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October 2012 - GO Educational Tours

Gettysburg and the Presidential Inauguration Part III

Gettysburg and the Presidential Inauguration.

Gettysburg is A Time Capsule of American History, Only 1½ Hours from Washington, D.C.

In Gettysburg, My Favorite Place to Dine And Sites To See…..

Many planning to attend the presidential inauguration are likely unaware that Gettysburg battlefield and town, a gem of American history, is only a 1 ½ hour drive away. Whether one is attending the inauguration, or plans to visit D.C. at any time of year, a visit to Gettysburg will not disappoint.

My favorite place to dine is The Dobbin House, although the Farnsworth House is also very good. The Dobbin House is also preserved as it appeared back then. It was built in the late 1700s and inhabited by a reverend. During the war, a mortally wounded Confederate General Lewis Armistead, famed for personally leading Pickett’s Charge with his hat stuck on the end of his sword, was taken to the basement of the Dobbin House for medical treatment. The basement was later converted to a bar, and then a tavern for dining, walls of stone and the room dimly lit by candlelight. The bar is preserved as bars appeared in the 1800s, encased by a wooden cage on hinges that is pulled up and latched to the ceiling when the tavern is open, and down after closing as practiced in those times to prevent theft. The varnished wood bar counter is original, from the early 1800s. Also in the tavern is the original spring well, where food was kept cool, visible from the stairs leading down to the tavern. The tavern offers a limited but excellent menu, and the main dining room at ground level and the second floor has a complete menu of culinary delights – many quality cuts of steak cooked to perfection, authentic Maryland crab cakes, crab meat a la Dobbin, Gettystown shrimp, seafood Isabella, imperial crab, roast duck Adams County, veal Madeira, and much more. Many items on the menu are prepared in traditional 1800s style, even the desserts, which feature Adams County apple pie and warm colonial gingerbread. The ambiance of the dining room, flickering candlelight dancing on the walls, waitresses wearing period dresses, replicates dining in the 1800s.

A Civil War band plays outside the Dobbin House

The battlefield itself is vast and offers stunning views of the undulating landscape, particularly from the vantage point of Little Round Top, where Bowdoin College Professor and Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge after his regiment of loggers, trappers, and fishermen from Maine ran out of ammunition. The repulse of the charging Confederates helped save the battle for the Union, because they held the flank of the Union fish hook line along the ridge, the high ground. Trenches dug in 1863 on Little Round top exist today.

View from Little Round Top

Little Round Top overlooks Devil’s Den down below, an amalgamation of large boulders that are fun to walk amongst. Walking trails snake around the boulders and past genuine Civil War cannons. It was here that on July 2, 1863, Union soldiers from New York tried unsuccessfully to defend this position under assault by Confederates from Texas and Alabama. At one point, the trajectory of bullets producing a sound like angry hornets, cannon like cracks of lightening, Major James Cromwell from New York tried to rally his men and charged alone on his horse down the smoke filled slope of Triangular field, brandishing his sword, and was shot dead right through the heart. After the Confederates seized Devil’s Den, they used the position to fire at Union soldiers on Little Round Top.

Not far from Devil’s Den is a barn and house, near the Peach Orchard. The top of the barn’s façade is brick and still features a large imprint where a cannon ball struck, yet another reminder that lest we forget, like the bullet marks that anointed the Farnsworth house, this beautiful landscape once hosted one of the fiercest battles of the civil war.

Learn more here about our Presidential Inauguration student tour program here:

Inauguration Info

It does not surprise me that President Eisenhower retired to Gettysburg. He felt the same appreciation and awe of the hallowed ground, the beautiful landscape, and the town that seems frozen in time.

Gettysburg and the Presidential Inauguration Part II

Gettysburg – An Obligatory Stop while visiting Washington, D.C. during the Presidential Inauguration

As a Civil War historian, I may be biased, but those attending the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. on January 21, 2013 should consider visiting the historic town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Gettysburg is a 1½ hour drive from Washington, D.C.. Because the presidential inauguration is a historic event, visiting Gettysburg after the inauguration would both make the inauguration an indelible memory and would pay homage to sacred ground, consecrated by those who fought to make our nation whole.

Do not be surprised to see reenactors and other men and women donned in period dress or uniforms, a musket slung over their shoulder or sword attached to their belt. I once walked into the historic Farnsworth House Tavern to pick up my room keys, after arriving too late to formally check in inside the bookstore. As I opened the door, live music spilled out, only the music was of the sort you would hear in a civil war camp. There by the bar was a band dressed like they lived in the mid 1800s, and at the bar sat a few men dressed as Confederate soldiers. The Farnsworth House experienced heavy combat during the battle. There was house to house fighting. One side of the house that is visible from the street, a brick wall with no windows except for the attic, is still riddled with about a hundred bullet marks, chips of white studding the orange brick. The reason is that during the battle, two confederate snipers were in the attic, firing at Union soldiers in the street, who naturally fired back. One wonders if it was one of these snipers who killed the only civilian to die during the Battle of Gettysburg, Jenny Wade, who was felled by a bullet in her kitchen across the street while baking bread for Union soldiers. A hole in the door where that fateful bullet passed is still there today at the Jenny Wade House, which offers tours.


See the bullet marks on the brick facade above, and the attic where the snipers were nested.

