Go with a Licensed Battlefield Guide

Here at Gettysburg National Military Park we frequently get asked: “What is the best way to see the battlefield?”  Our answer is simple:  “With a Licensed Battlefield Guide!”  Since we are experiencing increases in visitation this year and expect even more people in 2013 for the 150th anniversary of the battle, we recommend that anyone who wants a Guide should make advanced reservations through www.gettysburgfoundation.org or call toll-free: 877-874-2478. 

The Licensed Battlefield Guides (LBGs) continue a tradition that began in July 1863 following the battle of Gettysburg.  Immediately after the battle, hundreds of relatives and friends of the wounded and dead inundated the town of Gettysburg in search of loved ones.  The town’s residents provided escort services to grief stricken visitors.  Shortly thereafter, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania initiated action to provide a permanent cemetery for the Union dead, which became the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.  In the following years, increasing number of people came to see the battlefield and the cemetery.

Prior to the advent of the automobiles, visitors came to Gettysburg primarily by train on sightseeing excursions.  A trolley line running out from Gettysburg later augmented these rail excursion trips combined with walking tours from stops on the railroad.  In these early days, many local citizens drove hacks on the battlefield and served as a combination driver and guide.  Race Horse Alley, half a block from the railroad tracks, was the site of numerous livery stables where people disembarking from the excursion trains boarded wagons filled with seats for a day long tour of the battlefield.

When Gettysburg National Military Park was authorized by an Act of Congress on February 11, 1895 and placed under the jurisdiction of the War Department, the Department inherited a system of battlefield guides that had grown into a tradition in the 32 years since the battle.

Before 1915, the War Department made no effort to regulate or control individuals guiding on the battlefield.  Essentially anyone could conduct a tour and nearly anyone did.  The guiding business became increasingly lucrative when the number of visitors to the battlefield increased rapidly as the result of the availability of the personal automobile in the period after 1910.  By 1915, the number of guides was approximately 100.

As the number of guides increased so did complaints about the service, as recorded by the War Department.  Irresponsible guides were charging exorbitant fees and giving inaccurate accounts of the battle.  In 1915 an unusually high number of complaints forced the War Department to undertake the regulation of guides. Starting after October 17, 1915, the War Department issued a directive that only guides licensed by the Department would be allowed to conduct battlefield tours for a fee.  Under this directive regulations covering fees, solicitation, conduct, length of tours and personal appearance and cleanliness were established.  Furthermore, anyone wishing to become a guide was required to take a written exam to prove their knowledge on the battle.

The first guide examination was administered on September 2, 1915.  Minimum age for those eligible for the test was 18.  Ninety-one out of the ninety-five taking the test successfully completed it. They were then divided into three guide classes:  First-class, Second-class and Third-class.  During January and February of 1916, instructions were given to the 2nd and 3rd classes to help them improve their classification.

The goal of the licensing procedure was to protect both the public and those who were eminently qualified to be guides by refusing to license anyone obviously unfit, and by revoking the license of those who did not comply with the guiding regulations.  The courts upheld the War Department regulations when unlicensed guides were arrested for conducting tours over the battlefield after October 17, 1915.  As a direct result, the quality of guide services improved.

In 1933, the National Park Service assumed the management of the guide service when Gettysburg National Military Park was transferred to the Department of Interior.  At this time, guided tours cost $3.00 for the long tour and $2.00 for the short or “twisted” tour.  During the Depression visitation to Gettysburg was low, and it was common for guides not to take out any trips in July or August.  At this time, guides were located at the Lincoln Square (the Horse and Buggy), North End Guide Station (Harrisburg Road), West End Guide Station (Route 30 West), South End Guide Station (Emmitsburg Road) and East Cemetery Hill.  In 1962, the park’s Cyclorama Center became the primary location for the guides to pick up tours and at same time the North End, South End and East Cemetery Hill stations were closed.  They operated for many years out of the park Visitor Center on Taneytown Road and in 2008 moved over to the current park Museum and Visitor Center.

The park currently has 158 LBGs. They provided 24,308 tours last year to approximately 220,000 park visitors.

LBGs are under the direct supervision of the National Park Service.  To insure that an adequate force of guides exists to serve the visiting public, the National Park Service periodically administers written and oral examinations, and new guides are licensed as needed.

The next written exam is December 1, 2012.  If you are interested in learning more about how to register to participate in the written exam, please email:  Clyde_Bell@ nps.gov

Many thanks to Supervisory Park Ranger Clyde Bell, of Gettysburg National Military Park, and Licensed Battlefield Guide Frederick W. Hawthorne for assistance with this article.

 Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, July 12, 2012

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Staff of Gettysburg National Military Park
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7 Responses to Go with a Licensed Battlefield Guide

  1. Carol Houser says:

    could you post a list of all the battlefield guides and how long they have been at Gettysburg.

    • The Staff says:

      Carol,

      There are currently 150 licensed guides so we could not possibly post a list of them all here.

      Scott Hartwig

    • Debbie Smith says:

      Carol,
      You can find a current roster of Licensed Battlefield Guides, as well as their length of service, at this website: http://www.gettysburgtourguides.org.
      If you are planing a trip to Gettysburg NMP, especially if this will be your first trip, you will greatly benefit by going with a guide. They are great!
      Debbie Smith

  2. steven1863 says:

    Your article on the Licensed Guides at Gettysburg was great to see. The history of the guides and it’s tradition is unique and special to GNMP and I’m glad to see you give the Association its due credit. Thank you !

    Members like Fred Hawthorn and Jim Tate the later whom was just recognized for his lifetime commitment of service are just some examples of the many before whom have shared their knowledge of the battle and it’s field to the benefit so many!

    Thanks for sharing. I am proud to have been
    a part of this rich part of Gettysburg’s history.

  3. Carol Houser says:

    Its just me again. How many park rangers are there. A list of names and dates if you can, Thanks Carol

  4. alan pidcock says:

    We had the pleasure of having a young woman, Ellen, give us a tour. She did a great job and was able to get our three teenage daughters interested in her talk. Thankx again Ellen !!

  5. alan pidcock says:

    During ourvisit this past June we had the pleasure of having a guide named Ellen who gave us a great tour. She did a good job of keeping our three teenage daughters interested during the trip through out the park. Thank you Ellen !!

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