A Gettysburg Ghoul: Magnets, Memorabilia, and the Marketing of Civil War History at Gettysburg

Carly Jensen ’24

Who doesn’t love a good magnet? These fun keepsakes are popular decorations for fridges, washing machines, and lockers. Every glance at them is a reminder of a fun vacation. Magnets serve as a tool for memory; they bring a person back to where they bought their souvenir. This Gettysburg ghoul magnet from Gettysburg Souvenirs & Gifts (pictured above) is an adorable and fun reminder for tourists who visit the battlefield. However, it also gestures (however playfully) toward another way for visitors to connect with the repercussions of the largest battle of the Civil War, particularly the shocking bloodshed, death, and grief that resulted in its wake. Exploring a battlefield may not resonate with everyone; however, a material object visitors can take home with them may help to provide a visual and tangible connection to the history they just encountered. Although cute, this magnet depicts a dead soldier, thus reminding its purchasers of the hauntingly gruesome toll that the battlefield they just visited exacted on thousands of men long after returning home.

Gettysburg is well-known for being the site of the war’s bloodiest battle and the historic cemetery where Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address. The town draws people, old and young, interested in the Civil War from across the globe. One popular attraction for families is ghost tours. These walking groups travel around town in search of frightening ghost encounters while the tour guide provides a history of the town and the surrounding buildings. Often led by a charismatic guide in period garb, these tours are the trip’s highlight for families. Magnets like the one pictured above are excellent reminders of that highly sensory connection with history. Visitors can fondly recall the warm summer night they spent wandering the streets of Gettysburg, touring the battlefield, and enjoying an ice cream after their ghost tour. They could imagine that the “glowing orb” that they saw on their tour could have looked like the cute ghost on their magnet. They may even wish to return for another chance to contemplate the bloody battle and maybe even encounter the wandering spirit of one of its long-dead combatants.

The ghost in this magnet is floating above headstones in a cemetery. However, it is unclear where the spirit is; the Confederate kepi bars him from actual burial at the National Cemetery. Perhaps he is there hovering, haunting his Union enemies for eternity. His packs, potentially full of cartridges, hard tack, or letters from home, remain with him in death as reminders of his life cut short by war.

Gettysburg has a unique perspective on tourism. For many, Gettysburg is the first and only Civil War battlefield they visit because of its name recognition. Therefore, it is essential to market the town well as the Civil War experience as a whole. This magnet shows how Gettysburg continues to be haunted by the effects of the most significant 19th-century conflict in American history. The imagery immerses visitors in Gettysburg’s ongoing history; ghosts continue to plague the town even 150 years later. The magnet is a tangible way for tourists to remember the ghost tours, the National Cemetery, and the overall ghastly battle events in a way that continues to spark the imagination long after their return home. Souvenir shops also encourage people to purchase kitschy items like this to remember (and market) their visit; everyone wants a piece of the most famous Civil War town.

Ghost-themed magnets are among many on display at Gettysburg Souvenirs & Gifts and are common to the rest of the town. Gettysburg is full of stores with eye-catching memorabilia, but this magnet stands out because of the ghostly imagery and tactile nature. Children love to play with rubbery and bendable objects, making this a popular magnet choice. It also appeals to the sensationalized idea that tourists visited a “haunted” town. The manufacturer made an interesting choice by creating a Confederate ghost instead of a Union one. After all, the Federals were the victors. The “Lost Cause” narrative of Southerners fighting for a noble cause against impossible odds may inform this choice. The soldier’s body floats above the graves of possible enemies, doomed to mourn forever the loss of his fellow Confederates who fought and died courageously against a formidable foe. Many tourists are particularly fascinated by Confederate history because of popular notions of universally gallant, chivalrous Southern soldiers and their doomed fight for secession new nation. This magnet plays on this romantic appeal and creates a souvenir for visitors interested in Southern history, swayed by the often poignant, sentimentalized portrayals of the Confederate cause.

