Ride into History in Gettysburg Fascinating Tours of 1863


Andie, riding her paint horse, guides a group of riders on horseback with Horse Tours of Gettysburg

You can ride into history in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in a car, in a horse-drawn carriage, on a bike, or on the back of a horse. You can ride right into an American History book from the town of Gettysburg with battlefield guides.

Southern Cannon by stacked rock fence facing a field filled with history in Gettysburg
Southern Cannon by stacked rock fence facing a field filled with history in Gettysburg © Jo Clark

The Battle of Gettysburg 

The Battle spanned three days between July 1 and July 3, 1863. Most historians consider it to be the turning point of the Civil War. It was undoubtedly the bloodiest Battle, with over 50,000 casualties. Just three days before the Battle, Maj. Gen. George Meade replaced Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Hooker received Congress’ thanks for his role in the campaign, but the praise for the outcome went to Meade.

Gettysburg National Military Park Museum is a “living” history museum. Today, you can experience history in Gettysburg as it looked on that fateful day in 1863. According to my licensed battlefield guide, photographs taken right after the Battle were used to guide area restoration. The houses, barns, and fences on Gettysburg’s famous battlefield have been restored with close attention to detail, providing an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in history. Private tours with a local guide are the perfect way to get an inside-look at the planning and execution of this battle plan.

A farm a soldier would see through a spyglass in 1863
The view of a Gettysburg farm using a spyglass © Jo Clark

There was not just one battle, fought on one open field. The ferocious fighting covered hills and meadows, with different charges, skirmishes, and defenses, all taking place at once. As you drive through the Park, you will be moving around the areas where battles were waged.

German style Red Barn with three spires on the roof.
German style barn on Codori Farm in Gettysturg © Jo Clark

To realize the enormous scope of this Battle, you must look at the land spreading before you when you pass Little Round Top. And you have to remember that as General Chamberlain faced Confederate troops at Little Round Top, skirmishes took place at the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, and Cemetery Ridge.

To learn more about the details of my tours and the ancestors I was tracing, you can listen to this podcast, Jo Goes Everywhere! and read this article in Parks and Travel magazine. I hope my words encourage you to visit Gettysburg.

White two-story house owned by the McMillians during the war. Confederate soldiers marched behind this house as they entered Gettysburg.
The McMillan House from West Confederate Avenue © Jo Clark

Sacred Ground History in Gettysburg

After the three-day battle, a storm moved into the area, lasting for days. The rain came down in sheets. Eventually, the Confederate Army and Union Army both marched out of the area, leaving behind more than 7,000 dead and an additional 21,000 dying men. In addition, carcasses of more than 5,000 horses and mules were left to be buried. It was summer, and burials had to be handled quickly. The two thousand Gettysburg residents and farmers worked to bury most of the 30,000 men where they fell or moved them to softer ground. (The rock-filled fields did not lend themselves to easy digging.)

Many men were buried in unmarked graves, although farmers tried to keep records of who was buried on their land by going through pockets and recording what they found, the physical description, and where the grave was. Over time, some moved from the area, and the gravesite locations were forever lost. The entire Park is considered sacred ground since men still rest somewhere on those 6,000 acres.

Over 3,500 United States soldiers killed in action at the Battle of Gettysburg were reburied at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. President Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address during the Cemetery’s dedication ceremony just months after the Battle. You can walk the paths through the Cemetery, but be aware that if you are riding a bicycle, you cannot ride it there. TrailLinks have useful trail maps that you can download.

Women of Valor

We don’t often think of women when we think of the Civil War. However, during my history in Gettysburg tours, I learned the story of Jennie Wade, who had the dubious distinction of being the only civilian killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. She was in the kitchen making bread. Elizabeth Thorn, a local cemetery manager’s pregnant wife, buried over 100 of the dead. The stone wall hid some secrets. Burial details found the corpse of a disguised woman who had enlisted with the Confederates. Another disguised woman lost her leg on Cemetery Hill.

