The audio guide we purchased took us along an established (and well-marked) auto tour route around the battleground, following the battle chronologically. The tour begins on the northwest side of town. All along the route are huge stone markers that represent the position of a particular unit at a point in the battle. So if you were particularly interested in a specific unit, you could find that unit's marker and stand where they lined up during the battle. Early on was a mound of dirt and a marker near where General Reynolds fell on the first day of fighting.
After talking for 45 minutes or so about the battle along the side of Little Round Top, our silly ranger said to me, "You gonna take my picture or what?"
We cruised the circuit, looping down the road down Seminary Ridge, where the Confederates took up positions along a long, thin lump in the terrain. We got around to Little Round Top, the southern extent of the battle and a key point on the second day of fighting there in 1863, and looked out across the Devil's Den to where Gouvenor Warren recognized that Confederate troops were moving to take the hill. It was a very close race between the two sides to get into position on the hill; the Union got there first. The 20th Maine was the end of the line, and as the Confederates under Gen. Oates's command felt their way around the base of the hill to their right, to the right, to the right, the 20th Maine bent back into an L-shape to protect their own flank. Toward the end of the fighting, the 20th Maine charged forward and captured many of the retreating Confederates.
What was impressive about the terrain at Little Round Top is the proximity of the fighting. It was much more intimate than I had imagined, though it might be a bit of an illusion now that much of the vegetation has been thinned where the fighting occurred.
End of the Line. The left flank of the 20th Maine's deployment. The stone wall was not there during the day the 20th fought there.
There is a massive monument nearby for the 1st Minnesota Volunteers, who basically sacrificed themselves to hold the Confederates back for a few minutes while additional Union troops were moved into place the previous day.
1st Minnesota Volunteers
Of course, the tour ends at the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy," a point along the stone wall where some of the men in Pickett's Charge actually made it over the wall, briefly. There is a marker there for Gen. Armistead, who was fatally wounded after he got over the wall, trying to capture a Union artillery piece. Standing there, looking across the large, open field, one might admire the courage of the men who made that charge. I think, today, one has to look back and wonder why it was attempted at all.
A Union cannon overlooking the field across which General Longstreet's corps advanced to attack the Union center.
The Battle of Gettysburg took place in an area that is both larger and smaller than one might imagine. The line stretched a long way, but the fighting was all very close. I wouldn't say that it was an awe-inspiring visit in that I knew quite a lot about the war and the specific battle prior to our visit, but it is always interesting to see how a place compares with one's perception of what that place might be like, and to actually materialize as something manifest, something real. Gettysburg is very real, and they've done a terrific job making it easy to visualize the battle!