Ghost tourism and iconography is a huge selling feature for Gettysburg. Many people believe a place with such an incredible amount of violent death must surely be haunted. They crave to glimpse a soldier who fought in a war over a hundred years ago. Many tourists are not Civil War buffs, so ghost tours and stories are ways that they can actively engage with the battlefield and town’s history on a more sensory and imaginative level. Sometimes, this kind of engagement can fuel further interest in unpacking the history and legacy of the battle on an even deeper level. This magnet is a reminder of the soldiers who died at Gettysburg, and the experiences the tourists had interacting with the repercussions of mass death and possibly their own spirit encounters here. Alternately, it can serve as another unique collectible for the individual or family who has made a hobby of historical “ghost tourism” and might collect similar magnets or memorabilia from other supposedly haunted historical sites they have visited.  Whatever the reason behind the purchase, this magnet on a family’s fridge or board will serve as a constant reminder of their visit to Gettysburg, the still palpable legacies of the mass bloodshed that occurred there, and the thrill of the unknown that still enshrouds the historic town and battlefield in mystery.

USCT Toy Soldiers for Sale…and Black Confederates?

Charlie Miller ’25

Gettysburg Souvenirs and Gifts is a classic souvenir shop, where families from far and wide negotiate mementoes and purchases with their children after a long day of walking up hills, perusing monuments, and following along with the audio tour. The store sells everything related to Gettysburg, including relics, shot glasses, and t-shirts. In the front room, they have a small section on the wall for toy soldiers. These figurines are just that–toys. However, the highly popular collectibles market that has seen various old, seemingly “worthless” trinkets like baseball cards and dolls also includes these miniature warriors. People young and old have long delighted in creating vast recreations of famous battles throughout history, collecting famous troops, or simply entertaining themselves or their child on a rainy day.

This store sells all manner of Civil War toy soldiers, from the plastic (and cheaper) sets of the blue and gray, to the carefully crafted and painted figures from the Irish brigade, the iconic green flag and gold harp gleaming on each one. While serious collectors often spend hours researching every facet of a prospective purchase, casual toy-soldier enthusiasts may well glaze over the matter of historical accuracy when dealing with these figurines. Admittedly, as I looked at the display, my eyes scanned over several of the soldiers, and I reminisced about my days playing with toy soldiers in my room as a child. However, in doing so, my gaze soon fell upon a cluster of soldiers whose real life counterparts never actually fired a shot at Gettysburg: United States Colored Troops.

Over 175,000 black men fought for the Union, beginning in 1862 when President Lincoln signed the Second Confiscation and Militia Acts. By the end of the war, they made up around one-tenth of the entire United States force, and fought bravely in many brutal engagements. Some of the most famous of those units include the 54th Massachusetts Colored Troops, who stormed the Confederate garrison at Fort Wagner, the subject of the Academy-Award winning 1989 film, Glory. Often due to the nature of their assignments and to the brutality with which Confederate soldiers fought them, Black soldiers sometimes fell at a substantially higher rate than white soldiers, and were paid far less. Confederates’ particularly violent treatment of Black soldiers reached a crescendo during Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s infamous, controversial massacre of surrendering troops (many of them black) at Fort Pillow, Tennessee on April 12, 1864.

It is intriguing that Gettysburg Souvenirs and Gifts features USCTs for sale, as the only African-Americans directly involved with the military actions of the Gettysburg campaign were the slaves who accompanied Lee’s men on their march north, along with the free blacks who were captured and sent south (often back into bondage) by the Confederates.  It appears that the store’s merchandise choice may be an attempt to connect Gettysburg with the greater American Civil War. For many visitors, Gettysburg is their first and only Civil War battlefield, and as is evident in the National Park Service’s own museum as well as at other institutions in town, there is a growing emphasis to more squarely contextualize Gettysburg’s role within the larger war, both for historical accuracy and to help those first-time Civil War tourists to appreciate broader themes and stories beyond, yet still somehow related, to Gettysburg proper.

Along these lines, perhaps the inclusion of USCT toy soldiers is a conscious attempt to connect Gettysburg to the cause of emancipation and the black freedom struggle that was so inextricably bound up in the cause of Union and why soldiers fought at Gettysburg at all. If such intentions are indeed reflected in the store’s choices, it would represent a relatively modern approach to marketing and understanding the battle and war within a grander context. For many, the battlefield long has been viewed through a reconciliatory lens, where both northerners and southerners could come to marvel at the bravery and heroic actions of the men that fought on each side, regardless of their causes. Many of those individuals have yearned to minutely analyze every tactical maneuver made on the field. However, in more recent years, an increasing number of visitors have sought look to connect the historical landscape more broadly with the causes and outcomes of the war, particularly with regards to emancipation and race relations.

