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Gettysburg: A Step Into American History

Think of Gettysburg and what comes to mind? The Civil War. Abraham Lincoln. Green battle fields that stretch all the way to the horizon. Fifty thousand soldiers, Confederate and Union, whose blood was spilled in those fields.

The word "spiritual" isn’t usually one of the words associated with Gettysburg, but it should be. Contemplative and inspirational should be in the lexicon, too.

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Those planning a trip to Gettysburg in the spring would do well to check out the accommodations at the Wyndham Hotel where a leisurely, complimentary breakfast in the hotel’s second-floor restaurant can be enjoyed. The self-serve food is high quality and there’s no waitstaff hovering about to interrupt conversation about the day’s itinerary.

The Wyndham also offers complimentary tickets for an afternoon or evening viewing of a 30-minute film titled "Fields of Freedom." Seeing the film is a must before venturing off to the sites where the Battle of Gettysburg took place between July 1 and 3, 1863 under the command of Generals Robert E. Lee and George Meade.

The film transports viewers to the Battle of Gettysburg just as it happened – with booming cannons, explosive gunshot and pitiful cries of the wounded as they lay dying. Based on discovered diaries of soldiers from both sides, "Fields of Freedom" immerses viewers in the lives of two young men as they prepare for the bloody onslaught. The ferocious nature of the battle and its lingering anguish is right there on the screen in vivid color.

An even more intense Battle of Gettysburg is at the National Military Park Cyclorama, a 360-degree circular oil-on-canvas painting that depicts "Pickett’s Charge," the climactic Confederate attack on the Union on July 3, 1863. Completed and exhibited in 1884, it is one of the last surviving cycloramas in the United States. The massive oil-on-canvas painting circles a central platform where life-size figures and landscaped foregrounds surround viewers. The effect is so life-like that viewers feel as if they are in the middle of the war themselves.

The spiritual nature of Gettysburg is felt most deeply when climbing to the top of a tower near the battlefields where visitors can gaze out over the expanse of land that seems to continue on for miles on end. The imagination is free to wander, conjuring up visions of soldiers in woolen uniforms trudging their way across the blood-spattered snow-covered fields in winter and sweltering in summer under a punishing sun, cannon balls flying through the air and muskets aimed at the enemy.

Civil War re-enactments are spontaneous and frequent, especially near the encampments, where folks are often seen in 1860s attire walking along downtown Gettysburg streets. Near the battlefield the former home and farm of President Dwight D. Eisenhower is now a national historic site open for tours, and a Hall of Presidents features sculpted wax figures of national leaders and their first ladies.

Today, Gettysburg is surrounded by lush vegetation and farmland. A tour of the Adams County Winery is close by as are a horse farm and apple orchards.

The National Park Service is currently working on a restoration project in the battlefields where they will remove 576 acres of non-historic trees, re-plant 115 acres of historic trees and replace 160 acres of orchards using ornamental instead of fruit-bearing trees. They will also maintain firewood, lots and thickets to appear as they did during battle. The NPS is doing this to enhance people’s experience of the battle and to create a sanitized Disney-esque version of history.

Gettysburg in any season is a must-see place for every American. Absent the Civil War, America would not have evolved into what it is today: a land of the free, a land of the brave. And it can all be seen in one perfect day.

What & Where:
Wyndham Hotel
(877-999-3223; 95 Presidential Cir, Gettysburg, PA)
Gettysburg National Military Park Museum (717-334-1124; 1195 Baltimore Pike off Route 97)*
Eisenhower National Historic Site (Take a shuttle from the Visitor Center. Visitors can purchase their tickets for the shuttle to the Eisenhower Farm at the ticketing counter.)

*Getting There:
Gettysburg National Military Park is located in Adams County, Pennsylvania. The museum and visitor center is located at 1195 Baltimore Pike (Route 97) with a back entrance from the Taneytown Road (State Rt. 134). From North or South, follow US 15 to Gettysburg and watch for signs to direct you to the National Park Service Visitor Center. The signs are near the exit at Rt. 97. Go north on Route 97 and look for the visitor center entrance, which will be on your left at the stoplight. From East or West, drive into Gettysburg on US Rt. 30, turn South on Baltimore Street (Rt. 97), and follow signs to the entrance of the visitor center, which will be on your right at the stoplight.

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