Gettysburg is a challenging but rewarding destination with young children. For one, it is a very solemn, sad site from our nation's history. It is a place of quiet reflection, remembrance, and peace. In other words, not exactly the kind of place our 6 & 8 year olds usually hang out. It is not Disney, that's for sure. Also, the battlefield is actually a huge area around the town and the chain of events that happened over the three days of battle is rather complicated.
At first, trying to come up with a narrative to hook the kids, I thought, I don't want to hear about which general went this way and what that colonel said to that colonel and enough with the complete military history because I just want the basics to try to explain it to my kids! But over the three days that we explored the area, I came to understand that Gettysburg was not one big battle, but rather a series of significant and interesting episodes which, had it not happened the way it did, could have seriously impacted or changed the course of the Civil War. All of those military details really were important for appreciating the large area and hundreds of monuments of the battlefield today.
After we had done a bit of driving around and exploring, we happened to visit one site which was incredibly helpful in pulling it all together for all of us. The Gettysburg Diorama shown above is not part of the very sleek museum and visitors center. Rather, it is in what looks like an old bank in the center of town and it appears to be the very definition of a tourist trap as they make you wait in their gift shop until the next diorama show starts on the half hour. It is the kind of place I normally would have avoided, but because the diorama had previously been housed in the campground where we were staying called Artillery Ridge, guests of the campground got free passes. So we figured, why not?
It may be hard to see from the photo, but the diorama is huge and detailed. It covers the entire battlefield area and the major buildings, roads, and landmarks are immediately recognizable. When the diorama show starts, it tells the story of each day of the battle, illuminating the various active areas, showing the movements of troop lines on ridges and behind fences. The sun sets and fires are visible at night. On the wall behind the diorama is a slide show with actual photos of the people and the aftermath of the battles. This experience was the key that put the entire experience together for us and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Gettysburg, with or without kids.