The images of Gettysburg are burned into the consciousness of anyone who has visited the battlefield area: the expanse of grass across which Confederate Gen. George Pickett’s men charged; the rocks of Little Round Top that provided cover; the cemetery where so many rest.
But those who didn’t escape injury or die on the field mostly ended up in one of the makeshift hospitals around Gettysburg where the wounded were taken for treatment. The sheer scope and three-day length of the battle tested the capacity of the crossroads town, as did the huge numbers of corpses that littered the ground.
Gettysburg’s Seminary Ridge Museum tells an important part of the story. Narrower and complementary to that told by the National Park Service, Seminary Ridge Museum’s tale brings you inside the building that played such an important role on the battle’s first day, July 1, 1863.
Union Cavalry Gen. John Buford found himself defending the ridge and the town against arriving units of Confederate forces who had expected no resistance. Buford viewed the arriving enemy from the seminary’s cupola and, after initial engagement, was forced to retreat to the ridge and was reinforced there.
The Confederates overran the position in the afternoon and the first day ended with a Confederate advantage, but set up later engagements with famous names like Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill, and Cemetery Hill.
“This building is our biggest artifact,” said the museum’s Dru Neil. “You are standing in the place where the events you read about in the exhibits actually happened.”
The seminary building, which houses the museum, was one of Gettysburg’s largest field hospitals. In the building, you learn about the first day of the battle, about the medical care that took place there, and about the meaning of freedom in our world today.
It is well worth the climb and cost to take the cupola tour and see the 360-degree view that Buford surveyed before the battle commenced.
On Fridays and Mondays at 11:30am through August, museum admission includes an outdoor living history program, “Soldiers at the Barricade,” which looks at individual soldiers who fought on Seminary Ridge.
The weekend of Sept. 16–17 is Legacy Weekend, marking the date the last patient left the hospital, and includes special battlefield programs and lectures.
The 80-acre George Spangler Farm was also pressed into service as a field hospital and a reported 1,800 Union and 100 Confederate soldiers were treated there. Confederate Gen. Lewis Armistead reportedly died in the farm’s summer kitchen.
The barn has been restored and the site is open Friday through Sunday, 10:00am–3:00pm with various programs offered throughout the day.