GETTYSBURG, Pa. — From camera-toting tourists to visitors eager to re-trace the footsteps of ancestors who fought in the Civil War, thousands of people have flocked to the Gettysburg battlefield to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the defining battle of the war.
Sightseers snapped photos Tuesday in front of the stately statues and monuments that mark positions of Union and Confederate forces, while military buffs quizzed park rangers on popular battlefield education programs. One on Little Round Top drew more than 500 people — 10 times the typical turnout — and attendees carefully walked the hilltop path and craned their necks to listen to the Civil War history lesson.
"Oh my gosh, there are so many people," Park Ranger Allyson Perry said between stops on the Tuesday morning tour. "I'm so impressed."
Farther down the trail, Valerie Josephson waited near the memorial for the 20th Maine Regiment, the unit that helped defend the hill from Confederates exactly 150 years ago Tuesday. Josephson, 72, of Stockholm, N.J., said she has visited Gettysburg 10 times — but never on July 2, the day that her great-grandfather Mansfield Ham got shot in the thumb while fighting on Little Round Top in 1863.
"I still get the chills when I start riding into Gettysburg. There's such a feeling here," said Josephson, who self-published a book about her great-grandfather's unit. "I have been thinking about this for years. I'm going out here to do my part (to honor him) today."
Up to 10,000 Union and Confederate troops died at Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863, with another 30,000 wounded. It's the bloodiest battle fought on American soil.
Along with Little Round Top, some of the most desperate fighting on July 2 occurred at places that have become well-known to Gettysburg enthusiasts, including Devil's Den, the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield.