By Karen Hendricks
One hundred and fifty years ago, the Battle of Gettysburg claimed 51,000 casualties. Host to the bloodiest battle of the entire Civil War, the name “Gettysburg” became forever etched in history as the turning point in the war, as well as a pivotal point in America’s history.
“The losses in Gettysburg were unbearable and massive; nothing of its kind has happened since,”says Katie Lawhon, spokesperson for the Gettysburg National Military Park. “I think the Gettysburg story is enduring because of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, because of what Abraham Lincoln came and said here in Gettysburg in what was a very dark moment in our past. It’s a story of how we as a nation came back from that dark moment.”
Gettysburg’s Enduring Legacy
This year marks the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1 to 3, as well as the 150th commemoration of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on November 19. This banner year marks the mid-point of a five-year-long series of events commemorating America’s Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865.
The enduring legacy of Gettysburg’s hallowed battlefields typically attracts about 3 million annual visitors, but during 2013, those figures are projected to escalate to 4 million, according to Carl Whitehill, media relations manager at the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“This may arguably be the biggest anniversary in the state of Pennsylvania since the bicentennial of the United States in 1976,” Whitehill says. “The state and the region should be proud. The future of our country had a big stake in the outcome of this battle.”
At the heart of Gettysburg’s commemoration is a period of 10 days, June 28 to July 7. Within this timeframe, Gettysburg will host two major battle re-enactments, official Gettysburg National Military Park commemorative events across the 6,000-acre battlefield and a full slate of events staged by businesses in the tourism industry, which includes the grand opening of Gettysburg’s newest museum. Striving to tell portions of the Civil War story previously untold, the Seminary Ridge Museum will focus on the first day of battle, medicine, faith and race in the Civil War era.
One of the anniversary’s signature events is set for June 30, the eve of the battle anniversary. Gettysburg: A New Birth of Freedom will feature country music artist Trace Adkins singing the Star Spangled Banner accompanied by the United States Military Academy Orchestra, a keynote address by noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and dramatic readings of eyewitness battlefield accounts from both soldier and civilian perspectives. This free event will take place near Meade’s Headquarters on the sacred ground of the Gettysburg National Military Park. The ceremony concludes with a procession to Soldiers’ National Cemetery where luminaries will mark each of the 3,500 graves. The sequence of events will create “an incredible, special evening while the sun sets on the battlefield, setting the stage for an amazing week,” says Lawhon.
Retracing the Steps of History
Scores of National Park Service events continue from July 1 to 3, including interpretive programs such as hikes led by park rangers, hands-on programs designed for families and children like the Junior Ranger Program and a battalion-sized living history encampment featuring about 500 Union and Confederate re-enactors. The park is more than doubling the park ranger force for the height of the tourist season, according to Lawhon. She says, in her 20-year career with the National Park Service at Gettysburg, nothing can compare to the scope or magnitude of the 150th commemoration.
“The overall goal is to underscore the importance and relevance of the Gettysburg story in a way that appeals to the public, from all backgrounds and all ages, from the first-time visitor and the 20-year visitor alike,” says Lawhon.
Anniversary events on the battlefield culminate with the Pickett’s Charge Commemorative March, set for the afternoon of July 3. Visitors will retrace the steps of Confederate soldiers who made this courageous and tragic attack, exactly 150 years ago. The march will conclude with a playing of Taps.
National Park Service events are sandwiched between two major battle re-enactments taking place June 27 to 30 and July 4 to 7. Dozens of re-enactment events are also set for communities throughout Central Pennsylvania this summer commemorating lesser-known historical events that led up to the Battle of Gettysburg and took place in the aftermath.
“I would especially encourage residents within the region to explore events that help tell the story of how Gettysburg happened,” states Whitehill. “Events in Hunterstown, Cashtown, Hanover and Union Mills, Md. – these smaller-scale battles had great influence on the battle of Gettysburg. If you know the story of Gettysburg, these re-enactments are opportunities to learn and experience something new.”
Gettysburg’s Economic Ripples
The countdown to Gettysburg’s anniversary began about five years ago, according to Stephanie Lower, manager of downtown Gettysburg’s James Getty Hotel. That’s when guests began making reservations and plans for 2013, looking forward to the milestone. Today, her hotel, like nearly all accommodations in Adams County, is booked solid through the anniversary timeframe. A native of Gettysburg, Lower has worked in the tourism industry her entire life, starting with a position at the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau as a teen.
“Working during the 125th anniversary was one of the highlights of my life,” she recalls. But this summer’s anniversary is “the most exciting thing our town will experience during my 33 years in tourism. The 150th is history in the making, a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
The increase in tourism traffic brings an increased expectation for economic activity. Visitor spending was estimated at $605 million in 2011, according to Whitehill. This year, the economic barometer is expected to hit the $750 million mark. The ripple effect, Whitehill says, will extend throughout the region. With Adams County’s hotels and bed and breakfasts at capacity, many June and July visitors are booking accommodations in Franklin, Cumberland, Dauphin and York counties as well as other neighboring communities.
