Hidden Gems of Gettysburg

If you are heading to Gettysburg for the anniversary this July or plan to travel there in the future, there is a lot to see!  Many visitors utilize the NPS resources and driving tour (which is certainly a good option), but if you want to get off the beaten path here are ten hidden (or less visited) gems of Gettysburg to check out.

First Shot Marker

(Photo by author)

(Photo by author)

The drama of the opening of Gettysburg belongs to the Union cavalry.  John Buford saw the Confederate army approaching the town and decided to hold them off until Union infantry could come forward.  In one sense it was a drastic measure (limited amounts of unhorsed cavalrymen fending off Confederate infantry), but it was also a very well planned one.  Buford knew that his men would have to fall back in front of the larger enemy; they could only provide a stalling force to provide time for the rest of the Union army to arrive.  If he began his effort right outside of town, his cavalry would soon be pushed back and lose the town.  Instead, he pushed his force forward, using the series of ridges between the town and oncoming Confederates to build a defense.  That way his force had room to steadily fall back without endangering the town.  This means that the first shot of the battle, thought to have been from Lieutenant Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry (although that was the subject of a lot of post-war controversy), was fired three miles west of Gettysburg, far from where tourists to the battlefield usually begin their tour of Day 1.

In 1886, Jones (then a Captain) along with Lieutenant Riddler and Sergeant Levi Shafer (whose carbine Jones had used to fire that first shot at a mounted Confederate officer) erected a five foot limestone shaft on a small parcel of property purchased from the owner of the house that still stands. 

The monument is located on the Chambersburg Pike (US 30), three miles west of Gettysburg at Knoxlyn Road.  There is an unlabeled patch of green marked on the NPS map for reference.

Willoughby Run

John Archer, DESCENDANT of James j. archer, speaks near willoughby run. 

John Archer, DESCENDANT of James j. archer, speaks near willoughby run. 

My professor used to always tell us on our Gettysburg tours that to truly see the battlefield, you had to get out of the car and walk.  And get away from the driving tour roads.  He would always take us down a small dirt trail to Willoughby Run, the ground where the Union Iron Brigade fought with Archer’s Confederates on the first day of battle.  Confederates crossed this creek and ran up the wooded slope of Herbst Woods and encountered the Iron Brigade.  In these opening infantry engagements, it became clear that this would be a heated battle for the town. 

In this fighting Brigadier General James J. Archer was captured by Private Patrick Moloney of the 2nd Wisconsin.  Archer was no doubt quite unhappy about being the first of Lee’s general officers to be captured in battle, so when a former Army colleague, Union General Doubleday, greeted him with “Good morning, Archer! How are you? I am glad to see you!” Archer’s surly reply was, “Well, I am not glad to see you by a damn sight!”  Moloney received the Medal of Honor for capturing Archer, but it was a post-mortem award.  The private returned to battle within the wooded terrain and was killed somewhere amid the fray.  My professor would always finish Moloney’s story by pointing deep into the woods and reminding us that like so many, details of his demise and burial are unknown, the final record of his life being his capture of a Confederate general.  At this spot on the battlefield, the tourist drivers and battlefield roads are unseen, the surroundings consist of the run, which is rumored to have run red in the fight, and the wooded terrain where many lives were claimed.  With only the wind and the sounds of the creek, it is a good secluded spot to mediate upon the terrain and losses of the battle.

To reach this trail leave Gettysburg on the Chambersburg Pike and turn left onto the park road near the NPS information building and Reynolds equestrian statue (Meredith Avenue).  Once you enter the woods you will see parking spaces on the road near the 24th Michigan (Iron Brigade) monument.  On the other side of the road there is a smaller, rose colored monument to the 26th North Carolina; you’ll see the dirt trail going into the woods from there.  Be careful about your footing and watch for mud.

Barlow’s Knoll

The first Union infantry in line were Reynolds’ I Corps and Howard’s XI Corps.  Once Reynolds was killed, Howard took command of the battle, leaving the chain of command to shuffle around in the XI Corps.  That Corps was positioned on the right of the I Corps, extending their line along Oak Ridge towards Oak Hill.  The Union wanted to include the high ground of Oak Hill in their defensive line, but Confederates reached it first and placed artillery there to threaten the entire Union line.  Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow was instructed to bring his division up and place it in the defensive line of the XI Corps against the oncoming Confederate attack.  With the battle shifting rapidly and holding quickly ineffective orders based on previous situations, Barlow moved his men into the best position he could find on the slight rise of Blocher’s Knoll.