Needless to say, this contemporary (and for some more uncomfortable) approach is often missing in merchandise and souvenir shops throughout town. Gettysburg Souvenirs and Gifts might sound like one of these typical shops that does not delve into the causes or politics of the war, but their sale of a USCT toy soldier shows otherwise. Alternately, but relatedly, maybe they are seeking to be inclusive in their merchandise such that they are better able to appeal to a wider and more diverse group of visitors who yearn to see their racial history and Blacks’ contributions to the war as a whole reflected in the kinds of merchandise available for sale in town.

While this store’s apparent attempt at selling merchandise that is more historically inclusive is praiseworthy, my optimism was admittedly sullied by something I encountered on another visit to the store: A Black Confederate toy soldier.

The “Black Confederate myth” is a well-known fallacy, and one that has been exaggerated and inflated to justify the Southern cause by promoting the narrative that the Confederacy was fighting merely for states’ rights, and that slavery was a benevolent institution. While Southern Blacks sometimes accompanied their enslavers in the ranks, there are no records of any African-Americans seeing combat as a part of the Confederate army. No Black man ever dressed in gray and was a soldier in the form that the figurine shows. While toy soldiers are often meant to provide a re-creation or specific interpretation of a battle, the sale of a Black Confederate toy soldier has other implications for the seller’s intentions, whether they be indeed rooted in promoting the Lost Cause narrative, or simply an historically uninformed attempt at providing “collectibles for all.”

Toy soldiers have provided a variety of functions through history, even including aiding military leaders in planning their campaigns. Now, collectors look to find toy soldiers, old and new, that are unique and capture a specific part of military history.  Unfortunately, neither a child interested in collecting toy soldiers for play nor an adult who is not particularly well –versed in the history of the Civil War era would likely think to second-guess the historical accuracy of such a figure, and might indeed believe that there were actually Black Confederate soldiers.

The sale of representative figurines of soldiers that, on one side did not exist, and on the other side, were prevalent but not present at Gettysburg brings up interesting questions and discussions about the possible motivations or reasons behind the merchandise for sale at Gettysburg Souvenirs and Gifts.  Whether or not certain messages are intentional through the sale of particular merchandise, such messages are being readily and enthusiastically consumed by scores of visitors from across the country, and even around the world, some for better, others for worse.

Where a Painting Lies

By Hayden McDonald ’25

Sitting on the floor of the Civil War Store on Steinwehr Avenue, leaning against a glass case of Gettysburg-themed hoodies and mugs, lies a painting. This painting, framed in a classy wooden mounting, stands out as an oddity when compared with many of the other items for sale around it. In a store chock full of toy muskets, Confederate shot glasses, and Robert E. Lee- themed pocket watches, a painting of this caliber draws some attention. Resting by itself on the floor of the shop, proudly displaying its $45 price tag, it entices any passerby to stop a moment and take a closer look.

The manner in which a work of art depicts war is key to understanding how it is meant to be interpreted. War is, after all, the thing which wears two faces. It is a thing of glory, of heroism, of individual and collective valor. It is unfortunate, but it is necessary, and through war some of the most revered of human traits are brought to the fore. And yet war is hell. It is destruction, devolution, despair borne of deep-seated political, sectional, an ideological divisions. It shatters friendships, families and nations alike, and leaves a smoldering trail in its wake. Clearly, this painting focuses mostly on one of those interpretations: A lone Union man gallantly operates a cannon all by himself against the advancing tides of an unseen foe, his comrades either shot down or having fled from his side. A disabled gun sits helpless in the foreground, serving as a reminder of the dangers of battle. Behind the lone patriot waves the stars and stripes, blurred in the haze of black powder smoke. This artwork celebrates the heroism and gallantry of battle, and of the individual, specifically. The flag in the background reinforces the patriotic zeal that it is designed to evoke. The battle that is taking place could be any during the Civil War, but what matters is the man and the action that is unfolding. It is not necessarily a rare, complicated, or noteworthy piece of fine art, yet it embodies many of the same sentimental war tropes as do many of its more expensive cousins.

