On your next trip to Gettysburg, consider traveling back in time by exploring the battlefield via a 19th-century conveyance: a horse-drawn carriage.
Owned by Rachel Stephens and operated in conjunction with her husband, Doug, and other family members, the Victorian Carriage Company offers different battlefield tours, including carriage rides and walking tours in Gettysburg town and tours of the national military park.
Relatively new (we were told 2012) are the horse-drawn carriage tours through the battlefield. The Victorian Carriage Company offers:
• A one-hour tour (available on Sundays and holidays weekdays).
• A two-hour tour departing at 9 a.m., 12 noon, and 3 p.m., daily except for Thursdays.
Accompanied by a licensed battlefield guide, passengers ride in horse-drawn carriages made in Poland and equipped with modern suspension systems. The seats are comfortable, and the carriage’s open sides provide excellent views for swivel-head passengers like me.
Opting for the two-hour tour, we bought our tickets at the Gettysburg National Heritage Center (formerly a wax museum) at 297 Steinwehr Avenue. Free parking’s available behind the GNHC.
We met our carriage as, pulled by two magnificent horses, it rolled into a curb cut on Steinwehr Avenue. Aboard were Eric, our licensed battlefield guide, and two drivers, one for the first hour and the other for the second hour.
Once everyone boarded and no vehicles approached from intown Gettysburg, the outbound driver guided the horses onto Steinwehr Avenue. We passed the last vestiges of Americana — Friendly’s, McDonald’s, General Pickett’s Buffet — and crossed into the national military park.
For the next two hours, Eric spoke about the battle, telling us how the armies blundered into each other at Gettysburg and detailing each day’s action. He pointed out specific monuments North and South and answered questions.
For a precious few seconds modern traffic vanished on Steinwehr Avenue, and all we heard beside Eric was the steady clip-clop, clip-clop as horse hooves and steel shoes struck the pavement. Traffic picked up, as it always does out here where Steinwehr transitions into the Emmitsburg Road, but not even a loud motorcycle disrupted Eric’s talk.
The tour took us out Emmitsburg Road, then left onto the Wheatfield Road. Turning onto Ayers Avenue, we paused on Houck’s Ridge to enjoy the view across the Valley of Death to the tourist-sprinkled Little Round Top.
The carriage then rolled through The Wheatfield on Sickles Avenue and into Rose’s Woods. The Irish Brigade monument and its Irish wolfhound drew verbal admiration.
Ultimately our carriage reached Hancock Avenue, passed the Pennsylvania Monument, and approached the Copse of Trees, its scrub oaks looking shaggy in spring 2018. Past Ziegler’s Grove (currently under restoration) and then back to Steinwehr Avenue we rolled.
I noticed that, unlike touring the battlefield by car, the carriage ride exposed us to nature’s sounds, especially the songbirds nesting in the fields, thickets, and woods. You cannot miss the sounds of the passing vehicles, of course, but that relaxing clip-clop, clip-clop sounded so easy on the ears.
We learned a lot listening to and questioning Eric. All licensed battlefield guides on these carriage tours are thoroughly knowledgeable about the battle; no one passes the guide exam without being so.
Check out victoriancarriagecompany.com to learn more about the carriage and other tours available through the Victorian Carriage Company.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.