Step into the boots of Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers on this road trip around Pennsylvania. Experience battle reenactments, explore abandoned forts, and pay your respects to Pennsylvania's fallen.
Start your trip at one of the most famous battlefields in the country: Gettysburg National Military Park. Before you set out to explore the battlegrounds and the town of Gettysburg, check out the free Gettysburg Museum Visitor Center. Here, you'll refresh your memory and learn just how big a role the Battle of Gettysburg played in the Civil War, and just how bloody the fight was. You can also buy tickets for additional activities, and get a schedule of events here: hear enlightening talks, plan out what you want to see, catch a historical reenactment, and browse the museum exhibits. A visit here is sure to be a somber, but totally fascinating experience.
Go even further back in time at your next stop, Fort Ligonier. Built between 1758 and 1766, it predates the Declaration of Independence! The fort was in use during the French and Indian War and Pontiac's War, and it was here that a 26-year-old George Washington cut his (wooden) teeth as a young general. The fort itself has been reconstructed and restored, and is great for exploring. An onsite museum provides all the background you could want on the role Ligonier played in America's early history-- plus, they have a special exhibit on George Washington.
Everyone knows about Pennsylvania's role in the American Revolution and the Civil War, but Jeannette's Bushy Run Battlefield preserves a lesser-known piece of history: Pontiac's War. It was a mid-18th century Native American rebellion against the growing influence of the British in North America. A loose confederation of Native American tribes attacked and destroyed several British forts, and the rebellion ended in a truce when Pontiac signed a treaty with the British. Included with admission to the battlefield is the chance to take a guided tour of the property... but if you're looking for some peace and quiet, there's a nice hiking trail here that you can tackle solo as well.
The Soldiers & Sailors National Military Museum Memorial brings a personal touch to Pennsylvania's rich military history. Loaded with artifacts, art, uniforms, equipment, and personal mementos, you'll get to learn about various branches of the military across time, from uniquely personal perspectives. In fact, some of the guides are veterans themselves, so taking a tour with one of them is absolutely a must when visiting. The history behind the gorgeous building is fascinating as well-- it was built by Civil War vets from the Union Army.
There is a ton of history from the 19th and 18th centuries in the Keystone State, but the Pennsylvania Military Museum offers a look into the 20th century. From exhibits about citizen soldiers on Pennsylvania's homefront to a collection of tanks and guns that saw action in WWII, Vietnam, and Korea, the displays here are fascinating and totally engaging.
For those military history events you're learning about along the way that really interest you, you might want to delve even further into the details. That's where the US Army Heritage & Education Center comes into play; they've got a massive archive of books, letters, personal papers, photographs and artifacts for you to peruse. Primary sources really give a special look at historic events like war. You can find out what it was like to be a soldier, or even a civilian, experiencing these history-shifting events. Add in a gallery displaying rotating exhibits, a shop, and a cafe, and you've got a great little experience for your military trip.
Even if you're not a Civil War buff, make a point to stop at The National Civil War Museum. They pride themselves on removing bias from their history of the Civil War, trying to represent both the Confederacy and the Union with as much accuracy as possible. They also do a very good job of following the timeline of the Civil War, from its underlying causes through the battles and into its lasting effects. From the historical objects on display to the interactive exhibits, it's a thorough look at our country's bloodiest war.
Sometimes, niche museums are the most unexpectedly awesome. The American Military Edged Weaponry Museum might seem like it's too specific to be widely appealing, but the display of knives, swords, sabers, bayonets, pikes, and more is beyond fascinating. You'll leave with a new appreciation for sharp weapons, military history, and niche collections.
End your trip with a visit to Valley Forge National Historic Park, which played a key role in the American Revolution. George Washington and the Continental Army spent a brutal winter here, suffering from a lack of basic supplies, including food and shoes. The park offers trolley tours as well as a 10-mile scenic drive called the Encampment Tour, with nine stops where you can hop out and explore the history, see touching memorials, and take in lovely views. Grab a map and browse the exhibits at the visitor center before setting off on a tour of the park.
From ghost towns and abandoned bomb factories to niche collections and touching, personal exhibits, the ways to experience Pennsylvania's full metal history are almost endless. Get ready to experience a whole new world of history as you road trip across Pennsylvania!
Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. In Pennsylvania, these are not only American ideals; they are the very keystones of our way of life. Find your own piece of happiness, whether it’s in our iconic historic sites, our natural beauty, our bustling cities or our charming small towns.