The odd placement of the painting within the store thus seems to create a disconnect between the artwork’s subject matter and its display. . One might expect that something of this relative commercial value and  subject matter, with its lofty implications about Union, war, and individual valor, would be displayed in a place of prominence and easy viewing–someplace where it could catch the eyes of wandering shoppers and pique their interest, not sitting out of the way on the floor where someone would have to crouch to get a proper view of the art. Why, then, would the shop owners decide to place this painting here? It is clear that this shop does not receive most of its revenue from the sale of paintings; far from it. It is a place to purchase a plastic rifle, or a kepi, or a T-shirt with a witty phrase on it. It is not a place to peruse the visual arts. There are other places to do that in Gettysburg, and the Civil War Shop seems to acknowledge that. However, the inclusion of such a piece in a store like this suggests some attempt to make the shop seem more “official” in its hawking of “history and heritage”-themed souvenirs. After all, there can’t be a Civil War store in Gettysburg that doesn’t have a painting for sale.

In Gettysburg, there has long existed a nearly inseparable, though at times uneasy bond between commercialization and commemoration. This visual tidbit of the (supposedly) “real” war helps to bridge the gap between the shop’s distantly-connected-to-history Gettysburg souvenirs and the heart of what makes the town and battlefield worth visiting and remembering in the first place. It serves as an admission on the part of the shop that perhaps Gettysburg does and should mean more than just lighthearted, collectible memorabilia such as shot glasses and toy guns, and yet the commercial remains inextricably bound up with the commemorative. Indeed, if one looks broadly enough, perhaps a more authentic, however sentimentalized, meaning of Gettysburg can be found anywhere in town, even leaning against a display case on a shop floor.

The Wild West of Gettysburg

By Olivia Taylor ’25

One can find apparel and merchandise to suit truly any member of the family while perusing the shops in Gettysburg’s commercial districts. Pictured above are two toy handguns: One “Johnny Reb” and one “Billy Yank.” This photograph was taken in the “Civil War Etc, Etc.,” store at the Gettysburg Outlets, though this exact product can be found in several different gift shops throughout Gettysburg.

Looking at the “Johnny Reb” and “Billy Yank” toy guns, one can imagine the exact scene in which they might be used: Two kids chasing each other around the battlefield, pretending to shoot at each other, while their parents take in the more historical aspects of the Gettysburg battlefield by gazing at monuments and reading interpretive waysides. For children, these toy guns turn the Gettysburg battlefield into a sensory experience, which exposes them to history through play, rather than simply reading or hearing about it. History becomes exciting and engaging–a hands-on “adventure” rather than words in a book or a monument inscription.

That being said, with the exception of “US” and “CS” screen-printed onto the “holsters” of these cap guns, there is really nothing about them that screams “Civil War.” In fact, most soldiers did not even carry a sidearm. If anything, these toys much more closely resemble something out of the “Wild West.” By tying these supposed “Civil War-themed souvenirs” to the iconic imagery of the “Wild West,” the manufacturer seems to be trying to romanticize and dramatize the idea of war; when we think of the “Old West,” we tend to think of noble, stoic cowboys who, through grit and brave determination, stood their ground on the American frontier, pistols ever by their side to intimidate their enemies.  So, too, did the stalwart common soldier of the North and South, the manufacturer wants you to believe, and so can you when you purchase these pistols!

 However, as fun and engaging as these items seem to be on the surface level, it is important to note that they obscure much about the realities of Civil War combat and the experiences of the common soldier on the front lines. The presumably average Civil War soldier takes on the same air as a rough-and-tumble cowboy, an almost lawless gunslinger who is out fighting largely on his own, on behalf of his own interests, as we are often led to believe that the American cowboy of old had. Such fighting is often portrayed as thrilling and glorious. In reality, for the average soldier, combat was nothing glorious; it was dirty, it was painful, and it was terrifying. By eliding Civil War combat with the stereotypical shootouts on the American frontier, the manufacturer is thus encouraging particularly youngsters to imagine Civil War battles—as romantic, stoic fights akin to that of a Western stand-off, and implies that they, too, can re-live the experiences of those soldiers by playing battle with these “authentic” souvenirs of Gettysburg. America, they are led to believe, was thus forged through thrilling and daring adventures, on romantic landscapes, by daring and heroic gunslingers on the eastern battlefields and western frontier alike.

