Battle of Gettysburg from Above

Mid-Winter Reminder

A road bed covered in snow, Culp’s Hill.

The winter is a great time to visit the battlefield from a sight line perspective. Foliage is down allowing for unbroken views into the wooded slopes of Culp’s Hill, Little Round and Oak Hill. A layer of snow further accentuates terrain by defining defiles, earthworks, burial pits and old road beds. Most impressive are the view sheds in January, February and March from original federal signal stations during the three day battle.

Some visitors will contend the towers at Culp’s Hill, Oak Hill and Warfield Ridge provide an equal or better bird’s eye view than original, primary signal stations located atop Little Round Top, Cemetery Hill and Powers Hill, and they may be right, but there is a significant difference. That is, the signal station hills offer original sight lines available to battle participants. Reconstructing the battle accurately requires using the information available at the time, and that is where winter views from primary signal stations become important. If one knows where to stand, the entire battle can be explained from these hills in context, with visual reinforcement.

The most refreshing prominence to interpret from is the recently cleared Powers Hill at the intersection of Baltimore Pike and Granite School House lane.  Looking east from the highest crest through openings made affordable from felled trees and winter barrenness, one can readily see the whole July 2, 1863 battle in contextual continuity. North Cavalry Field – Hunterstown is marked by a energy plant’s three smokestacks to the northeast, Brinkerhoff Ridge and East Cavalry Field is conveniently noticeable beside a green water tower and cell phone tower to the east. Both Hunterstown and Brinkerhoff Ridge represent the primary concentration of federal cavalry on July 2,that secured the federal right flank and rear. The same Powers Hill bird’s eye view east reveals Benner’s Hill, Culp’s Hill, Spangler Meadow, McAllister Ridge and Wolf’s Hill, all key locations for maneuvering, deployment and combat that covered the Baltimore Pike.

Karen Wood

Little Round Top in winter. Image courtesy of Karen Wood.

Facing west from Little Round Top in the winter months permits a similar reconstruction of July 2, 1863 battle maneuvers and combat action.  If one knows the second day’s battle, the whole story is laid-out from above. Breahm’s Hill, where James Longstreet’s Corps maneuvered in the afternoon to assault the federal left is visible directly west, as are Seminary and Warfield Ridges that concealed his attack-up the Emmitsburg Road. Furthermore, the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Devils Den and site of Farnsworth’s Charge are all easy to discern thanks to health cuts and controlled burns. Winter sight lines only make concordant points that much easier to identify and interpret.

DSC_0589

Meade’s equestrian statue, looking towards Little Round Top.

Cemetery Hill offers the same unhindered sight lines west and east. Looking east from the Evergreen Cemetery Gatehouse, one can see Benner’s Hill more clearly defined than anywhere, particularly in the winter. Benner’s Hill constituted the primary Confederate artillery platform to the east and general location of two divisions of Southern infantry that assaulted Culp’s and East Cemetery Hills respectively. Peering west from the Soldier’s National Monument, in the National Cemetery, in January, February of March permits a sight line of the three tiered 11th Corps defense along Taneytown Road, Steinwehr and Fairview Avenues. Key federal strongholds such as the 8th Ohio Infantry advanced position on the Emmitsburg Road, and former Confederate sharpshooter location at the Bliss Farm (burned on July 3, 1863) are part of the sweeping perspective gained from West Cemetery Hill.

Altogether, a visit to the battlefield in the snow covered winter months is beneficial for locating old road beds, defiles, burial pits and earthwork foundations. Missing foliage permits sight lines far down the wooded slopes of Culp’s Hill, Little Round Top and Oak Hill for those in search of a better perspective of real time maneuvers, deployment and combat. Most importantly, a visit in January, February and March to Little Round, Powers and Cemetery Hills offers sweeping views of the battlefield close to what battle participants had and operated from. These three hills in particular allow an authentic retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg from above.

Troy Harman,
Ranger-Historian

About The Staff

Staff of Gettysburg National Military Park
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5 Responses to Battle of Gettysburg from Above

  1. Wonderful post! I can’t *wait* to return to Gettysburg . . . I miss it like crazy every single day. Each visit is special in so many ways!

  2. Rob Cee says:

    Are burial pits visible? Is there a map that locates them or how can they be observed?

  3. Kuhy says:

    Agreed! Was there last weekend. Superb time to visit!!

  4. Bob says:

    Excellent article. As usual, a different perspective/technique for touring the battlefield, from this author. Thank you. (I wish the pix more closely showed what was described in the text. I have to get out there now with my camera and snowshoes.)

  5. admin11states says:

    Beautiful pictures and an excellent article. Thank you for sharing this Mr. Harman.

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