150 Years Later: Pennsylvania Commemorates the Civil War

This year marks the 150th anniversary of a raging clash that shattered the tranquility of a little town in southern Pennsylvania and turned the tide of the Civil War.

Although the Battle of Gettysburg will be remembered with lectures, commemorative programs and other activities throughout the year, events taking place on the actual battle days of July 1-3 and through July 7 will attract thousands making the journey to learn more about our Civil War heritage. 

At the Gettysburg National Military Park rangers will stage a Living History Camp, complete with demonstrations, special programs for children and adults, and two battalions of Union and Confederate infantrymen and artillery. Some 15,000 re-enactors will gather to reflect on the historic event and recreate the 1860s through battle re-enactments, encampments and demonstrations, along with thousands more civilian interpreters, 400 horses and 100 cannons.

Another highlight occurs November 19, when a dedication ceremony at the Soldier’s National Cemetery commemorates the sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”  

The park’s Museum and Visitor Center, famed for its dramatic, wrap-around “Cyclorama” painting that illustrates the fury of Pickett’s Charge, opens a new “Treasures of the Civil War” exhibit in June, showcasing rare artifacts. Tours of the battlefield, parts of which are in the process of being restored to its 1863 appearance — without visible power lines or modern structures, and trees trimmed to their former dimensions — can be arranged at the center: Choose from a narrated bus tour, a personal guided tour in your vehicle, or take a self-guided audio CD tour.  

The Destination Gettysburg launched a free downloadable walking tour app for the iPhone, available through iTunes. For a complete and up-to-date listing of all Gettysburg events and attractions — plus an interactive map — visit gettysburgcivilwar150.com

Complement the Gettysburg experience with side trips to nearby cities and delve into additional aspects of the Civil War. 

Outstanding destinations in Harrisburg — only a short distance from Gettysburg — include the refurbished Civil War Gallery at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, which incorporates collections formerly displayed at the now-retired traveling Civil War Roadshow. The museum also features Peter Frederick Rothermel’s epic “Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett’s Charge” painting, a distinguished collection of Civil War presentation swords and such recent acquisitions as objects associated with The United States Colored Troops. The state capitol is also home to the National Civil War Museum, which supplements its extensive collections of rare artifacts and archival pieces related to both the North and the South with a new sesquicentennial exhibit.

Key attractions in Philadelphia include top-notch collections at the recently renovated Philadelphia Museum of History at the Atwater Kent and the “Audacious Freedom” and “Come See About Me” exhibitions at the African American Museum of Philadelphia. Other fascinating destinations include the historic Belmont Mansion, a stop on the Underground Railroad that helped fugitive slaves find passage to freedom, and the park-like Laurel Hill Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark and final resting place of 39 Union generals and one Confederate general. 

Pennsylvania Civil War Trails offers information on road trips across the state developed around specific themes, from “Women and the War” to “The Battle Cry for Equality.” Along with destination descriptions, the website supplies resources and background information that create insightful, interactive journeys through time. While traveling these trails, keep an eye out for historical markers with details about places and events. 

Travelers in the western part of the state may also cross paths with “The Civil War in Pennsylvania: A Traveling Exhibition,” a new circulating exhibit developed by Pittsburgh’s prestigious John Heinz History Center. The exhibition will visit 40-plus small museums and historical societies. A separate and larger 10,000-square foot exhibit, “The Civil War in Pennsylvania,” is being unveiled at the Heinz History Center in June. This exhibits ties into the publication of a book of the same name published in December 2012; the book stars 400 previously unpublished Pennsylvania Civil War photos that curators and archivists scoured the country to find.

The Civil War touched every part of Pennsylvania and there are countless local tales to be told. Comprehensive information on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in Pennsylvania can be found at pacivilwar150.com. Along with the ability to purchase anniversary merchandise, the website offers a full calendar of Civil War sesquicentennial happenings, including high-caliber exhibitions and events vetted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and bearing the “Civil War 150” logo, as well as re-enactments, lectures, parades and other activities hosted by communities throughout the year. 


Be sure to attend events of the Gettysburg 150th - find information on the 10 day event here: gettysburgcivilwar150.com


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