Unfortunately, this position was far out of line from the rest of the XI Corps, leaving Barlow’s division on a salient that was vulnerable to attack.  When the Confederate attack came, Barlow’s men were hit suddenly on both sides and, like the nightmare of Chancellorsville, crumbled.  Barlow was wounded and left for dead as his troops, followed by the rest of the Union line, devolved into a retreat through the town of Gettysburg towards the Union position on Cemetery Hill.  Barlow was found and cared for by Confederate Major General John B. Gordon and returned to federal care during the retreat after the battle was over.

Barlow’s Knoll is along the NPS driving tour route.

Kuhn’s Brickyard

the mural at kuhn's brickyard

the mural at kuhn's brickyard

Prior to the XI Corps retreat, Major General Carl Shurtz requested additional troops to strengthen his position.  In response, Howard sent Colonel Charles R. Coster’s brigade, but they did not arrive in time.  As the Union line crumbled under the Confederate assault on July 1, Coster’s troops acted as a rearguard to protect the fleeing Union I and XI Corps.  The 73rd Pennsylvania Infantry took up a position near the train station in town; the other three regiments (the 134th New York, 154th New York, and 27th Pennsylvania) found themselves in John Kuhn’s brickyard.  The Confederates quickly overwhelmed the position, hitting Coster’s men from front, both flanks, and rear.  Coster called for a retreat, but the 154th New York did not hear and were left in a surrounded position.  These men had to fight their way out with bayonets.

The fighting at the brickyard bought the Union army valuable time for the retreat to Cemetery Hill, but it came at a huge cost.  800 Union and Confederate troops were casualties of this encounter.  The 27th Pennsylvania lost 111 men out of 300, the 134th New York had 40 men killed and 150 wounded, and the hardest-hit 154th New York lost all but 3 offices and 15 men.  It was during this fight that Amos Huminston was mortally wounded.

The Brickyard is a hidden site within the town of Gettysburg, but one well worth seeing.  There are monuments to both the 154th New York and 27th Pennsylvania and a large mural depicting the battle painted by Mark Dunkelman.  The mural is on private property, but can be seen from where the monuments are. 

To get there: From the traffic circle in town, take US Business 15.  Three blocks after the traffic circle, turn right on East Stevens Street.  Go straight, past one stop sign, following the street until the end.  You can see the mural at this point.  Coster Avenue is marked in green on the NPS map for reference.

Culp’s Hill

hidden among the rocks at culp's hill is this soldier graffiti. 

hidden among the rocks at culp's hill is this soldier graffiti. 

Culp’s Hill was the right end of the Union “fishhook,” and saw its fiercest fighting on July 2.  By mid-morning of the 2nd the XII Corps was in place and brigade commander George S. Greene led the effort to build defensive works along the Union line.  Robert E. Lee’s orders on the second day of fighting consisted of attacks on both ends of the Union line.  James Longstreet attacked the Union left (Little Round Top and surrounding area) and Richard Ewell was tasked with the simultaneous attack on the Union right at Culp’s Hill.  Ewell began his effort around four in the afternoon, same as Longstreet, but limited it to artillery demonstrations which was not enough to occupy the Union.  Meade was more concerned with the heavy attacks on the other end of the line and he pulled the XII, except Greene’s brigade, to help.

Greene’s brigade was too small to cover the entire length of the Union works, only forming a single, overextended battle line.  As dusk began to fall, Longstreet’s efforts on the Union left began to settle down.  It was then that Ewell chose to begin his main assault.  Greene sent for reinforcements from the I and XI Corps as three Confederate brigades of Edward Johnson’s division scrambled up the wooded and rocky hills.  Confederates hit the dug in Union position with high loses.  The darkness enveloping the field made matters worse as regiments fired on comrades instead of the enemy, Confederates stumbled into unoccupied Union trenches, and soldiers lost their way in the confusion.  By the end of the night, Confederates held some of the trenches near Spangler’s Spring while the rest were pulled off the hill to await daylight.

