TR: Washington and Gettysburg in 4 Nights

Jun 20th, 2015, 06:31 AM
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TR: Washington and Gettysburg in 4 Nights

Washington and Gettysburg in four nights/three days:

This was a whirlwind trip in April 2015.

After the worst winter of my memory, during which I managed to break first a toe and then a wrist, we'd had enough and in March, booked flights to Washington for a quick extended weekend getaway in mid-April. Note: in 2015, the peak date for cherry blossoms was 9 April. A week later and there was still enough colour to be found in places that Washington felt cheerful and welcoming.

Especially if you go the DIY Gettysburg route, your enjoyment will be much increased with some advance DVD viewing: (check your library)

Ken Burns' 1990 "The Civil War" series puts the Gettysburg battle in context of the overall war. Count on allowing at least ten viewing hours, more if you repeat sections.

"Gettysburg" (1993) starring Martin Sheen amongst others. This movie dramatizes the epic battle. Watch it on a day when you like us were housebound due to a snowstorm. If you live in Florida, make lots of popcorn anyway - it's over four hours.

The National Park Service for the Gettysburg park has a self-guided tour map on-line.

If you study the events of the battle in advance, you can do as we did and be selective of what sites you want to see, and start and end where it is convenient instead of following the self-guided map 'in order'. We came in from the south which gave us the Union (strange but true) perspective of the three-day battle. Little Round Top featured prominently on the second day of the battle; the Pennsylvania Memorial; the "High Water Mark"/the Angle close to Pickett's (Confederate) charge, a notable event of the third, and the theological seminary (which one can glimpse from Little Round top) was where the Confederates made their command post on day 1. We finished up with a visit to the national cemetery where Lincoln made his famous speech.

Combined with maps of the area found on-line, we felt our research-by-film left us confident enough that we could organize our own self-guided daytrip to the famous battlefield. In consequence we rented a car from Reagan National for a day. Since our hotel was also at Reagan airport, pickup and dropoff was easy, but note that this is a full day; you will need an early start if you elect to go the do-it-yourself route. For that matter the Greyhound bus tour

is also a very full day, but the reviews sound mainly positive so non-drivers, take heart, you have options. (Tour leaves from the bus station at Union Station.)
Sue_xx_yy is online now  
Jun 20th, 2015, 06:36 AM
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Before I go further, here's the link to the NPS site which has the map (printable) and also a list of events, so you can find out what NPS tours are offered when, and whether there will be a 'living history' day near the time of your visit:

Also check Wikipedia, for accounts of various parts of the battle, e.g. Pickett's charge:

Day 1 - On arrival at the airport, it's an easy job to buy our transit passes from machines in the airport station. You can 'refill' the passes with money at these machines as required, as well. Next up is our hotel, one of many airport hotels. Crystal City is perhaps not as glamourous as its name implies but it is clean, well organized, safe, and features an extensive underground (and above-ground) network of cafes, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc. It's been a long day so after settling into the hotel and orienting ourselves to the area, we grab simple takeout food and relax.

Day 2 - It's about a 25 minute hop downtown on the 'red' line. Our mission today is to visit the National Air and Space Museum. We arrive to find that a lineup is already formed in advance of opening, but at the appointed hour the doors open and the line moves quite quickly. Almost immediately we decide to splurge on a ten minute session in a flight simulator. Yours truly was the navigator gunner and spouse was the pilot. If our performance is any indication, don't count on us to defend anyone from anything. But it was fun.

Next up: we manage to squeeze in on a guided tour of the museum, and well worth the time investment it was. The Wright brothers exhibit is outstanding; the brothers, former bike mechanics, had worked out the basic principles of flight, but unlike today they, or rather one of them (only room for one person on their plane) operated everything using mainly hand-held cables. Although our 90 minute tour (guide was kind and gave extra time) briefly touched on other parts of the museum, our overall visit of two and a half hours plus lunch flies by and we plan to go again on a future visit to DC.

Whatever the criticisms people might have of McDonald's, I can't fault their ability to feed a crowd efficiently, and they at least at the time we visited held the museum food concession. The museum has a lovely lunchroom facility, virtually all windows and skylights, attached to the museum and a rough count indicates several hundred people were lunching with us yet we spent no more than 5 minutes in line. My salad with chicken is of a form I can't get at home (menu more limited at home evidently) and was made with fresh ingredients and quite acceptable.
Sue_xx_yy is online now  
Jun 20th, 2015, 06:49 AM
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Day 2 (continued)

After lunch, we stroll a bit taking in the cherry blossoms and the lovely day, and then elect to grab the metro to Arlington and the National Cemetery. We hike up to Robert E Lee's former home which commands a magnificent view of Washington, and en route stop by the Kennedy memorial. Both of us can remember watching a shaky black and white TV image of Jackie lighting the eternal flame in honour of her assassinated husband. It's sobering to realize how much time has passed since.

Up at the Lee house, we take time to tour the place (free) and in particular set aside time for the slave quarters. These were the residences of mainly household labourers and are, we are given to understand, relatively better accommodations than what was the case for those who worked in the fields on plantations. There are also exhibits on such things as an early attempt at a model housing village which was started for black veterans of the Civil War, but which, like many first attempts at something, didn't succeed long-term.

