Duration: Four days and three nights
History buffs and reenactors, moms and middle-schoolers, take note: this roadtrip is packed with stops along the Pennsylvania towns, museums, railroad stops and second-story bedrooms that stood witness to our country's greatest struggle.
The Pennsylvania Civil War Trails: Prelude to Gettysburg tells the often-silent home front stories. It's on these Trails that the faceless are brought to life and the places in between are explored. Your journey begins in Harrisburg and takes you through the towns, farms, and fields that experienced war firsthand. Places like Wrightsville and Columbia that gave all they had to keep the Confederate forces from crossing the river. Places like Hanover, where the streets were filled with battle and citizens saved the lives of others regardless of a uniform's color.
Along the way, follow the roadside markers with the Union kepi cap to find the next stop. With the help of "Story Stops" and "Gateway Signs," you'll experience the Civil War through the eyes of sons and daughters who lived through it, set against the backdrop of Pennsylvania's picturesque Dutch Country Roads.
Find commemorative events, stories and more information at PA Civil War 150.
You're going to want to spend a good chunk of time here. It's a necessary first stop before you set out on the PA Civil War Trails. The National Civil War Museum is the only museum in the country that lays out the entire-and unbiased-story of the Civil War. It sits proud atop a hill overlooking Pennsylvania's capital city. On your way in, stretch your legs with a stroll on the beautiful grounds outside the museum, with sweeping scenic views of the Susquehanna River valley. Stop to ponder the red brick "Walk of Valor," lined with names of vets honored by their surviving descendents. You'll find Pennsylvania's plaque amidst the dozens of other states that gave to the fight. Over 337,000 Pennsylvanians served in the Civil War, the most of any state in the Union. Now inside, wander the soaring rotunda and galleries. The museum and its many interpretive exhibits inspire the mind's eye with stories of real people and nearby places. Each exhibit instills a deeper sense of the great sacrifice made by the soldiers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, and the towns and cities they called home.
Your journey is just beginning.Read More >
After your visit to the museum, drive towards downtown via State Street and notice the majestic capitol building in the distance, growing more magnificent as you near the heart of town. Not too far from there is a bit of history served with a side of chips (or whatever side you'd like). Open Wednesday - Saturday, The Broad Street Market, founded in 1860, has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operated market house in the United States and thrives today as a culturally rich place for residents and visitors to experience a broad diversity of food, people, and Harrisburg city life. While you're enjoying a lunch break or snack, take a walk around the long complex and consider that it was here at this market that farmers helped feed over 300,000 Union soldiers who mustered at nearby Camp Curtin.
After you've chatted with a couple of the market vendors, grab a coffee or tea and you're off to your next Harrisburg stop. On your way, head northwest on 3rd street, hang a left at Maclay Street and take it to the river's edge (Front Street). As you make your way southeast on Front Street, notice the Governor's Residence on your left and to your right the wide river that you'll come to know well on your Civil War Trails roadtrip. You're now riding along the Harrisburg Green Belt, a beautiful and long stretch of pathways throughout the city. It's just a short distance on the same road to your next location.Read More >
Simon Cameron, one of the eight owners of this ornate mansion in Harrisburg, was once a Senator and President Lincoln's Secretary of War. It was Mr. Cameron, a long time abolitionist and early advocate for enlisting African American volunteers in the Civil War, who greeted the US Colored Troops (USCT) from the front porch at the conclusion of the USCT Grand Review on November 14, 1865. Excluded from the official "Grand Review of Armies" the previous May in Washington D.C. the USCT, led by Thomas Morris Chester - a Harrisburg resident and the only African American reporter to cover the Civil War for a major white newspaper - assembled a parade through downtown in honor the USCT's courage during the Civil War.
Today, the mansion is home to the Historical Society of Dauphin County. During your tour, note the 14-foot French mirrors in the parlor, a pair Cameron picked up along his time as Minister (Ambassador) to Russia and for which he'd had the home lowered three feet to accommodate.
