best things to see and do in Gettysburg.

The Jennie Wade House is a historic landmark that memorializes the life and untimely death of Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.

A photo collage from the Jennie Wade House in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Top left is the house's exterior with the statue of Jennie Wade. Top right shows a tour guide in period attire inside the house. Bottom left depicts a bedroom with a bed and a quilt. Bottom right is the establishment sign of the Jennie Wade House from 1901.
Scenes from the Jennie Wade House.

The Gettysburg Museum of History is home to thousands of unusual artifacts and atypical antiquities from American history, and admission is FREE!

A photo collage from the Gettysburg Museum of History in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Top left shows the museum's street sign featuring an eagle and proclaiming 'FREE MUSEUM'. Top right depicts an exhibit with Civil War artifacts, including portraits and a chair. Bottom left is an interior view with various memorabilia and a large presidential seal. Bottom right presents military uniforms and World War memorabilia. Each image displays a part of the rich historical collection of the museum.
Scenes from the Gettysburg Museum of History.

Sachs Covered Bridge was crossed by both Union AND Confederate troops during the Battle of Gettysburg, and was designated “Pennsylvania’s most historic covered bridge” in 1938 by the PA Department of Highways.

Exploring Sachs Covered Bridge in Adams County Pennsylvania.
Scenes from Sachs Covered Bridge.

October 2023 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the motion picture Gettysburg, and I was fortunate enough to be a guest at a star-studded event IN Gettysburg celebrating the occasion!

Gettysburg the Movie 30th Anniversary Celebration recap.
Scenes from the Gettysburg the Movie | 30th Anniversary Celebration.

The historic Round Barn near Gettysburg is one of the most interesting and beautiful barns in Pennsylvania!

Exploring the Historic Round Barn near Gettysburg Pennsylvania
Scenes from the Round Barn near Gettysburg.

Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium near Gettysburg just may be the best elephant-themed roadside attraction in Pennsylvania!

An elephant-themed water garden in front of Mister Ed's Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium.
Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium near Gettysburg.

Exploring the Best National Park Sites in Pennsylvania is your guide to even more Keystone State attractions managed by or affiliated with the National Park Service.

The best National Park sites in Pennsylvania.
Some of the best National Park sites in Pennsylvania.

Did you enjoy this article?

If so, be sure to like and follow PA Bucket List on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Pinterest to learn more about the best things to see and do in Pennsylvania!

Click on any of the icons below to get connected to PA Bucket List on social media.


PA Bucket List 2022 Sasquatch Logo

Pennsylvania’s Best Travel Blog!

Rusty Glessner
Rusty Glessner is a professional photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and a frequently-cited authority on PA's best travel destinations.