It's now a lovely but late afternoon, and it's a long day tomorrow. We head for 'home.'

CORRECTION: I said we took the 'red line' downtown from DCA/Ronald Reagan, that is wrong. The airport is served by two lines, the yellow and blue.
Sue_xx_yy is online now  
Jun 20th, 2015, 06:55 AM
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Day 3 - Gettysburg Day trip by rental car.

Day 3 - We're at the rental car depot by 7:30 a.m but do not manage to leave until almost 8. It's a lovely warm sunny day and the driving route is pleasant, full of treed parkland. By 9 we're on the outskirts of Frederick, Maryland, a pleasant small town that among other things, features the Museum of Civil War Medicine. But first up is a late breakfast of waffles, taken at an establishment not far off the exit.

The museum is in a pleasant historic section of this small town and we're the only visitors!(Easy parking in the garage attached to the library behind the museum.)

We elected to visit this museum rather than the one in Gettysburg since we feel it will give a fresh perspective, given that we spent so much time watching documentaries and films on the battle before we left. It's a simple museum but we enjoy it. It informs us that the system of triage, begun in the Napoleonic wars, was perfected during the later American conflict. Veterinary medicine also got a boost when it was demonstrated that an effort to heal wounded war horses would be well worth the investment.

We learn, too, of just how arduous it was for generals of the day to get equipment into position: no fewer than six horses were needed to pull a gun, and a battery consisted of six guns. On top of the thirty-six horses needed to pull the guns, an additional thirty-six were needed to haul the ammunition. That makes for 72 horses, all to manage one battery. Something to think about once we arrive in Gettysburg, about why it took so long for forces to organize themselves.

We spent two hours in this museum as we liked it, but if you're in a hurry head straight to the top floor as this is where most of the medical instruments and other artifacts are to be found.

After a quick shopping errand in Frederick (spouse decided his socks were uncomfortable and found a better pair in a local 'trail-outdoors' shop) we elect for an early lunch of sandwiches from a Subway near the museum; it will make for simpler logistics once we arrive at the battlefield which is about 40 minutes drive away. But we delay grabbing a coffee until an exit or two prior to the one for the battlefield park. And so it's about quarter to two (13:45) by the time we park near Little Round top and make what was for us, a pleasant hike up (the Confederate soldiers had a rather less enjoyable trip.)

At the top of the hill we find a man in full Union dress, for today is a "living history day", when volunteers dress up and perform various demonstrations. From our vantage point we can see the smoke from the guns being fired during a demonstration below, near the Pennsylvania memorial - later we'll stop there and chat with the gunners and visit their tents. In the distance we can see, eastward, where the Devil's den is, and westward we can view the tower of the seminary college which featured in the first day of the battle.

Around us we can hear guides, both private and NPS, giving their stories to any of several small group tours. History is often controversial, and Gettysburg is no exception; it's fun to hear how some guides dispute Joseph Chamberlain's role with the 20th Maine. When I got home I read up a bit further and I'm still team Joseph, but you might decide differently.
Sue_xx_yy is online now  
Jun 20th, 2015, 12:20 PM
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I'm really enjoying your trip report. I visited Gettysburg in 1999 with my kids; they all enjoyed it except when we attempted to reenact Pickett's Charge. PickleDude was 4, and he rebelled ;-) when we started walking through a recently harvested field. Too many stalks poking his little legs!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Jun 20th, 2015, 02:49 PM
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Hi ElendilPickle, good to 'see' you again.

The original participants in Pickett's charge probably should have rebelled too, given how it seems it went for them.


day 3 (continued)

There's enough to do and see on Little Round top that we easily spend an hour up here. One co-visitor has really gotten into the spirit of things and has come to visit the site wearing the fashion of 1863, a hoopskirt. (This is not a fashion I regret missing, but I appreciate the effort she went to for the day.)

We hop back in the car and head over to where we can inspect the guns, chat with the gunners, and climb the Pennsylvania memorial (washrooms thoughtfully placed nearby). Here as well we visit the demonstration encampment of the Union side, which looks pleasant enough to live in in sunny weather; an 'infantryman' explains how the camps were more solidly built for winter (I'll still pass, thank you.) Next stop is the Angle (approximately overlooks the site of Pickett's charge, plus one can see the sites of the Confederate 'lines' from here) and the High Water Mark. The afternoon is drawing on as we then head over to the cemetery, where Lincoln made his famous speech.

It's a warm day - 82 degrees Fahrenheit - and we've had a fascinating three and half hours at the park so far. This is one of the reasons we're glad to be on a DIY, we are able to get out and explore the sites of chief interest to us. But now, with the shadows growing longer, it's time to have a cold milkshake in the local McDonald's before heading back. We drive away past fields bordered with traditional style wooden fencing. Such a beautiful place, to have been the scene of such horrors.

We're back at the rental depot and have dropped it off by about 8 p.m, just about 12 hours after we left.
Sue_xx_yy is online now  
Jul 4th, 2015, 12:15 PM
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sue, missed your report....because we were in DC and Gettysburg when you posted it! Anyway, thanks for your effort. It was fun to relive some of the sights of both areas.
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