 All that being said, Gettysburg is known as “the town” to visit for a Civil War-oriented family vacation. The sale of products like these toy guns does indeed provide an engaging, fun, and active means for kids to connect with the battlefield on a surface level that does have its own benefits, given that they might not yet be able to fully appreciate the deeper history of the location. These guns sell because they create a playful, albeit sanitized, version of Civil War combat and the soldiering experience that likely reminds young visitors of familiar tropes like the American cowboy of the “Wild West.” Though seemingly mundane, toys like these enable children to build an initial connection with historical events, gaining exposure to topics that they might not encounter in school for many years. For some, fond memories of purchasing the “Johnny Reb” or “Billy Yank” toy gun while on a family trip to Gettysburg and running through their backyards back at home, “re-creating” the Gettysburg landscape might well spark future interest in the Civil War, and prompt an eventual return to the battlefield—a return in which the nuances and complexities of Civil War combat, soldiering, and Gettysburg’s place in the historical record might begin to unravel themselves just a bit more.

Gettysburg in a Globe: The Essence of War, Suspended in Time

By Hayden McDonald ’25

Gettysburg is a town filled to the brim with gift shops. At each place, a story–an interpretation of the battle–is told through the souvenirs for sale there. No place, however, spends more time pondering what story their items tell than Gettysburg National Military Park. There, every item for sale aligns with the Park’s interpretive mission for the battlefield. No matter how small or mundane, each item has something to say about the battle of Gettysburg.

In the gift shop attached to the visitor’s center, alongside the fully stocked bookshelves and across from the Gettysburg-themed fudge recipes, stands a shelf full of that most unassuming of souvenirs: Snow globes. These snow globes do not depict Gettysburg, sleepy with the weight of a fresh blanket of snow, nor do they show the battlefield, obscured in a fog of floating smoke. Only the armaments of war are housed within. A miniature cannon sits permanently fixed atop a mini hillock, with a rifle and a sword leaning upon its side. Upon its base flies an eagle, imbuing the piece with patriotic sentiment and pride in our nation’s martial past.

 However, despite this explicit Civil War imagery, this piece manages to remain noticeably nondescript. If one was to take off the Gettysburg National Military Park stamping, little remains that directly connects this piece to Gettysburg specifically. The hilltop that the cannon sits upon may be Little Round Top or Culp’s Hill or Oak Ridge, or it might be any hilltop on any Civil War battlefield across the country. The globe features no distinct geographic features or historical figures to distinguish it as commemorating the bloodiest battle of the Civil War aside from the labeling. The contents of the globe capture the essence of the Civil War generally, but not Gettysburg specifically.

But what does this say about Gettysburg National Military Park’s interpretive mission? In the ever-changing intermingling of history and memory, Gettysburg’s myriad tour guides, caretakers, souvenir hawkers, and consumer marketers have frequently aimed to make the historic town and landscape into a memorial not only to the battle, but also to the overall war in which it occurred. Gettysburg, we are told, encapsulates the full range of personalities, conflicts, complexities, and big questions that defined the Civil War. For many visitors, it is their first, and sometimes only, Civil War battlefield visit—a visit which, in one fell swoop, can educate, inspire, and provoke the visitor to contemplate the enduring legacies of the Civil War as a whole. In the same fashion, this snow globe—a snapshot of an iconic symbol of the war, stamped with the name of the war’s most iconic battle—seeks to represent the war and its timeless swaying power in its entirety.

The Park works to keep the landscape as close as possible to that of 1863. In a constantly developing and modernizing world, the Gettysburg battlefield has tried to remain in the nineteenth century as much as possible. The conflict is kept alive through the commemoration and memorialization of the battlefield. In many ways, although Gettysburg National Military Park’s interpretation of the battle is constantly evolving and the historical memory of the battle continuously contested, the park’s hopes for touching the hearts and minds of its visitors through that interpretation and meticulous preservation remain constant, and are much like this snow globe: The landscape—even with its myriad post-war and twentieth-century commemorative monuments and markers—is somehow timeless.  It is to provide a snapshot of the Civil War and the nineteenth century as a whole, frozen in time, a living memorial to the battle to ponder with great wonder. It unfolds before the visitor, seductively beautiful, bucolic, and serene, silently waiting for the visitor to come along, to ponder, and to shake it to life.

Ice Cream and… Cigars?