A starburst of sunlight through the lone tree at the Angle of the wall - where my great great Grandfather died
The lone tree at the Angle of the wall – where my great great Grandfather died © Jo Clark

The stone wall referred to is as far as the Confederate troops got into the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Most of the Confederates captured had crossed the stone wall and, after exhausting their ammunition, engaged in intense hand-to-hand combat. They used bayonets, rifle butts, and even their fists. Later, a Massachusetts soldier described the dramatic infantry assault by the Virginia 38th, saying, “Valor could do no more.”

Roots of Family Tree Led to My History in Gettysburg

Tour guide, Ken,in red shirt leads group through town to teach us history in Gettysburg
Tour guide extrodinaire, Ken, telling the story of Gettysburg © Jo Clark

My ancestors served in the Virginia 38th Infantry, and most died in it. Two Great-Great-Grandfathers were in the 38th, as were several of their brothers, which is what brought my Virginia ancestors into history in Gettysburg. My tour leaders, Andie, Jim, and Ken, knew my family’s story and what I wanted to learn, and they wove those facts into our tours, helping me envision that day. I rode where my ancestors marched, traveled the town and countryside by carriage, and walked the hills of historic downtown Gettysburg, immersing myself in history.

These experts shared stories of the days before and after the Battle. Adding a face to the story is what great history teachers do! The Spangler woods at the edge of Spangler Farm were the start of a scenic ride on a beautiful morning.

Horseback tours are a great way to understand the battle lines. The Horse Tours of Gettysburg staff rides with you and talks throughout the historical tour. Each participant receives new earbuds and a tiny transmitter, so you don’t miss a word about the educational experience. The miles of trails you traverse on the battlefield tours follow the route of the Confederate Army before, during, and after Pickett’s Charge. The National Park Service allows horseback riding on specific area trails that are original to the Battle and do not cross the fields where soldiers were buried.

To watch the video on my YouTube channel, click here – Have Glass, Will Travel

The bonus is that the tour takes you on a scenic trail ride. Views of Little Round Top and Big Round Top give the seasoned tour guides landmarks to use as they describe the Battle.

Insider Tip: Use the code JoSentMe2024 to receive a 5% discount on tours booked with Horse Tours.

DIY History in Gettysburg Tours

One of the DIY tour signs in Gettysburg
These signs make it easy to conduct your own private tour © Jo Clark

Horseback riding, carriage, and walking tours are all available with the Horse Tours of Gettysburg. But you can decide to go the “Do It Yourself” route. The area is filled with descriptive markers, making it easy to do as much (or as little!) walking as you’d like.

There is a campsite for people and horses so you can bring your horse. The Gettysburg Battle Auto Tour is a mobile application available for download. The narrated tour allows you to drive the thirty miles of roads dissecting the battlefields and learn about the most crucial Battle of the Civil War. These tours are the perfect way for the ageless traveler to enjoy learning history. You can match your ability to walk, ride, sit, or drive—the choice is yours!

An excellent starting point for the day is at Gettysburg Heritage Center. The Center has a fascinating museum with exhibits that make you think it is 1863, a gift shop, and a book store (with frequent speakers and book signings.) They can also book tours for you with a licensed battlefield guide. Standard tours are popular. Nearly one million park visitors annually come to Gettysburg, individually or with larger groups. There are also bus tours, but I prefer the individuality of smaller group tours or private tours, where my personal questions can be addressed. You can make arrangements for a guide to ride in your car. 

A life-size museum display showing the history of Gettysburg with a carriage and man leading a horse
The Gettysburg Heritage Center has life-size displays of history in Gettysburg © Jo Clark

The Gettysburg National Museum became the area’s visitor center in 1974. Completed in 2008, the new Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center displays the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama.