The Confederates resumed their attack at dawn, despite Lee’s wishes to wait for Longstreet to be ready for a coordinated attack.  The Union position was strengthened by reinforcements and Greene rotated regiments in the trenches as they fired and reloaded in order to keep up a steady fire.  The Confederates attacked three times with heavy losses followed by a futile counterattack by Union troops near Spangler’s Spring.  This fighting died down around noon.  The failed plan for another attack on the two ends of the Union line ultimately led to Lee’s plan to attack the Uion center during the afternoon of July 3.

Culp’s Hill was named such for its owner, Henry Culp.  One of his nephews, Wesley Culp, joined the Confederate army and served with the 2nd Virginia Infantry.  Wesley’s brother, William, joined the Union army as a member of the 87th Pennsylvania.  The story goes:  On June 15, Wesley came across a friend from Gettysburg, Private Jack Skelly, who was badly wounded and in a Confederate hospital.  Skelly gave Wesley a note to give to his fiancé, Virginia “Jennie” Wade, who was waiting for him in Gettysburg; he later died of his injuries.  Wesley never had the chance to deliver the note before he was engaged in the battle of Gettysburg.  He was killed on July 3, attacking the same hill that bore his name.  His remains were not identified, only a rifle stock with his name carved into it.  His message would not have been received, even if he did deliver it, for “Jennie” Wade was the only civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg, killed while baking bread in her sister’s home on July 1.

Culp’s Hill used to be a popular attraction because it was so close to town, but recently focus has shifted more to the action around the Round Tops.

Culp’s Hill is located near East Cemetery Hill; there is an offshoot of the NPS driving tour that will take you there.

Gettysburg College

Just off campus stands this monument to the pennsylvania emergency militia.

Just off campus stands this monument to the pennsylvania emergency militia.

Gettysburg College sits on the edge of town close to the Day 1 battlefield.  It was founded as Pennsylvania College in 1832 and was still holding classes in July 1863 when the two armies clashed around the town.  Due to Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, Governor Andrew Curtin called for emergency volunteers on June 15.  Fifty-four students, about half the college, stepped forward and were mustered in at Harrisburg as Company A, 26th Regiment, Pennsylvania Emergency Militia.  They returned to Gettysburg to guard that area and had their first test on June 26 when the Confederate advanced guard approached town.  The green militia were quickly scattered by the Confederate force.

The fighting of July 1 occurred just outside the college, disrupting classes for the day.  Union troops filed through campus to take up their positions and Union signalmen took over the cupola of Pennsylvania Hall.  By the end of the day, the Union army had retreated and Confederates controlled the town and the college campus.  Pennsylvania hall was turned into a field hospital which wrecked its interior.  The students and faculty sheltered in the town during the battle and President Baugher remained in his home on campus.

Pennsylvania Hall stands at the center of Gettysburg College campus and flies a 34-star 1863 flag from the cupola.

East Cavalry Field

With J.E.B. Stuart finally on the scene, he was in position to get into the Federal rear and exploit any success from Pickett’s charge on July 3.  Around 11, Stuart signaled to Lee by that he was in position in the Union rear by firing four guns.  Of course, the guns also alerted Union General David Gregg who engaged the Confederates in an artillery duel.  Stuart sent in a direct cavalry charge by the 1st Virginia Cavalry around the same time that the artillery bombardment opened on Cemetery Ridge.  George Custer and the 7th Michigan Cavalry counterattacked and the two forces struggled in point-blank range over a fence on Rummel’s farm.  Once Custer’s men were able to break down the fence, the Virginians had to retreat.  Stuart sent in reinforcements from all three of his brigades to push Custer’s pursuit back.

Stuart then sent in Wade Hampton’s brigade which charged the defending Union horse artillery and once again Custer led horsemen into the fray.  As these two groups of horsemen struggled in close combat, John McIntosh led his brigade against Hampton’s right flank and the 3rd Pennsylvania and 1st New Jersey hit his left.  Surrounded on three sides, the Confederates withdrew and the fighting ended.  This 40 minute engagement was intense, but tactically inconclusive.  It was a strategic loss for Lee whose plans to drive into the Union rear went unaccomplished.  Casualties were 254 for the Union (219 from Custers’s brigade) and 181 Confederate.

