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