You don’t have to be a historian to be fascinated by America’s military past. From the tattered buttons and bayonets of the Civil War to breathtaking photography and first-hand accounts of the War on Terror, we can all learn about our nation’s military history in appreciation of our troops who’ve served bravely.
What you might not realize is the Hershey Harrisburg Region has a rich military history, having played a significant role in the American Civil War. After the surrender of Fort Sumter in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteer soldiers for the Union Army. In Pennsylvania, men amassed in Harrisburg and Governor Andrew Curtain recognized a need for a training and supply camp, which he established on 80 acres between the Susquehanna River and the railroad tracks in what’s now Uptown Harrisburg. Camp Curtain was the Union Army’s largest camp, hosting more than 300,000 soldiers who arrived, trained, and set out for southern battlefields via our region’s railroads.
So, it’s fitting that Harrisburg has its own National Civil War Museum, the perfect place to start your journey back in time. Beginning with the brink of war through post-bellum healing, discover the whole story, as told from both sides of the battlefield, about this restless chapter of our nation’s history. The museum has two floors of exhibits, with 4,400 three-dimensional relics including uniforms, weapons, and personal effects of the fallen.
After you’ve learned about the Battle of Gettysburg, which raged on for three days in 1863 just 40 miles south of Harrisburg, walk in a soldier’s boots at the Gettysburg National Military Park, which offers escorted tours by bus or car, and self-guided and walking tours. Before you step onto the battlefield, stop at the Gettysburg Visitors Center, to explore the Museum of precious artifacts and watch the film, A New Birth of Freedom, explaining how the events at Gettysburg shaped Civil War and American history. Surround yourself in history at the world-famous Cyclorama painting, a light and sound show illustrating the Confederate Army’s ill-fated Pickett’s Charge offensive that cost the lives of thousands and led to the defeat the southern forces. Lastly, the Cupola at the Seminary Ridge Museum offers a 360-degree view of the battlefield and sits above three floors of exhibits at the site of one of the battle’s largest field hospitals.
While our army was once divided, the history of the United States Army in the decades that followed the Civil War through present day is preserved in spectacular form at the United States Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle. Here, visitors can learn about the U.S. Army’s role in the wars that redrew world maps and forever changed the way we look at combat. Don’t miss the outdoor, mile-long Army Heritage Trail, featuring full-scale military exhibits: a recreation of a Civil War encampment, a World War I trench system, and World War II obstacle course, just to name a few!
Spending a day immersed in the military history of the region is a wonderful way to say “thank you” to our veterans, and will leave you feeling proud of our nation.