East Cavalry field can be reached in two ways:

From the center of town (the traffic circle), take Hanover Road (116) east of town a few miles until you reach the entrance to the East Cavalry Battlefield.

From the NPS Visitor Center, take the Baltimore Pike until the junction of Route 15, take 15 going north and exit onto Hanover Road (116).  Continue going east until you reach the entrance to the East Cavalry Battlefield.

 There was another cavalry engagement on July 3 after Pickett’s Charge was defeated.  Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick led reckless cavalry charges against the right flank of the Confederate army that were easily repulsed.  This action was labeled South Cavalry field and is marked in green on the NPS map south along the Emmitsburg Road.

Big Round Top

Everyone knows Little Round Top for its role in the July 2 fighting, but most bypass its big brother, Big Round Top.  The rocky terrain prevented either side from getting artillery to the top of the hill, but Union men had to drive Confederate sharpshooters from it to prevent their firing upon the Union line.  In addition, Chamberlain’s 20th Maine occupied Big Round Top after their actions on Little Round Top on July 2.  There are several monuments there, including one to the 20th Maine, and there is a trail that leads up the hill face (this trail is marked on the NPS map).

Big Round Top is accessible along the NPS driving tour.

The Town

It may seem obvious, but the entire town is also part of the battlefield.  The retreat of the Union line on July 1 meant that Union and Confederate soldiers fought through the streets of town.  Also, most of the public buildings and many private homes were used as hospitals and many still have signs of the damage.  Although much of the town is modern and commercialized (which is also fun to explore) there are plenty of small museums and historic buildings to check out within the town.  You’ll also find monuments and plaques tucked away in corners and on the sides of buildings.  Many visitors will stick to the NPS tour route, but the town certainly deserves some time as well.

The Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau can provide information on specific sites if desired.

Evergreen Cemetery

The Gettysburg National Cemetery is separated only by a fence from the historic local cemetery: Evergreen Cemetery.  This cemetery was the actual location of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, not where the monument stands today.  Besides being a lovely old cemetery, there are a few notable burials related to the Battle of Gettysburg.

Photo by author

Photo by author

Virginia “Jennie” Wade was reburied in the cemetery in 1865, not far from the grave of Jack Skelly.  In 1900 a monument was erected, designed by local resident Anna Miller, in addition to a flag that flies perpetually (one of two sites dedicated to women to hold this honor—the other is the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia). 





photo by author

photo by author

At the cemetery entrance stands a statue to Elizabeth Thorn.  The Thorns were the first family to live in the cemetery gatehouse when her husband Peter became Superintendent of the cemetery in 1856.  When Peter went to war as a member of the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry, Elizabeth served as caretaker from 1862-1865.  After the Battle of Gettysburg, and while six months pregnant, Elizabeth buried 91 soldiers with the help of her elderly father.  She and Peter both died in 1907 and are buried within the cemetery.





monument to john burns (photo 

monument to john burns (photo 

John Burns was the only Gettysburg citizen to join the Union forces on the first day of fighting.  The 69 year old veteran of the War of 1812 was wounded three times and has his own monument on Meredith Avenue.  He was boosted as a national hero but died destitute in 1872 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.  His grave also has a flag that flies at all times, the same as Jennie Wade.

The entrance to Evergreen Cemetery is across the road from East Cemetery Hill.  Enter through the cemetery gatehouse.




Kathleen Logothetis Thompson graduated from Siena College in May 2010 with a B.A. in History and a Certificate in Revolutionary Era Studies.  She earned her M.A. in History from West Virginia University in May 2012.  Her thesis “A Question of Life or Death: Suicide and Survival in the Union Army” examines wartime suicide among Union soldiers, its causes, and the reasons that army saw a relatively low suicide rate.  She is currently pursuing her PhD at West Virginia University with research on mental trauma in the Civil War.  In addition, Kathleen has been a seasonal interpreter at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park since 2010 and has worked on various other publications and projects.