Winter is cold, but you don't have to be. You can still enjoy a great many Gettysburg explorations from the heated comforts of being indoors when you take a one stop trip to the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center.
What ever the season, there is no better place to begin your Gettysburg visit than the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center, located at the National Military Park. Within the walls of the Visitor Center, you will find a book/gift shop, refreshment stop, departing tours and packages (and tickets), and of course Museum Exhibits and the Cyclorama. Also located within the walls, is the Ford Motor Company Fund Education Center. Sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund, the center provides dedicated classroom space for Gettysburg National Military Park teacher workshops, classroom use and even distance learning programs.
The museum itself uses state-of-the-art 21st century technology to tell the story of the American Civil War. There are 12 galleries comprising of many unique artifacts and archival items. Of these galleries, 11 are based on phrases from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, organized around the museum’s major themes, including the Gettysburg Campaign, the Civil War and its causes and consequences. Some highlights you will see on display include: a field desks used by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee which is believed to have been used during the Battle of Gettysburg, the journal of Adams County physician Dr. John O’Neal used to list and identify the location of several thousand Confederate dead and many more. Interactive stations are also included throughout the museum, five of which have short video presentations on the causes of the Civil War, the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg and the results of war. Two “Voices” theaters feature readings from battle participants.
The Museum also features a resource room that gives visitors access to information about the battle, Gettysburg people, the National Military Park's artifacts collection and Gettysburg battlefield monuments. Admission to the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War is included with the Cyclorama, Film and Museum Experience package.
The Cyclorama is another interesting must see stop. In the 1880s, French artist Paul Philippoteaux painted the Battle of Gettysburg as a Cyclorama painting after months on the battlefield and extensive research. This wondrous painting spans 377 feet in circumference and 42 feet in height.
“When you see the Gettysburg Cyclorama today, you’ll see it the way Paul Philippoteaux originally intended,” according to the National Park Service. “Together with a sound-and-light program, an overhead canopy and a three-dimensional diorama foreground that realistically features stone walls, broken fences, shattered trees and a cannon, the experience is so moving that it may bring you to tears, just as it did for many Civil War veterans who saw the Gettysburg Cyclorama years ago.”
Throughout time, there have been four versions of the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting in the United States. The version at the museum is the Boston version of the painting and was first exhibited in that city in 1884. The Gettysburg Cyclorama remained in private hands until the National Park Service acquired it in the 1940s.
Setting the stage for the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting is the showing of a film titled A New Birth of Freedom. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, and featuring the voices of Sam Waterston and Marcia Gay Harden, this film presentation tells of the monumental events of the Battle of Gettysburg and presents them in the larger context of this nation's history. This film is sponsored by The History Channel and shown in the main film theaters exclusively at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.
With so much to explore inside the Museum and Visitor Center, you can have a one-stop adventure in exploration without even trekking out into the cold. Yet, if you choose to branch out, this is also the site where you can get tickets to some of the town's various touring attractions and interactive programs. If you elect such an option, some of the great packages to choose from include car drives or bus tours with licensed battlefield guides, trips to the Eisenhower National Historic Site, visits to the David Wills House, and much more. Whether you choose to depart on a tour option, or take in the full Gettysburg experience at this one-stop destination, you can spend the entire day at the visitor center and museum, looking through the exhibits and checking out the bookstore/gift shop. What's more, you don't even have to leave to grab a bite to eat, as the museum even features a refreshment saloon modeled after actual refreshment saloons that existed during the Civil War. These refreshment saloons served to offer weary soldiers a place to have a meal and a brief respite from the harsh realities of war. Options available at the refreshment saloon vary from "Tastes of the Period," with dishes like beef stew, slippery chicken pot pie and Gettysburg chili served with cornbread. Remember to save room for a giant snickerdoodle cookie for dessert! Additionally, the Saloon also provides visitors with standard fare such as turkey wraps, salads, Angus burgers, hot dogs and pizza as well as a featured soup of the day.
The Gettysburg Visitor Center and Museum is operated through a partnership of the National Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation. For more on upcoming events, hours and other helpful information, visit www.gettysburgfoundation.org.