Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, and a Buffet
Almost 153 years ago, one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War took place in a small town named Gettysburg. The battle took place from July 1, 1863 to July 3, 1863. With the total estimated casualties around 51,000 dead, wounded, or missing, it is no wonder it was one of the bloodiest battles. The site of the battle is now known as Gettysburg National Military Park and encompasses 5,989 acres with close to 1,400 monuments, markers, and memorials spread out across it. The park also sees about 1.8 million visitors per year.
I had been to Gettysburg several times before, but my children had never been, so my wife and I decided to take them on a day trip to Gettysburg to explore the battlefield. The drive was about two hours and the kids were excited to be seeing a new site. When we arrived, we saw that the Visitor’s Center parking lot was already pretty full. After finding a spot we headed inside.
The Visitor’s Center is also the location of the Gettysburg Museum and the Gettysburg Cyclorama. We paid the admission for The Gettysburg Museum Experience which included the museum exhibits, film, and cyclorama. Our first stop was the theater to watch “A New Birth of Freedom” narrated by Morgan Freeman, a film about Gettysburg, the battle, and the aftermath of the battle.
At the conclusion of the film, we headed up the escalators to the cyclorama. The Gettysburg Cyclorama is a 377-foot-long, 42-foot-high oil painting by Paul Philippoteaux that completely encircles the viewing platform. The foreground is a three dimensional area littered with relics from the battle, grass, dirt, and wooden fences which make it hard to distinguish where the painting actually begins. After a short program, the lights are brought up so you can see the true beauty of this piece of art.
After taking in the cyclorama, we headed downstairs to view the museum exhibits. As we walked through the museum we saw swords, uniforms, firearms, personal effects, and many other items. While my 12-year old son was not as enthusiastic about the museum, my 10-year old daughter was. She wanted to see each and every last item and display. It made me feel proud to know that she wanted to learn about all of it.
At the end of our time in the museum we spent a few minutes in the gift shop before heading back to the car. There are several different ways to explore the battlefield. You can take a 2-hour guided tour with a licensed tour guide in your own vehicle. They also have guided bus tours that have scheduled departure times. Or if you just want to go your own route, you can take the auto tour on your own with a map. We opted to go our own way as we had a few spots we really wanted to see.
Our first stop was the Observation Tower on West Confederate Avenue. This spot gave me and my daughter a spectacular view of a huge portion of the battlefield from the Confederates side of the battlefield. Sadly, my wife and son were not feeling up to the challenge of climbing up the many steps. But as my daughter said after she decided to do it, it was their loss.
We then headed over to the top of Little Round Top. From here, you get another wonderful view of the battlefield. This is where you saw Jeff Daniels playing Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Infantry defend the advancing Confederate troops in the movie Gettysburg. The hill is strewn with plenty of memorials and monuments. One of which you can actually climb stairs to the top of for an even better view. It also looks down upon Devil’s Den, which was our next and last stop in the battlefield.
The Devil’s Den is a ridge that is strewn with huge boulders and rocks about 500 yards west and 100 below Little Round Top. It saw a large portion of action on the second day of the battle and is thought to be one of the more haunted areas of the battlefield as it saw about 2,600 casualties. My wife headed to the top of the area while my children and I climbed around and explored the rocks, imagining what it would be like to have fought a battle there.
After a few hours of being out in the battlefield, we decided to get lunch. A few years prior, my wife and I had visited Gettysburg with a tour group and ate at a local buffet. We decided it would be perfect. So we headed to General Pickett’s Buffets and filled our bellies. The food is pretty good quality, the staff is friendly, and on top of it all, it was affordable.
After lunch we decided to explore the town a little bit before heading home. We shopped our way through several souvenir shops and found a small candy store that got us all excited. Sweeet! is a small candy store on Baltimore Street that has over 2000 types of fun and retro candy. We spent easily 30 minutes in the store trying to decide what to buy. This store had so many candies that I remember from growing up and hadn’t seen in years. It was hard to decide! We finally each made our selections, grabbed a few regional sodas, and paid for our items. If you are ever in Gettysburg, you’ve got to stop by and check this shop out!
Our final stop before we headed home was the Gettysburg National Cemetery. We slowly walked through the site seeing all of the grave markers. It was amazing to see how many there were. I was truly amazed at the size of it all. Places like the Gettysburg National Cemetery and Arlington National Cemetery make me realize how truly thankful I am for all of the soldiers who have fought and are fighting for our great nation.