It's been a long day in Harrisburg, so take a load off and enjoy dinner on Harrisburg's nearby "Restaurant Row."Read More >
Stock's is a well-known favorite of the Harrisburg dining scene. The cuisine is eclectic American fare with Asian and Southeastern influences. The granite bar features Harrisburg's first martini bar, well complemented by the high ceilings, exhibition kitchen, and mahogany woodwork. And if the weather is right, take your meal and drinks outside on Stock's sidewalk seating.Read More >
The Hilton is conveniently located at the south end of Restaurant Row with plenty of options for breakfast in the morning. Notice on the far corner outside the hotel, one of the Pennsylvania Civil War Trails Gateway Signs, one of six placed throughout the many counties of Civil War Trails. Get some rest. Big roadtripping days are ahead.Read More >
Up early, over the river and through the woods - literally. Take the Market Street Bridge across the Susquehanna leaving Harrisburg. You're on the way to Carlisle. If you need a little caffeine jolt on the way, stop by Cornerstone Coffeehouse in the pleasant downtown of nearby Camp Hill. As you're heading west, you'll pass through Mechanicsburg, a perfect little slice of America. Get a local flavor for Civil War passion at Civil War & More, just off Main Street. Ask for Jim, the owner, and tell him we sent you. And leave a few minutes for his history lesson on nearby Fort Couch. The fort was built in June of 1863, just a few weeks before the Battle of Gettysburg, under the direction of General Darius Couch in response to an expected Confederate attack on Harrisburg.
For more than 250 years, Carlisle has played a central role in the story of the American military, as home to the Army War College and the Army Heritage & Education Center, and another PA town that saw bloody North-South conflict firsthand. Walk the tree-lined streets to the center of town near Veterans Square. On the square sits the Old Cumberland County Courthouse. On the S. Hanover street side, look up at the old pillars to see the scars of Confederate shelling during the Battle of Carlisle, another important skirmish on Pennsylvania's main streets during the Gettysburg Campaign. Enjoy a stroll through the historic streets. It's on the 100 block of South West Street that you'll find the historic A.M.E. Zion Church, one of many Underground Railroad stops throughout the region. Plenty of lunch and snack stops in the busy downtown await you when you need a break.
Before you go, walk the peaceful grounds of Dickinson College. Today a leading liberal arts institution, it is an important stop on the Civil War Trails. At that time, the student body was nearly split down the middle between North and South and the young students went on to wage war against each another. Dickinson's House Divided project tells the deeply personal story, connecting records, documents and images for contemporary audiences.
Heading out of town now for a scenic drive to your next destination. Take a little detour and follow Rt. 233/Pine Grove Road through Pine Grove Furnace State Park. If the weather allows, put all the windows down and enjoy the tall tree canopy as you wind your way through the forest to Route 30 and then west to downtown Chambersburg.Read More >
As you first happen upon Chambersburg, it's hard to imagine that in 1864 a large portion of the town was burned to the ground in one of three Confederate invasions. You're first stop is the Chambersburg Heritage Center in the town square. A statue of a Union Soldier stands proud in the circle's fountain. It's there you'll learn of Chambersburg's and Franklin County's storied Revolutionary and Civil War history. It's the best place to start your tour of downtown.
And here are just a couple highlights to check out on your walk.
This county seat was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. It was here at Mary Ritner's boarding house that abolitionist John Brown bunked in an upstairs room while he planned his 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry. In fact, this little house became a secret hotspot for several other famous abolitionists like Frederick Douglass.Read More >
Built in 1818, it is the oldest jail building in Pennsylvania, surviving the 1864 fire. The jail now houses a museum and genealogical library.