You can stand in the spot where U.S. President Abraham Lincoln stood when he gave the now-famous Gettysburg Address just months after the Battle of Gettysburg. He spoke during the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, now known as Gettysburg National Cemetery. The Cemetery is the final resting place of over 3,500 Union soldiers killed during the Battle of Gettysburg and an additional 2,500 U S veterans. The Union soldiers killed in action at Gettysburg now rest in a semicircle around the inspiring Soldiers’ National Monument. 

Best Places to Stay

Although the area has numerous hotels, I love the “live in the moment” personal experience provided by staying in a house.

The Inn at White Oak B&B

In the countryside just beyond the town of Gettysburg, The Inn at White Oak is tucked away on thirty hidden acres. Guests wandering the garden paths can rest on a bench by the pond and view wildlife that roams through the woodlands. 

The guest quarters are luxurious, with some in the main house and a separate two-bedroom house with a comfortable living area, full kitchen, and an attached heated indoor pool with a fireplace for extra warmth when needed. Yes, you read that right—my accommodations had a pool inside my cottage!

There are twelve common rooms for guests, like a Billiard Room, Library, Formal Parlor, and Tea Room. They have a new “Barndominium” (how cute is that?). And—ta-daa—just last week, they were voted the 2024 Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best, meaning TripAdvisor ranked them in the top 1% of Bed and Breakfasts worldwide. With the beautiful rooms and scrumptious food, I think this honor was well deserved!

After spending a day exploring the historic sites in Gettysburg, you will find tempting treats set out in the dining room. And let me tell you, arrive on time for breakfast! This is not a continental breakfast but an elaborate gourmet meal at the dining room table. You can thank me later. The owners nail it when they say, “It’s so close to everything but so far from ordinary.” Insider tip: There is a salon and massage area on the lower level of the B and B, and they will happily make arrangements for you.

The Battlefield Bed & Breakfast

The pre-Civil War era farmhouse was constructed in 1809. Most of the 30-acre property at The Peace of Penn’s Woods is a nature preserve on the South Cavalry Battlefield, just a seven-minute drive from downtown. Guests are encouraged to walk the paths of the preserve and the gorgeous gardens surrounding the house and enjoy the native species planted there. You can pet the friendly outdoor cats and rescue horses. There are also wetlands, meadows, and an ancient oak grove with witness trees—trees that were present during the Civil War. 

The fighting those trees witnessed occurred during and after Pickett’s Charge, two miles away on Emmitsburg Road. The fighting and skirmishes lasted after the infantry charge, so the last shot during the three days of fighting may have been fired on this land.

The rooms are beautifully appointed, combining antiques, history, and luxurious conveniences. For 30 years, it has been rated one of Gettysburg’s best bed and breakfast inns.

Each day’s breakfast at the Battlefield Bed & Breakfast comes with a serving of history. Speakers arrive during breakfast to share stories of the area and a Civil War soldier’s daily life. During my stay, I heard not one but two speakers, and I witnessed a live-fire demonstration with a Civil War-era musket. 

Daily breakfast consists of a hot two-course meal, followed by a history presentation by various local experts who explain the challenges civilians and soldiers faced during the war. Special evenings feature the resident actor performing ghost stories.

Insider Tip: Don’t schedule early morning tours; you’ll miss this B & B treat (or the afternoon cookies!). Innkeepers serve breakfast at 8 a.m. in the solarium, and the history demonstrations begin at 9 a.m.

BYOB&H – Bring Your Own Bed & Horse!

Artillery Ridge Campground & Horse Park is family-friendly and offers a wide range of overnight camping accommodations. The Park also has 90 stalls for overnight visitors. The campground is the closest to battlefield horse trails.