A New Generation of Tourism
Geo-tourism is one trend that Lower hopes to see continue in 2013 and beyond.
“It’s when people immerse themselves in the entire town and region,” Lower says. “We are starting to see a different generation of visitors – younger people who enjoy downtown galleries, restaurants and cafes, boutique hotels, wineries, our beautiful countryside, nature trails, including the close proximity of the Appalachian Trail. Then they realize there was a battle here and enjoy our world-class history. It is a new generation, one more generation removed from the Civil War. Perhaps a great-great-great-grandfather had ties to the Civil War.”
In the past, it was always the history, first and foremost, that attracted visitors to Gettysburg. Today, “living historians,” typically in period dress, literally step into the shoes of historical figures and serve as storytellers in order to help bridge generation gaps between the 1860s and today.
“It’s a privilege to engage and educate people of all generations about Gettysburg’s history,” says living historian Kim Corredetti of The Shriver House Museum, located on Gettysburg’s Baltimore Street. The restored home of George and Hettie Shriver and daughters Sadie and Mollie serves as a backdrop for the civilian side to Gettysburg’s history. The town’s population of 2,400 lived through and experienced the aftermath of one of America’s deadliest, most gruesome battles.
Sharing human stories that cross the boundaries of time helps keep Civil War history alive in 2013, and Corredetti says it “is the chance of a lifetime” and “a dream job.”
A native of New Jersey, Corredetti’s life-long love of history took hold during her childhood while venturing to Gettysburg on family vacations. She introduced her husband to Gettysburg during their 1993 honeymoon. In the midst of this summer’s 150th anniversary, the family will celebrate an anniversary of their own: It’s been 10 years since they moved to Gettysburg to raise their two children surrounded by the history they love so much.
History and storytelling seem to come naturally to Corredetti.
“I owe it all to my father,” she explains. “He always said his appreciation for history stemmed from a visit to Gettysburg in 1963, at the time of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. He was only 10 years old.”
Those in Gettysburg’s tourism industry hope that similar seeds planted in 2013’s anniversary visitors will grow in a new generation of Americans who appreciate Civil War history for their lifetimes as well.
Interpretive Programs for the Battle Anniversary,
Gettysburg National Military Park
A full slate of events organized by the National Park Service includes the Pickett’s Charge Commemorative March. Nearly all programs are free. For more information, call (717) 334-1124 or visit nps.gov/gett.
Independence Day Parade,
This special parade will highlight Gettysburg’s history and be followed by fireworks. The event is free. For more information, call (717) 334-6274 or visit gettysburgcivilwar150.com.
150th Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battle Re-enactment,
1085 Table Rock Road, Gettysburg
Thousands of re-enactors from across the world will stage battle re-enactments and field demonstrations. A family-oriented event, additional features include a living history village, guest speakers and sutlers. For more information, visit gettysburgreenactment.com.
The Shriver House Museum,
309 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg
Presenting the civilian side of the Gettysburg story, tours include all four floors of the restored 1860s-era home, from the Confederate sharpshooters nest in the garret, to the cellar that housed Shrivers’ Saloon. For more information, call (717) 337-2800 or visit shriverhouse.org.
The Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau –
(717) 334-6274, gettysburg.travel or gettysburgcivilwar150.com.
Central Pa. Events Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War:
Through December 31 1863 Exhibit, The National Civil War Museum; One Lincoln Circle at Reservoir Park, Harrisburg See some of the museum’s rarest 1863 artifacts, not regularly on display, in this exhibit commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. For more information, call (717) 260-1861 or visit nationalcivilwarmuseum.org.
June 15-30 150th Anniversary of the Civil War
River Towns: Columbia, Marietta and Wrightsville Celebrate anniversary events with York and Lancaster counties’ river towns, through a slate of events including Underground Railroad tours, a Civil War kids’ camp, historic walking tours, cemetery tours, Civil War encampments, speakers and a Civil War ball. Events kick off June 15 with the annual Juneteenth parade in Columbia. Don’t miss “Flames Across the Susquehanna,” a commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge on June 28. Most events are free. For more information, call (717) 684-2489 or visit rivertownes.org.
June 29 – July 2 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Hanover; various locations in Hanover Coinciding with the town’s 250th anniversary, events are planned to highlight the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hanover, which took place on July 2, 1863. A parade kicks off festivities on June 29 followed by downtown entertainment. Nearly 200 cavalry will take part in a demonstration on July 2 at Hanover’s Sheppard Farm, to mark the opening action on the road to Gettysburg. Some events are free, except for the July 2 re-enactment. Call (717) 334-2828 for July 2 tickets. For more information, visit hanover2013.com and lcacnet.org.
July 13-28 ChambersFest; Throughout downtown Chambersburg An annual celebration of the rebirth of Chambersburg following the Confederate burning of 1864, this two-week festival features music, entertainment, food, a quilt show, running and biking events, Arts at Old Market Day and Chambersburg Civil War seminars. Don’t miss the Burning of Chambersburg re-enactment on July 20. Most events are free. For more information, call (717) 264-7101 or visit chambersburg.org.