Back in the car now and you're on the trail to Gettysburg. Take the Dutch Country back roads following Rt. 316 southeast out of town and then left on Rt. 16 through Waynesboro. You're now hugging the Mason-Dixon line. Not too far off Rt. 16 is Monterey Pass, a mountain pass near Blue Ridge Summit, PA, and the site of the July 4, 1863 fight during the Confederate's famous retreat from Gettysburg. Enjoy the scenic, quiet drive and follow 116 into downtown Gettysburg, passing the National Military Park on your way in. When you arrive in Gettysburg, stretch your legs with an evening walk around downtown. Check out what's playing at the old Majestic Theater. Majestic is just one way to describe the theater. President Dwight Eisenhower and his wife Mamie were regulars at this 80 + year old theater, renovated to its former glory in 2005.Read More >
After a long day on the Civil War Trails, every good Roadtrip General deserves a good burger and a beverage. The Pub & Restaurant does both well and offers a scenic view of Gettysburg historic Lincoln Square.Read More >
Established in 1797, the hotel sits right on Lincoln Square and is walking distance to nearly all of Gettysburg's major Civil War attractions. It was just steps away in November of 1863 that Abraham Lincoln refined the immortal words of his Gettysburg Address at the David Will House, one of your stops tomorrow.Read More >
It's well known that Gettysburg is chock full of the Civil War Trails attractions - it was the high water mark of the southern rebellion, the site of the war's bloodiest battle, and its ultimate turning point. So you better get up early!
To get you started, visit the newly renovated Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center. Plan your tour of the battlefields here and before you do, immerse yourself in the sites, sounds and stories of the Battle of Gettysburg at the center's Cyclorama, the country's largest painting, and watch a short film in the museum's theater.
This historic home was once occupied by Confederate soldiers and served as a major post for Confederate Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins. The museum that it is now has interactive lessons on 19th century life and culture, particularly the war-era struggles of the eight-person Rupp Family who had to escape the invading rebels.Read More >
Restored to its original condition, here you can learn the story of 20-year-old Jennie Wade, fiancée to Corporal "Jack" Skelly, and the only civilian casualty during the Battle of Gettysburg. You'll get a first-hand look at the kitchen door still peppered full of bullet holes.Read More >
After a short walk back to the town square, you'll find the David Wills House, the former home of post-war recovery agent David Wills and a new National Park Service museum dedicated to the memory of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Humbly stand before the second-story bedroom where Lincoln honed the final words of the Address. Got goose bumps? That comes with the territory on the Pennsylvania Civil War Trails. And you're not done yet.
You're back on the trail again, heading east through Pennsylvania Dutch Country to the city and county of Lancaster. On your drive, you'll have a few detours.Read More >
Follow Rt. 116 out of Gettysburg through Hanover, another town targeted by Confederates because of nearby Hanover Junction Train Station, a major route for the transport of wounded soldiers from Gettysburg to hospitals in Harrisburg, York, and other Northern towns. Stand on the platform - now a stop for bikers on the York Rail-Trail pathway - to imagine such a site. It was also here at this junction that President Abraham Lincoln changed trains en route to Gettysburg to deliver the Gettysburg Address.
Head north on Rt. 616 and east on Rt. 30 through City of York. Known as the White Rose City (a symbol of the British House of York) and once capital of the United States (1777-1778), York was the largest Northern town to be occupied by the Confederate army. York was also home to one of the Underground Railroad stationmasters, a prominent African American named William C. Goodridge. A large colorful mural marks his historic influence on York and the quest for Black freedom.
Still heading east towards the mighty Susquehanna River - about 30 miles south of where you crossed at Harrisburg just a couple days ago - you're now approaching the Civil War Trails "River Towns" of Wrightsville, Columbia, and Marietta.
It was in the quaint river town in of Wrightsville that Union and Confederate soldiers clashed along its banks, as Confederate General John Brown Gordon was attempting to push through Northern forces on his way to Lancaster. Before he could, Union Colonel Jacob Frick assembled his men on the western shore and in an effort to stop the advancing Confederates at all costs, gave the order to burn the bridge. Driving across the Veterans Memorial Bridge (PA-462) on a clear night you can imagine how the York Gazette described this scene in 1863: "… The moon was bright, and the blue clouds afforded the best contrast possible to see the red glare… The lights in the heavens must have been seen for many miles."
Wrightsville, like the other Susquehanna River Towns stands as a symbol of resistance and community sacrifice. Today, it is home to America's oldest continuously operating manufacturer of cast iron products. Stop by the John Wright Store & Restaurantnear the river's edge to learn more - enjoy great views and pick up a souvenir or two for back home.
