Sunday, December 26, 2010

Gettysburg Battlefield Hike: Day 1

Location: Gettysburg National Military Park, Adams County PA
Miles: 6
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Overview: This is the first of four major Gettysburg hikes that I will be covering in the near future. This hike covers some of the lesser-visited areas of the battlefield, especially if you come during the colder months. This hike mostly follows park roads since there are not many hiking trails on this part of the battlefield. One great thing about this hike is that it allows hikers to stop in town for a bite to eat or grab a cold drink. The open fields and the many monuments on this hike with allow you to recreate the troop movements and image how the battle unfolded on July 1st, 1863. In my opinion, there is no greater battlefield to hike than Gettysburg. Enjoy.

On July 1st, Henry Heth advanced his division down the Chambersburg Pike and ran headfirst into John Buford’s dismounted cavalry. Stiff fighting ensued and the three-day battle of Gettysburg had begun.

Day 1 Battlefield Hike: I like to begin this hike on McPherson’s Ridge where Union Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds was killed. There is a small pullover on Reynolds Avenue near Abner Doubleday’s monument where you can park your car.  Abner Doubleday took control of the 1st Corps after John Reynolds was killed by either a sharpshooter or by a random volley. On the hill to your right, you can see The Lutheran Theological Seminary, and the tower that Union Maj. Gen. John Buford used as an observation post.

Start you hike by visiting John Reynolds woods where he was killed leading his men on horseback, then turn right down Meredith Avenue. As the road bends to the right, you will pass where heavy fighting occurred between Brig. Gen. James Archer’s Brigade and Brig. Gen. Meredith’s Iron Brigade. There is a short trail near the 24th Michigan and 7th Wisconsin Infantry monuments that will lead you down to Willoughby’s Run and a quarry that Heth’s Division had to detour around during their advance towards McPherson’s Ridge.  As you retrace your steps back to Meredith Avenue, image the deadly fire from above that Archer’s men had to face as they crossed Willoughby Run.

Bear left onto the road at the 7th Wisconsin monument. Here the road turns into Stone Avenue and you will see the statue of John Burns on your right. This 70 year old took up his flintlock musket on the first day of the battle and joined the fight along side the Iron Brigade. He was wounded as many as three times during the fighting.

Continue down Stone Avenue until it dead-ends at the Chambersburg Pike. This is the center of the salient where Union Col. Roy Stone posted his men and had to defend multiple attacks from Confederate Col. John Brockenbrough’s troops. The McPherson’s stone barn and house can be seen to your right.

Cross Chambersburg Pike and you will see John Reynolds equestrian monument, John Buford’s bronze statue, and four cannon tubes. The cannon tubes were a part of Buford’s Horse Artillery, and the tube with the small plaque was the cannon that fired the first shot at Gettysburg. Cut across the field to Reynolds Avenue and follow the road until you reach the Railroad Cut.

Here you can see why Confederate Gen. Davis’ Brigade used the unfinished railroad cut for protection from Union Brig. Gen. Cutler’s Brigade’s deadly fire.  Even though the railroad cut provided protection, it ended up being a trap allowing Cutler’s troops to fire down the length of the trench, killing many confederates and causing the rest to surrender. In the mid 1990’s, bones were found in the railroad cut. The remains were identified as a civil war soldier that was killed by a massive head wound but there was no evidence which side he fought on.

Continue on Reynolds Avenue until it ends. Here, you can turn left on Buford Avenue which will take you to Oak Hill and the Eternal Light Peace Memorial or you can turn right onto Doubleday Avenue which will lead you to along the line where Union Brig. Gen. Baxter and Brig. Gen. Robinson troops fought off Confederate Maj. Gen. Robert Rhodes’ advances.

I always choose to cut straight across the field in front of you and make my way to the observation tower. As you cross the field, look to your left at Oak Hill. This hill provided the Confederates with a great placement for artillery. Cannons were posted on this hill during the entire battle of Gettysburg.  On your right is the stonewall where Baxter’s men hid behind until Confederate Brig. Gen. Alfred Iverson troops were within range and delivered a devastating fire that obliterated two-thirds of his command.

Climb the observation tower for an immense view of the battlefield. This tower is one of the least visited on the battlefield and it is a great spot to have a snack and a cold drink and absorb what you have just hiked through. Across the Mummasburg Road is the direction where Col. Edward O’Neal’s Brigade attacked the Federal flank. Before descending the tower, look northeast, this is the area that you will be hiking next.

After descending the tower, follow the park road down to Mummasburg Road and notice the change of elevation as the land falls to the valley below. Continue to follow this road and take a left onto Howard’s Avenue.

This road roughly follows the defensive battle line of the First and Third Divisions of Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s Eleventh Corps. Howard’s Corps had performed poorly during Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack at Chancellorsville and did not fair much better on this ground.

This part of the park is not heavily visited so you should have the road to yourself besides a random motorist. As you walk down the road, you will notice the relatively flat nature of the terrain. The lack of physical features did not lend to a strong defensive position.