Learning history in Gettysburg has to include firing a musket.
Learning history in Gettysburg has to include firing a musket.© Jo Clark

Places to Eat and Drink in Gettysburg

First time visitors will discover a downtown Gettysburg filled with historic buildings, cute shops, and restaurants. Many of the restaurants have outdoor dining patios. My favorites were Sweney’s Tavern and the Appalachian Brewing Company. Sweeney’s is a part of the Farnsworth House, named for Brigadier General Elon John Farnsworth. This building’s history in Gettysburg takes you from a private home to a sharpshooter’s nest, to a hospital in the span of only a week.

General Farnsworth led a charge after Pickett’s failure, resulting in the deaths of 66 men, including Farnsworth. The house was built in 1810 and housed Confederate sharpshooters during the Battle. One of these quite possibly was responsible for the death of Jennie Wade. More than 100 bullets pockmarked the brick of the house. 

After the Battle, the building housed wounded Confederate soldiers as well as Union soldiers. Today, it is a Bed and Breakfast, a museum, a tavern, and a restaurant with servers in period dress. They also hold tours and shows, such as a Civil War-era Magic Show and Blood, Guts, and Glory–Surgery during the Civil War. History in Gettysburg is interesting, funny, sad, and many times gory.

Sweney’s Tavern

Sweney’s Tavern has a comfortable outdoor beer garden. They served a perfectly crisp Flatbread called the 13th Georgia Gordon’s Brigade. It was topped with peaches and goat cheese and drizzled with a balsamic vinegar glaze. Oh, and their Loaded Idaho French Fries arrived at the table dripping with beer cheese & bacon. What else could you ask for?

Appalachian Brewing Company

I find the best spots, asking locals what their favorite places are. That’s how I discovered Appalachian Brewing in Gettysburg. Right next to the country’s most historic battlefield, Appalachian’s Brewpub serves craft beers, sodas, and yummy food! You can eat at a table on the outdoor patio or use the walk-up beer window in nice weather. The brewery’s five stainless steel tanks can brew 150 gallons of the sour brew specialties at a time, poured here and at the other four ABC pubs.

ABC has a long list of food choices. On my visit I enjoyed Coal Cracker Pierogies, potato and cheese pierogies sautéed in Garlic Butter with caramelized onions, and sour cream on the side. I also tried the Roasted Cauliflower Wings, drizzled with ranch dressing and onion straws, topped with bleu cheese and a mouth-watering Bleu cheese and a Root Beer BBQ sauce. If you want my advice, you’ll arrive hungry!

When to Visit

How Many Days You Need in Gettysburg

The best time of the year for a Gettysburg visit is between September and November or between March and May. I visited in May and had gorgeous sun-filled days, wearing only a long-sleeved t-shirt and vest. 

Research says you should spend two to three days in Gettysburg. I say you’ll only be scratching the surface. If you are tracing ancestors, you could safely double that. Then you’ll want a few days in York, only 45 miles away. And don’t forget Fort McHenry, home of the Star Spangled Banner, about 60 miles down the highway. Most of the Confederates taken prisoner of war were transferred to Fort McHenry and then sent to Union prison camps. So, if you are tracing an ancestor who was taken POW at Gettysburg, you will want another three to five days.

When You Go to Hunt History in Gettysburg

Author Jo Clark on Blue, a white trail horse
Author Jo Clark on Blue

Plan so you can make the most of your visit. If you plan to ride, pack long pants and lace-up shoes with a bit of a heel. Tennis shoes may work if they aren’t flat. Comfortable walking shoes are essential for your historic tours. Even if you aren’t doing a “walking tour,” you will still do a lot of walking! Check the weather report so you know how to pack. A light jacket or hoodie will feel good most evenings.

It won’t break the bank to visit Gettysburg on vacation since the battlefield visit is free. But there are fees for museums, films, and viewing the cyclorama and other tours. Again, you have to plan and decide what events will allow you to see and do the things most important to you.

Plan Your Next Trip!

For more exciting vacations, try these locations! Plan a trip to South Carolina’s Georgetown, a visit to New York City, or take off on a road trip to visit beautiful Yadkin Valley Wineries.


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