Continuing your Susquehanna River Towns tour, head over the bridge to Columbia. Mixed among its many streets is a must-do dinner spot.
This Columbia staple brings old southern Cajun cuisine to "Yankee" territory. The owners and operators, David and Sharon Prudhomme (tell them we sent you) are kin to the famous Louisiana Cajun chef, Paul Prudhomme. David and Sharon opened the restaurant in a building that was once a boarding house for railroaders and a speakeasy, on downtown corner of Route 30 and Cherry Street. Come for the spicy, plentiful dishes, stay for the infectious karaoke (oh, and monthly Sinatra Night, if you're lucky).
We assume your mightly full after your Cajun dinner in Columbia. It's just a few short miles on Rt. 30 to your hotel (and bed) on the beautiful town square of another famous PA Dutch Country town: Lancaster.
It's a brand new, landmark hotel sitting proud amongst the vibrant Lancaster city streets. You're walking distance to Gallery Row and the Arts District where you can experience firsthand the flourishing downtown arts scene. And right next door is Central Market, the oldest, continuously operated farmers market in the United States and a perfect place to grab breakfast before starting another day of your Civil War Trails journey.Read More >
A complement to York, the White Rose City, Lancaster is known as the Red Rose City, of the British House of Lancaster. And like York, it was once the capital of the US, but for a much shorter time: just one day in September of 1777. Today, it's a vibrant city with plenty to offer in the way of shopping, dining and entertainment.
Setting out from Penn Square and the Central Market - don't forget to pick up some traditional Amish goods before you depart the market - take a half-mile stroll north on Prince Street and then left/west on Chestnut Street. It's on the corner of Chestnut and Mulberry Street you'll find the Shreiner's Cemetery, the final resting place of Thaddeus Stevens. One of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives until 1868, the year he died, he called Lancaster home (you can see his house on Queen Street). An architect of the 14th Amendment and the Reconstruction Acts, he was truly devoted to freedom and equality and requested that he be buried at Shreiner's instead of more prominent "white only" burial grounds.
Head out of downtown, just a couple miles, to the Lancaster County Historical Society and the historic home of the 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan. Located on the grounds of the beautiful Louise Tanger Arboretum, Wheatland is a stately home that you must tour to appreciate. You'll get to know a bit about the only president from the state of Pennsylvania, who served in the years leading up to the Civil War.
As you round out your PA Civil War Trails roadtrip in Lancaster, consider all you've seen and all there is still to see. In just a few days, you've begun a journey to the margins of our country's most significant story. It is a story that continues to evolve and from which we can learn much about our modern society. And along the way, you got to know the towns and people that make Pennsylvania's Dutch Country Roads so special. We hope to see you on the Trails again, in another town square or house museum. Surely, your Passport could use more stamps.
For more information, stories, and roadtrips, go to visitPA.com/CivilWarTrails.The Pennsylvania Civil War Trails is a cooperative partnership of the Pennsylvania Tourism Office, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, AMTRAK, Jump Street Inc., The National Civil War Museum, Preserve America, and the Dutch Country Roads Destination Marketing Organizations of Adams, Franklin, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, and York counties. Read More >
Central Market House
Get a taste of the local flavor. The Central Market House was constructed in 1888 to give the York townsfolk somewhere to sell their fresh fruits and veggies. Today, the old-timey spirit is still alive and well. And the fruits are just as delicious.
Midtown Scholar Bookstore and Cafe
What will you find in Central PA’s largest bookstore? Well, books and lot’s of them. But you’ll also find live music acts here singing folk, blues and more.
Thaddeus Stevens/Lydia Hamilton Smith Historic Site
Thaddeus Stevens and Lydia Hamilton both played crucial roles in the development of our nation. They championed equal rights for Americans of all colors and backgrounds although such views were unpopular at the time. This site stands in honor of their journey and sacrifice in making America a better place.
State Museum of Pennsylvania
Experience the state's heritage in the vast collection at the State Museum, including Peter Frederick Rothermel's 1870 The Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett's Charge, a massive 16-foot by 32-foot painting of the epic Civil War battle scene.