The Battle that Changed the Tide of the Civil War
James Rada, Jr.
While the first week in July is the busiest time on the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield because of the anniversary of the battle, the second busiest time is in November when Dedication Day is celebrated.
Dedication Day is held in honor of President Abraham Lincoln’s reading of the Gettysburg Address during the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where nearly 6,000 soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I are buried. It was dedicated on November 19, 1863, four and a half months after the historic Civil War battle. This year’s Dedication Day activities will be on November 18, 19, and 23.
Some of the events happening are an open house at the David Wills House and Gettysburg railroad station on November 18, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Lincoln arrived and left Gettysburg at the railroad station and stayed at the David Wills house while in town. Both locations will hold special programs that evening.
The actual Dedication Day ceremony will be held at Soldiers’ National Cemetery at 10:15 a.m. on November 19. It will feature a wreath-laying ceremony at the Soldiers’ National Monument, and Presidential Scholar Michael Beschloss will be the keynote speaker.
The following weekend, the annual parade of Civil War living history groups will march through Gettysburg at 1:00 p.m. on November 23. That evening, from 5:30-9:00 p.m., a luminary candle will be lit on the grave of each of the 3,512 Civil War soldiers buried at Soldiers’ National Cemetery, and the names of the dead will be read throughout the evening.
Even if you can’t make it to Gettysburg for one of the special events, you can always find something happening around the battlefield. Start at the Visitor Center at 1195 Baltimore Pike. From this point, you can watch an orientation film, tour the museum, see the cyclorama, book a tour, ride to the Eisenhower Farm, eat lunch, and more. The building is free to enter, but there are fees for different activities.
The 20-minute orientation film, A New Birth of Freedom, narrated by Morgan Freeman, will give you a good overview of the Battle of Gettysburg and its historical significance.
The cyclorama is the largest painting in America. It is 42 feet tall and 377 feet around. “Longer than a football field and as tall as a four-story structure, the Gettysburg Cyclorama oil painting, along with light and sound effects, immerses visitors in the fury of Pickett’s Charge during the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg,” according to the National Park Service website. It is painted so that it encircles you as it depicts Pickett’s Charge. French artist Paul Philippoteaux researched the battlefield for months before beginning the oil painting that took him and his assistants more than a year to complete.
The Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War features artifacts from one of the largest collections of Civil War relics in the world. It also has interactive exhibits and multi-media presentations throughout.
If you want to tour the battlefield itself, you can purchase tickets for a bus tour or make arrangements for a licensed battlefield guide to take you around the park. You can also take your own tour. Pick up a driving map at the ticketing desk to help you get around the park.
While in the Visitor Center, you can make arrangements to visit the farm of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The cattle farm was used as Eisenhower’s home after WWII. He hosted world leaders at the farm during his presidency and ran the country from his den while he was recovering from a heart attack.
You can tour the house, which still appears as it did during the 1960s. Also, on site are the Secret Service office, farm building, and grounds.
The Visitor Center will also have a listing of the various ranger programs going on throughout the day.
The November programs are: Gettysburg History Hike – Three Days in 90 Minutes (90 min.); Four Score and Seven Years Ago – Lincoln and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery (45 min.); Hold to the Last! – The Battle for Little Round Top (60 min.); The 3rd Day and Beyond – Stay and Fight it Out! (45 min.).
The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center winter hours (November 1 through March 31) are 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. It also closes at 1:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
For more information about the events and park sites in Gettysburg, visit: Gettysburg National Military Park www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm; Eisenhower Farm: www.nps.gov/eise/index.htm; David Wills House: www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/david-wills-house.htm.
Two re-enactors talk during the annual WWII weekend, held at the Eisenhower Farm.
Farm of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The house still appears as it did during the 1960s.