One of the best ways to experience history is to watch it come alive right in front of you. Living historians, encampments and presentations are found throughout Gettysburg starting in spring and usually ending late fall. Dedicated re-enactors embody famous generals, common soldiers and civilians who will engage with spectators giving them a deeper understanding of history. We’ve put together a list of living history hot spots where there’s a good chance you’ll find your favorite Civil War general leading drills or a platoon winding down after a days battle in an encampment.
Gettysburg National Military Park hosts many living history groups right where the battle happened. Both Union and Confederate re-enactors demonstrate to spectators the tools, tactics and firepower of the Civil War. These demonstrations can be found at the Pennsylvania Memorial, Pitzer Woods, Spangler’s Spring and Meade’s Headquarters. A full living history schedule can be found on the National Park Service website.
Suddenly transformed into a Civil War field hospital in 1863, the George Spangler Family’s farm stands today meticulously renovated and restored. The historic site features original buildings from the battle. Interact with living historians to gain insight, hear authentic accounts of experiences on the farm during the battle and observe Civil War era demonstrations. Featuring living history focused on Civil War medicine, the role of surgeons and caregivers desperately providing for the wounded amid the chaos of battle, the soldiers’ experiences, humanity of caring citizens, and the civilians’ roles, the George Spangler Farm & Field Hospital is open to visitors Friday, Saturday & Sunday in summer. Admission is included with your ticket to experiences at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center—just minutes away. Family Days featuring living history are held on select dates throughout the spring, summer and autumn seasons.
Most weekends during living history season, it isn’t unusual to see a Civil War encampment or soldiers on horseback on the front lawn of the Gettysburg Heritage Center. Each living history group comes with a different program that represents different aspects of a Civil War soldier’s life, whether it’s drills or living in an encampment. As with most living history groups, conversation with the re-enactors is highly encouraged to bring the history to life.
The Shriver House Museum tells the civilian experience and what residents went through during the Battle of Gettysburg through the story of one particular family, the Shriver family. All tour guides are dressed in period attire as they give the tour through the house. The Shriver house was overtaken by Confederate sharpshooters during the battle, and each year the museum re-enacts that event. Visitors not only get to see history play out before their eyes, but they get to participate. While younger visitors can have a nurse bandage their “wounds,” others can enjoy a root beer in the Shriver’s Saloon.
You can find living history all over the Farnsworth House. Behind the house is Camp Tiger, an authentic Civil War camp complete with tents, wagons, a spring house and a blacksmith tent. Living historians create experiences for groups to see what it was like to be a soldier in the “In Their Shoes” program. In addition to the encampment, period entertainers can be found in the beer garden playing music from the Civil War, and living historians give tours of the house’s attic and basement while describing the events which took place there in July of 1863.
The Daniel Lady Farm served as a Confederate field hospital during and after the Battle of Gettysburg. The barn has since been restored and opened for guided tours on the weekend. In addition to tours numerous events are held at the farm, including living historians and skirmished of the Civil War, the French and Indian War and World War II.
Living history can be found in many places throughout Gettysburg, not just on the battlefield or certain properties. Horse Tours of Gettysburg brings living historians and period musicians on their carriage tours around the town of Gettysburg. Sit back and enjoy the ride through town as the living historians take you to another time period through tales and songs.
Northern Central Railway is a Civil War and Railroad historical experience aboard a steam powered, replica excursion train. Period musicians and living historians ride the train every weekend, engaging with passengers, telling their stories and singing their songs. Aboard you can find many entertainers, musicians and actors.
Each September, the Eisenhower National Historic Site hosts an authentic recreation of Allied and German army camps, complete with original World War II vehicles on the property. Hundreds of living history enthusiasts portray military personnel form 1944. Throughout the weekend, there are demonstrations on military medicine, weapons and equipment, communications and life of the common soldier.
Gettysburg is full of history, and living historians not only provide a means of learning that history in a new way, but create lasting memories for those who have the chance to engage with them.