Hershey, Pennsylvania thrives on visitors to Hershey World, Hersheypark, Hershey Gardens – it’s a tourism empire built upon Hershey kisses. But don’t let the inevitable sugar rush dictate your daily itinerary. If ever there was a year to keep that annual promise you make to yourself (and inevitably snap like a delicious semi-sweet bar), this is the year.
Every time you visit the charming Hershey,Pennsylvania town, try to devote one day of your vacation to making the short, 45-minute drive to historic Gettysburg. This July marks Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary – a celebration of the most important battle ever fought on U.S. soil. You’ll find commemorative activities ongoing virtually every day now through sesquicentennial observation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address on November 19.
If you’re not familiar with Civil War history, here’s why the battle – won by the North – was significant.
The Importance Of Gettysburg
First, it was the deadliest battle ever fought on American soil. From the moment Gen. Robert E. Lee’s invading Confederate forces commenced attack against Gen. George Meade’s assembling Union troops July 1, 1863, through Lee’s humbled retreat to the Potomac three days later – after the famous tactical blunder remembered as “Pickett’s Charge” – the casualty count rose to staggering levels.
More than 3,000 Union soldiers died, more than 14,000 were wounded and more than 5,000 were captured or classified as missing. Confederate losses were even greater. More than 4,700 troops died and the various estimates of total casualties range from 23,000 to 28,000. Even accepting the low-end estimate, Gettysburg produced 12,000 more combined casualties than the next-bloodiest engagement, the Battle of Chickamauga the previous year in Georgia.
But beyond that, Gettysburg shaped the rest of the war – and subsequent U.S. history. The Union Army blunted the South’s last attempted major invasion of Northern territory. The battle crippled both armies, protracting the war almost another two full years, but Gettysburg—combined with the fall of Vicksburg the next day, which cost the South vital control of the Mississippi River – left the Rebels far more compromised. Further, the loss cost the Confederacy any chance of striking any alliances with Europe.
And it became the context for Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. Delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg – the 150th anniversary of which is November 19—the two-minute speech is famous for reaffirming America’s founding principles and values. Lincoln defined the continuance of the war as the fight to preserve those values.
Today, the Gettysburg Battlefield and Gettysburg National Cemetery are parts of the Gettysburg National Military Park, which draws more than 1 million visitors every year. You can take a guided tour of the battlefield and study battle artifacts at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center. That facility also is home to the famous Gettysburg Cyclorama, a 27-foot-tall, 360-degree panoramic painting 359 feet in circumference. The painting depicts Pickett’s Charge.
In addition to regularly scheduled events, this year Gettysburg plays host to a whole calendar of special events all the way through November including historic battle re-enactments and special ceremonies commemorating Lincoln’s address.
Indeed, there’s a lot going on in Gettysburg in 2013. The battlefield, cemetery museum and other points of interest deserve your vacation consideration any year, but never more so than 2013. And they’re just two score and five minutes from your Bluegreen homeroom for this history lesson, The Suites at Hershey.
Written by: Jim Saturday