It is possible to tour the attic of the Farnsworth House, where reputedly the ghosts of the Confederate Snipers haunt. I have stayed there several times, and while I prefer the rooms in the original portion of the house, decorated and furnished as they were in 1863, I once stayed in the General Custer room and enjoyed it. The Custer room is decorated with a western theme, including a few original artifacts hanging on the wall, a deer antler chandelier, an animal skin rug, and a working gas fireplace.

One night I stayed in the Sara Black Room, one of the original rooms, directly below the attic where two Confederate snipers were nested, and eventually killed. The room overlooks Baltimore Street, which is the street Abraham Lincoln walked down on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address. At around 3 AM, I was awakened by the sound of heavy footsteps in the attic, and large objects being dragged on the floor. After hearing this for fifteen minutes, my curiosity piqued, I left my room, walked to the top of the stairs leading up to the attic door, and saw that it was padlocked from the outside. I felt a chill down my spine and my heart skipped a beat. Quietly, I went back down the stairs to my room. The next morning, I asked the front desk if anyone had been touring the attic at around 3 AM. They replied that nobody had been up there. I then recounted my experience, and that the attic door was padlocked from the outside, yet there were distinct sounds from inside. They assured me that I was not losing my mind, that many guests report exactly what I heard, and some have actually seen the ghosts that haunt the Farnsworth House. I learned that many other places in town, and on the battlefield, are frequented by soldiers of times past who still do not know that the battle is over.

The town of Gettysburg has several other homes that existed during the battle and can be toured. My favorite house tour is the Shriver House, preserved, furnished, and decorated as it was during the battle. Confederate snipers also used its attic to fire at Union soldiers in the street, and a bloodstain on the attic floor still to this day, from when the snipers were eventually killed, memorializes the event. The house is a living history and offers the chance to see what life was like in those times, lectured by the house’s tour guide. You will see the kitchen utensils they used and learn what they cooked. You will learn about how beds were different than today. The term “sleep tight” originated from the use of “rope beds” before the advent of box springs. Every night before bed, people would tighten the ropes on which the mattress rested, so that the mattress would not sag and cause a sore back by morning.

As we approach the 2013 presidential inauguration, I am reminded of the prophetic conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:

“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Gettysburg exudes those “mystic chords of memory”, much as the chords I heard from the Civil War band that played in the Farnsworth House Tavern.


Learn more here about our Presidential Inauguration student tour program here:

Inauguration Info

Gettysburg and the Presidential Inauguration

Gettysburg and the Presidential Inauguration

All Roads Lead To Gettysburg, Especially Those From Washington, D.C.

As we approach another presidential inauguration on January 21, 2013, I cannot help but think of the historic town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for reasons other than the battle itself, that Gettysburg is a 1 ½ hour drive from Washington, D.C., and that the sounds of cannon during the battle could be heard in Washington, D.C. Anyone attending the presidential inauguration in Washington DC should visit Gettysburg.

 President William Henry Harrison died in 1841 only three months after delivering his presidential inauguration speech, on a cold, rainy day and without wearing an overcoat. His neglect to stay warm during his speech caused his death from pneumonia, which escalated after such ill-fated attempted cures as opium, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed.

How does this tie into Gettysburg and the Civil War?

If you remember the phrase impressed on you by your elementary school history teacher “Tippecanoe…and Tyler too”, President Harrison was an acclaimed Army officer who faced off against Native American tribal leader Tecumseh in 1810 near Vincennes, Indiana, at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Despite being a foe, Tecumseh was admired by the U.S. military for his bravery, inspiring the middle name for one of the most famous Civil War generals, William Tecumseh Sherman.

President Harrison’s prescription of opium, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed to battle his pneumonia would become obsolete in a few decades, due largely to the Civil War. Despite war’s ugliness, sometimes necessity and urgency spur new treatments, discoveries, and even lasting peace after decades or even hundreds of years of tension, sort of like a letting. As they say, “necessity is the mother of all invention”. During the Civil War, the Union’s naval blockade choked off imports to the Confederacy from Europe, and eventually the shortage of silk for sutures to stitch wounds prompted the South to use horse hairs for sutures to stitch wounds. Doctors, finding the hairs too brittle, started boiling the horse hairs before stitching. By trial and error, it was observed that those who were stitched with boiled horse hairs contracted fewer infections, and thus was born the practice of sterilization by boiling instruments.



Gettysburg 1863 Reenactment

Battle of Gettysburg reenactment, Gettysburg, PA

What does this have to do with Gettysburg?

I learned all of this in the town of Gettysburg, a time capsule of American history which has frozen the battle in time. Many who have not been there, or barely remember the site from when they visited as a child, are unaware that there is more to see in Gettysburg than the battlefield, which is a beautiful landscape with rolling hills, ridges, mountains in the distance, original cannon populating the field, and still home to the traditional Adams County fieldstone houses that were caught in the middle of the fighting. The Civil War museum on the cusp of the battlefield is vast and one of the best museums in the country, a treasure trove of artifacts collectively worth perhaps tens of millions of dollars. Admission is free. In the town of Gettysburg, one can tour several houses that existed and were assaulted during the battle. A few offer fine dining on traditional fare as one would eat in the 1800s.

When you visit Gettysburg, you will feel as if you had traveled in a time machine, stepping back in time to 1863. You will see many reenactors dressed in period attire or military uniforms, walking about town, sitting in a mock camp along the road, or serving you at dinner.

This town is one of my favorites in the country.

Learn more here about our Presidential Inauguration student tour program here:

Inauguration Info