By Olivia Taylor ’25

In the days, weeks, and months following the Battle of Gettysburg, journalists and newspaper editors feverishly attempted to recapture the full details, implications, and meaning of the massive fight that had transformed one small, formerly obscure, south-central Pennsylvania town into a household name. While some reporters struggled to ascertain the exact facts of the battle amidst the chaotic aftermath, others wrote with clear political agendas intended to sway the hearts and minds of their readership and, in turn, bolster their respective side’s support for the war effort. Still others searched for meaning in the aftermath through the prisms of religion, world history, and other lenses.  In this mini-series, students will explore the myriad ways that 19th-century newspapers, throughout the North and South, “re-fought” the Battle of Gettysburg, its factual components, and its larger significance in print in the immediate aftermath of the fighting.

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Pictured above is a display of four different cigars offered by the Great Gettysburg Tobacco Company. This display sits in a place one might not expect: The Mr. G’s Ice Cream gift shop. Entering the store, one is met with seasonally appropriate “Life is Good” apparel, Gettysburg sweatshirts, and candles that have been designed to smell like favorite Mr. G’s ice cream flavors, such as salted caramel and black raspberry. These cigars, as well as the other Civil War memorabilia available in the store–which includes everything from watercolor prints of scenes on the battlefield to Gettysburg, PA shot glasses–are tucked away in the back of the store. 

The Great Gettysburg Tobacco Company cigars come in four different “custom blends”– the General, Guardian, Quartermaster, and President, allowing buyers to select the cigar that best suits their personality and fits their desired takeaway memory of their time in Gettysburg. The “Guardian,” described as having a “stronger flavor,” might appeal to someone who sees themselves as a strong protector of their family. The “President,” which is clearly Abraham Lincoln, targets both Abraham Lincoln aficionados and those seeking a general connection to the past through historical face recognition alone, as well as those who might identify as leadership figures. Abraham Lincoln’s historic importance as President during the Civil War, and his site-specific relevance to Gettysburg where he delivered his iconic address, generate an appeal to this cigar. The “General” presumably targets those who pride themselves on their bravery and leadership, and this particular cigar’s description noting its make from the “finest pipe tobacco” lends a refined and distinguished air to it. While there is no description of the flavor profile of the “Quartermaster,” one could assume that this cigar appeals to the casual, self-informed military historian, ones who might think of oneself as a “quartermaster” of their own household.

The company also appeals to the possibility of experiencing history first-hand through these cigars and the sensory experience of smoking them. The company makes sure to note in the product description that a “Union General purchased cigars for his command as they were approaching the Gettysburg battlefield,” implying that those who purchase one of these cigars will be able to, in part, relive the experience that these Union soldiers had: By smoking one of these cigars, you will feel like the soldiers riding into battle. Additionally, these “original Gettysburg cigar[s]” are wrapped in Pennsylvania shade leaf, which further reinforces the unique, place-based emphasis of the Great Gettysburg Tobacco Company, rooting the purchaser–and the very experience of smoking one of these locally sourced cigars–in the historic location that America’s most iconic battle occurred. 

The dichotomy between the sale of Civil War memorabilia alongside lighthearted items like ice cream and “Life is Good” apparel truly plays to the complexity of the consumer culture of Gettysburg. In a town that sees millions of visitors every year, the ability to draw people into local businesses is important; stop by for ice cream and stay to peruse the gift shop, a one-stop shop for all things Gettysburg! In the same trip, visitors can enjoy a scoop of one of Mr. G’s handcrafted ice cream flavors, drinking in the sweet scent of fresh waffle cones and sprinkles, and purchase a “historic” cigar or two through which to remember their visit to town and battlefield some days, weeks, or months after their departure. In so doing, the visitor can “immerse” oneself in those famed first few days of July of 1863 experienced by the hard-fighting soldiers who, too, enjoyed similar cigars on their march into history. 

Digging Death, Selling History: A Unique Take on Historical Walking Tours of the Civil War’s Bloodiest Battle

By Olivia Taylor ’25

In the days, weeks, and months following the Battle of Gettysburg, journalists and newspaper editors feverishly attempted to recapture the full details, implications, and meaning of the massive fight that had transformed one small, formerly obscure, south-central Pennsylvania town into a household name. While some reporters struggled to ascertain the exact facts of the battle amidst the chaotic aftermath, others wrote with clear political agendas intended to sway the hearts and minds of their readership and, in turn, bolster their respective side’s support for the war effort. Still others searched for meaning in the aftermath through the prisms of religion, world history, and other lenses.  In this mini-series, students will explore the myriad ways that 19th-century newspapers, throughout the North and South, “re-fought” the Battle of Gettysburg, its factual components, and its larger significance in print in the immediate aftermath of the fighting.

