Gettysburg National Military Park is a superb example of our National Park system. This has become one of my favorite National Parks in terms of historical content and museum quality.
In preparation for our day in Gettysburg I read this post from Pit Stops for Kids. I also printed out this copy-work booklet for my kids to practice their cursive and to assist them in memorizing the Gettysburg Address. Yes, you read that correct…it is our goal to memorize it. When Chris first told his mom that we would be visiting the battlefield, she immediately replied by reciting the entire Gettysburg Address. He was thrilled to learn that she had been required to learn it when she was in school. The idea was born to have our children memorize it as well. We starting memorizing the speech during Tuesday Tea and also discovered some colonial poetry to compliment our studies.
Based on the recommendation from Pit Stops for Kids, we went to the Visitor Center first and watched the movie and viewed the Cyclorama. This park is free to visit, however our favorite parts required a fee. We purchased tickets that gave us access to the Museum, the film and a viewing of the Gettysburg Cyclorama Painting (Adults are $12.50 and children $8.50).
The film was well done and worth the time and money. After the film, you can walk upstairs to view the Gettysburg Cyclorama Painting. This painting is phenomenal!! It is a 360 degree canvas oil painting created by French artist, Paul Philippoteaux, that measures 377 feet in circumference and 42 feet high. It is highlighted with lights as a story is portrayed through audio. There is a diorama setting in the foreground of the painting which beautifully enhances this masterpiece. If you plan to visit the Visitor Center, you will not want to miss this painting. The quality is exceptional and truly brings the battle of Gettysburg to life right before your eyes.
We then left and did a self-led driving tour, complete with timed audio cd’s that narrate the drive. We used the Gettysburg Field Guide, which was given to us by some friends. This guide is very detailed and quite lengthy. We probably did half of the entire thing. If we had more time in Gettysburg, it would of been fun to finish the tour. Honestly though, for the age of the kids…it was the right amount. We were blown away with the content and inspired to learn more.
At this point we stopped to tour the David Wills House in the middle of downtown. This is the home where Abraham Lincoln stayed the night before he gave the Gettysburg Address. We were able to see the very room where he finished writing his speech. I loved the series of short films that played throughout the house, which were really well done.
From here we drove up the road to the Visitor Center and toured the museum. The Gettysburg museum is fabulous and the content is incredible. This park actually gave my kids one Jr. Ranger book and had them jointly fill it out (this was a first for us, typically they must fill them out separately). It was awesome! As this Jr. Ranger book is more lengthy than many others, it was fun for the kids to work on the book together. The activities were fabulous and Chris and I both feel that the kids gained a wealth of knowledge in this museum. As usual, the Park Ranger gave my kids individual attention and spoke to them in such a way that it seemed like they were his only priority for the day. We love our National Park Rangers!
Lastly we walked Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Created in the horrific aftermath of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, this beautiful and peaceful memorial is a reminder of all those who lost their lives, fighting for this country. This cemetery is where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. We were surprised to learn that President Lincoln was not even the main speaker at this historical event….he was the follow-up act. His short speech has become one of the most famous in American history. As we ponder the words and the circumstances of that time, I can certainly see why.