On the raised ground to your left, Union Artillery was placed to duel with the Rhode’s Confederate artillery on Oak Hill. Follow Howard’s Avenue across Carlisle Road until you reach Barlow’s Knoll.

Known as Blocher’s Knoll before the battle, this is the site where Maj. Gen. Jubal Earley’s Division crossed Rock Creek in front of you and smashed into the Eleventh Corps defensive line.  This overwhelming attacked by the Confederates easily flanked this position and triggering a series of events that led to the retreat of all Federal forces through the town and back to Cemetery Hill. The knoll is now named after Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow. His division tried unsuccessfully to hold this ground against attacks from Dole’s and Gordon’s Georgia Brigades.

Continue down Howard’s Avenue until you reach Harrisburg Road and turn right. Follow Harrisburg Road back into town. This is the general course many of the Eleventh Corps men would have taken during the retreat. When you reach Lincoln Avenue, bear right, and then take a quick left on Stratton Street. Follow Stratton Street until you come to Costner Avenue and take a left.

Here is a small piece of the military park that has been surrounded by the city of Gettysburg.  At the time of the battle, this area consisted of fields, fences, and a brickyard.

After the Confederate attack at Barlow's Knoll, Col. Charles Costner took part of his brigade to the brickyard to help cover the retreat of Barlow’s men.  Costner’s men were outnumbered and outgunned, but stood their ground to delay the Confederates so the rest of the Eleventh Corps could safely retreat to Cemetery Hill.  There is mural of the fighting painted on the warehouse adjacent to the site.

Return to Costner Avenue and follow it until you reach Carlisle Street and turn left.  When you reach the railroad tracks, briefly stop to examine the Lincoln Train Station. The head building was built in 1859 and is where Abraham Lincoln arrived to give the Gettysburg Address in November 1963. Continue on Carlisle Street until you reach Lincoln Square.

This town square was known as the diamond in 1963 and you can image the chaos as the Eleventh and First Corps tried to retreat orderly through town. Barricades were quickly set up to slow down the Confederates and there was fighting in the streets.

Some streets were clogged with men, horses and artillery. Alleys and dead ends became traps for many union soldiers and the Confederates captured many of them before they could escape to Cemetery Hill.

When you reach the Square, bear right and follow Chambersburg Street. Here you can take advantage of the battlefield not being in a remote field and stop for a bite to eat or a cold beer at the many restaurants and bars along the way. My brother and I have hit them all during our many visits.

As you walk through the streets, each building that was standing during the time of the battle has a plaque stating that it is a civil war building. As you walk down Chambersburg Street, this is the area where about a hundred men from the First and Eleventh Corps resisted the Confederates until the evening on July 1st.

Continue walking on Chambersburg Street until it veers to the right and turn into Chambersburg Pike. After a few more blocks you will reach Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Headquarters. After the Confederates took control of the town on July 1st, Gen. Lee held his meetings and meals in this stone house for the remainder of the three-day battle. He probably had his tent pitched on the other side of Chambersburg Pike in a field or orchard.

From Lee’s headquarters, look east and you can see McPherson’s Ridge and the road over the unfinished railroad cut that you hiked earlier. In front of the Lutheran Seminary, to your left, is where the last Union line resisted Brig. Gen. Scales and Col. Perrin’s Confederate attacks before the Federal troops were forced to retreat through town.

Walk down to McPherson’s Ridge where you car is parked and you have completed the Gettysburg Day 1 Battlefield Hike.


  1. What is the time frame for this hike. My ten year old son and I are just starting to take up hiking and love this idea. Do you take a day pack? Thanks!

  2. It takes my brother and I about 4 hours so I think between 4-6 hours depending on how long you linger at the tower and the monuments. I always carry a small satchel with water and snacks when I hike, but you can pack light because you do hike through downtown which will allow you to replenish your supplies if you run out.

  3. Awesome! We are very excited about this trip.

  4. I do not see a Gettysburg Day 3 hike; is one available? This is a great blog! Peace!

    1. I haven't had a chance to write one up yet, but I would start at the Virginia/Lee's Monument on Seminary Ridge and follow the trail up to The Angle...following Pickett's Charge. Once on Cemetery Ridge, I would head down to Meade's Headquarters and then follow the ridge to the Pennsylvania Monument. After climbing to the top of the Pennsylvania Monument, I would find Hancock's wounding site (nearby), and then follow the trail past the Codori Barn back to the Virginia/Lee's Monument

  5. This is so wonderfully done. Much better than the Park service tours. I am amazed at your knowledge and attention to detail. This was a wonderful hike, perfectly done and your narration really helped me understand what happened. You should be a history teacher... Great job... Thank you

  6. You are welcome. I am glad that you enjoyed it. I am a teacher but not a history teacher. Thank you for reading.

  7. This is excellent. Thank you. I plan on following your route later this summer.

  8. Did this hike last Saturday. Excellent! Liked it so much that I'm doing the day two hike next weekend. Great guide. Thanks for creating it.