Pictured above is an advertisement for four different tours offered by “Gravedigger Tours,” which is posted in an alleyway adjacent to the “Great T-Shirt Company,” along the commercial district of Steinwehr Avenue. Through Gravedigger Tours, visitors can explore Gettysburg’s Civil War history in a less traditional way via the focused lenses of four specialized tours. 

Three of the four “Historical Walking Tours” offer something different from your run-of-the-mill ghost tour, concentrating squarely on the specific historical content outlined in their descriptions, rather than on ghost stories and lore. Visually, however, the poster places a disproportionate emphasis on the strictly paranormal “Soldier’s Tour.” Additionally, the macabre name of the company itself projects an overarching focus on the grisly and the ghostly, as well as on emotive history, rather than on history that is strictly factual or filled with nuanced complexities. In an attempt to evoke a certain haunting emotion, this tour description emphasizes the ghastly and grim, and makes sure to especially highlight that Gettysburg was the war’s “bloodiest battle.” 

All four tours’ siloed approach to history and the company’s clear interest in appeals to emotion, death, destruction, and the paranormal distinguish this tourist attraction from the many other competing ghost tours and historical walking tours offered in town. The “Aftermath Tour” touts an exploration of the battle from the perspective of the townspeople of Gettysburg, how they were impacted by the battle, and how they ultimately rebuilt. At the same time, the description notes that those on the tour will see “Civil War medical technology” in addition to amputation demonstrations. This tour comes across as alluring largely due to the somewhat voyeuristic window it provides into the graphic nature of the battle’s destruction, playing more so on morbid curiosity rather than purely historic interest; however, it still seeks to appeal to the emotions of those who are more historically-minded, claiming to “bring back the historical past.” 

The “Women Tour” and “Irish Tour” also distinguish themselves from traditional, comprehensive historical tours, as they play heavily on identity politics to draw people in. Women are portrayed as universally brave and brazen, protecting their families, going into battle, and saving lives. Such a description portrays the battle for Gettysburg’s women as a largely monolithic experience and one that generalizes the roles of women during the war; while there were undoubtedly many courageous women, only telling their stories overlooks the women who struggled to survive and rebuild in the wake of the battle. This tour seemingly targets a very specific demographic of Gettysburg tourists: The empowered female who perhaps laments the absence of women’s stories within the traditional battle narratives and is looking to help celebrate the reclaiming of women’s historical agency through such grandiose tales. 

The “Irish Tour” also appeals to hearts and emotions with its fairly one-dimensional descriptions of the famed Northern Irish Brigade and the Southern Louisiana Tigers, emphasizing their seemingly universal “fearless fighting, sacrifice, and courage.” While members of both Irish units undoubtedly exhibited such qualities, one doubts that this tour will dive deep into the variance within these units, the backgrounds of the men themselves and the challenges they faced due to their ethnicity, their complex political motivations behind taking up arms, etc. This tour would certainly attract the proud descendants of Irish Civil War soldiers from both the Union and the Confederacy; however, in singling out a highly romanticized pair of units and subset of the soldier demographic as particularly glorious and heroic, it is also seeking to appeal to those who have either heard of these famed units before or those in search of an iconic and “uniquely dramatic” tale of two particularly colorful units. A short walk through Gettysburg’s commercial district reveals that the area plays up “selling the Irish” quite a bit. In addition to “The Irish” walking tour, visitors can eat at one of two Irish pubs, and shop in an Irish-them store that sells imported Irish products. The walking tour presumably plays to much of the same demographic as the shops and eateries, and the tour company knows that such a sentimental and popular-history approach to the battle will surely appeal to a core group of Gettysburg tourists. 

These narrowly focused, largely identity-based tours provide intriguing, though siloed, windows into particular slices of the battle and its aftermath. The variation between the types of tours means that there is something for everyone; though they target paranormal enthusiasts with their “Soldier’s Tour,” Gravedigger Tours also offers a dose of “real history” with their other three tours. Indeed, although these hyper-specific tours carve off specific slices of history and appeal to a largely emotive, monolithic connection with the past at the expense of a more comprehensive or more intellectually nuanced narrative, they do allow visitors to identify with particular “players” in the battle, and in doing so, facilitate a deeper dive into one subset of the historical past. Such an approach creates an immersive and memorable experience for a core group of tourists whose imaginations and curiosity about the past just may receive the necessary provocation to continue exploring the history of Gettysburg through additional means.

