Following Lincoln in Gettysburg

November can be a solemn time of remembrance in Gettysburg, Pa. as the town honors soldiers slain here during the Civil War and reenacts Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speech delivered in the National Cemetery.

During the Battle of Gettysburg, which occurred July 1-3, 1863, Union and Confederate troops clashed in the farmland surrounding this small town, resulting in 51,000 casualties and a community ravaged by war. President Lincoln’s subsequent visit to dedicate the cemetery where slain Union soldiers were buried began a process of healing.

Each year, the town marks the struggle of the soldiers and Lincoln’s November visit to their gravesites with a number of events.

On Saturday, Nov. 17, the town observes Remembrance Day with a large-scale parade of re-enactors beginning at 1 p.m., beginning on Lefever Street and travelling through the town to the National Park at Steinwehr Ave. For the past decade, the Gettysburg Foundation and the Friends of Gettysburg have created an illumination in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery by placing more than 3,500 luminary candles, one on each grave, as a tribute. The illumination will be held from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public to reflect on the soldiers’ sacrifices.

This year Gettysburg marks the 149th anniversary of Lincoln’s visit with opportunities to walk in Lincoln’s footsteps throughout this small town. Like Lincoln, begin at the historic Railroad Station, where Lincoln arrived Nov. 18 in order to “say a few appropriate remarks,” to dedicate the National Cemetery. Today the station serves as a Visitor Information Center and museum gallery.

From the station, it’s a short walk to the David Wills House, where Lincoln spent the night in the second floor bedroom and put the finishing touches on his speech. Wills, a local attorney who developed the plans for the cemetery, was responsible for extending the invitation to Lincoln to speak at the dedication. Outside the Wills house is a striking bronze of Lincoln created from casts of Lincoln’s face and hands.

Monuments to Lincoln abound at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where Lincoln delivered his two-minute address. Walking tours guide visitors through the hallowed ground where more than 3,300 Union soldiers are buried.

On Dedication Day, Nov. 19, Gettysburg marks the anniversary with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Soldiers’ National Monument at 9:30 a.m., a recitation of the Gettysburg Address by renowned Lincoln presenter Jim Getty, and a graveside salute to the U.S. Colored Troops at 10:30 a.m.

This year, the keynote address at the 149th anniversary will be presented by film director Steven Spielberg, whose historical drama “Lincoln” opened last month. Spielberg will speak at the brick rostrum, built on the site where Lincoln spoke.

To complete a tour of Lincoln’s journey, visit the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church and see the pew where Lincoln sat to attend a political rally.

As far as becoming versed in the battle itself, a bus tour is a great way to start. To orient yourself around the 25-square-mile battlefield filled with more than 1,000 monuments, take a tour that traces each day’s occurrences from both the Union and Confederate perspectives. Gettysburg Tours offers a two-hour version of “Civil War 101,” touching on both the highlights and the quirky facts about the three days that “were the turning point of the Civil War.”

The guides are well-versed in all aspects of the war, including the role of women.

A stunning place to reflect on the significance of solemnity of this place are the picturesque Lodges at Gettysburg, which are perched on a mountain ridge overlooking the distant battlefield. Each elegantly appointed private cabin offers the opportunity to relax on the patio with a cup of coffee and watch the sun rise over Little Round Top, creating a bittersweet beauty in this haunting place.

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