Gettysburg or bust!


We took my son on vacation for his fall break last October. We had three goals: see Gettysburg, hike a small portion of the Appalachian Trail, and visit the Hershey factory. On the way home, we also detoured to see the amazing Frank Lloyd Wright house, Fallingwater. It is built over a waterfall – incredible!

Gettysburg is an eight and a half hour drive from South Bend. It’s a long day, but doable. Once you get there, check in to your hotel or campground, and read up on what’s happening at Gettysburg the next day, because there is a lot going on!

You can hire a licensed battlefield guide to tour you through the park, or go on a bus tour,  but there is also a free self-guided car tour and several free park ranger-led programs every day. The visitor’s center is a great place to start. It’s free to get in, with a free gallery of battlefield finds, schedules for the day, and all kinds of free brochures and maps.

We drove most of the driving tour, stopping to see (and climb) various monuments to different divisions who fought there. The weekend we were there, Civil War re-enactors were demonstrating drills for marching and firing their weapons. We saw three groups representing different units that were present at the battle. Several re-enactors were descendants of soldiers who fought at Gettysburg. After their demonstrations, they answered questions about a soldier’s life: the food, clothing, camp gear, and weaponry. Re-enactors in costume will answer questions like this during the awesome programs that SJCPL has coming up as part of One Book, One Michiana. Mark your calendar for April 6 at North Liberty branch library, April 25 at Lasalle branch library, and May 11 at Francis branch library.

If you want to find your Civil War ancestor, check out more awesome programs at the Main branch library. Thursday, April 4 is a lunchtime discussion group focusing on Civil War genealogy. Saturday, April 13, nationally known speaker Amy Johnson Crow presents a two-part lecture on tracing your Union or Confederate ancestors.

We went on one of the ranger tours, and he explained very thoroughly the tactics and terrain that doomed the southern forces to defeat. It was shocking and sobering to be standing where all this destruction took place. Afterward, we visited the National Cemetery across the street, where Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address to dedicate the land. South Bend City Cemetery is the oldest in town, and where some of those involved in the Civil War are buried. Travis Childs of the Center for History will lead a tour Saturday, April 20.

We stayed in a great historic bed and breakfast in Chambersburg, PA, within driving distance of all three of our goals. Every inn and hotel in the area (and there are many) were completely booked full because of an event at one of the nearby universities. Considering this summer’s 150th anniversary activities at Gettysburg, if you want to visit the area, make your reservations early!



  1. My family visited Gettysburg last year. A really profound experience.

  2. Great Post, Mrs. B. I still remember going to Gettysburg with my family when I was younger and would like to go back some day. I did get to visit that area last fall and visited the House of Falling Waters (amazing), we also visited the memorial to flight 93 near Shanksville, Pa. (also worth a visit)
    Can’t wait for the One Book programs to begin.

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