A Sweet Serving of History

By Hayden McDonald ’25

In the days, weeks, and months following the Battle of Gettysburg, journalists and newspaper editors feverishly attempted to recapture the full details, implications, and meaning of the massive fight that had transformed one small, formerly obscure, south-central Pennsylvania town into a household name. While some reporters struggled to ascertain the exact facts of the battle amidst the chaotic aftermath, others wrote with clear political agendas intended to sway the hearts and minds of their readership and, in turn, bolster their respective side’s support for the war effort. Still others searched for meaning in the aftermath through the prisms of religion, world history, and other lenses.  In this mini-series, students will explore the myriad ways that 19th-century newspapers, throughout the North and South, “re-fought” the Battle of Gettysburg, its factual components, and its larger significance in print in the immediate aftermath of the fighting.

Imagine a small-town ice cream shop– a local place on the main drive through town. It’s small and welcoming, with brightly painted walls and today’s special flavors exhibited on a chalkboard out front. It’s a spot to stop in and enjoy some quality ice cream with the family, somewhere to get out of the sun and enjoy some sweets, a place to relax and enjoy your vacation.

 It’s a place like Cone Sweet Cone, situated on Baltimore Street, in historic Gettysburg. However, like many other places in Gettysburg, this ice cream shop serves up its sweet treats with a side of history. When you walk through the doors, on your right you’ll see a glass display case with photos and memorabilia relating to aviation during the Second World War–some for sale, others for decoration only. A table stands across from this display, just a few feet from the ice cream bar. On this table lie a plethora of unassuming wooden pieces, each one stamped with the name of an historic location within Gettysburg. The way the shop is situated, your eye is inevitably drawn to them as you wait in line for your ice cream. Your stop for a sweet treat now is imbued with a distinctly historic association—an association authenticated by a slip of paper lying next to the wood fragments that explain the significance of the objects, their historic credence, and why they are for sale in this shop.

The fragments are from a tree that witnessed President Abraham Lincoln’s procession down the same street that the ice cream shop stands upon on November 19, 1863, while en route to the newly created Soldiers National Cemetery to deliver his famed Gettysburg Address. Clearly, these are no ordinary bits of wood; rather, they are tangible pieces of the past—hand-held witnesses to some of the most important events in Gettysburg’s, and the nation’s, history. Surely you must take one home with you!

These pieces of wood, like much of historic Gettysburg, offer an “authentic” and tangible connection with the town’s history which, when held in one’s palm, seem to offer an immediate transplant to the past–an avenue of escape from the modern, commercialized present into the dramatic historic events that transformed the town into a national icon.  People who are standing in line waiting for ice cream will suddenly find themselves thinking not about what flavor to get, but about the trees which stood just opposite where they are now, and what great events they bore witness to. The casual visitor who might think they had “left the past behind” when exiting Gettysburg National Military Park is now reminded that, in fact, the battle’s history surrounds them wherever they go in the town itself.  Suddenly, their carefree ice cream purchase has taken on an entirely new and specialized meaning, which they can remember and share with others through the purchase of one of the storied wood fragments; in turn, their unexpected encounter here with history is thus associated with the enjoyable sensory experience of ice cream eating at Cone Sweet Cone in particular—the historical and the commercial thus reinforcing each other.  

The store’s blending of an offer of historic authenticity with the light-hearted consumerism inherent in visiting an ice cream shop is brilliant. The majority of people who stop by this ice cream shop will be tourists, and many will, in their travels throughout the town, be looking to take home something with them to remember their trip and their encounter with one of the nation’s most cherished historic sites. What better commemorative item to purchase, then, than a piece of a real witness tree?! In a town filled with t-shirts, mugs, and snow globes, the authenticity of this historic piece of wood is all the more enticing and thrilling.  Furthermore, with so many different historic stampings to choose from on the various wood fragments, why not collect them all?  You may walk into this shop hoping for ice cream, but you might just walk out with a piece—or two or three–of Gettysburg’s history in your pocket.