These Gettysburg historical sites are easy to spot if you’re looking for them—but even Civil War buffs and frequent visitors often pass right by without knowing they are there.
For instance, did you know there is a small cannon from the War of 1812 embedded in the sidewalk along Baltimore Street?
Or that there are artillery shells still embedded in the sides of buildings downtown?
Come along as I show you these historical treasures that are hidden in plain sight in Gettysburg.
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1. Penelope: Historical Site From The War Of 1812
This Gettysburg historical site couldn’t be more obvious—yet hardly anyone knows about it.
Embedded in the sidewalk on the east side of Baltimore Street between Middle and High streets, Penelope is a small artillery piece that is a relic from the War of 1812.
Penelope was used during the war to announce American victories, and remained in use after the war for Fourth of July celebrations.
That practice continued until 1855 when too much gunpowder was used during a local Democratic election causing the cannon to partially explode.
The editor of the Gettysburg newspaper at the time—Henry Stahle—wanted to keep the cannon so he kept her chained in front of his office on Baltimore Street.
That’s where Penelope was when the Battle of Gettysburg raged through the streets in July of 1863, and that’s where she was when President Abraham Lincoln passed by on his way to deliver his Gettysburg Address.
And that’s where Penelope remains today.
From a time when the road was dirt to a paved main street and sidewalks, Penelope remains as a tangible–though often unnoticed–link to the past.
2. Witness Trees Are Another Link To The Past
There are a number of “Witness Trees” located on the Gettysburg battlefield and in the Gettysburg National Cemetery, but did you know there is also one on a busy street in the town of Gettysburg?
What Is A Gettysburg Witness Tree?
A witness tree is a tree that stood during the Civil War and was a “witness” to the Battle of Gettysburg.
Visitors to the well-known Mr. G’s Ice Cream on Baltimore Street may have sat beneath the shade of a large Sycamore tree that is a witness tree.
In addition to being a witness to the fierce fighting in the street during the Battle of Gettysburg, this tree also witnessed President Lincoln walking by on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address.
Another witness tree was removed from the Mr. G’s property because of severe disease, as were two witness trees that stood in front of the Gettysburg Lutheran Church on Chambersburg Street. Those two trees were replaced by trees grafted from the originals.
Another Gettysburg Witness Tree that people seldom see is located along Route 30, east of Gettysburg behind the strip mall.
It is a beautiful and massive oak that is located at the site of Camp Letterman, the Civil War hospital that treated the wounded from the Battle of Gettysburg.
3. The Coster Avenue Mural
I always take visitors to the Coster Avenue Mural site when giving a tour, because it’s a Gettysburg historic site that is rarely visited.
A small group of Union troops held the site, which was a brickyard, long enough to protect the retreat as Confederates swept through from the north.
There were about 800 casualties, with the 27th Pennsylvania losing 111 out of 300; the 134th New York had 40 killed and 150 wounded; and the 154th New York was hit hardest.
The Brickyard in Gettysburg is a must-visit hidden site with monuments and a mural by Mark Dunkelman.
The best way to find this historical site in Gettysburg is head north on Carlisle Street from Lincoln Square, and turn right onto Stevens Street (one block from first traffic signal).
Go straight through the stop sign and you will come to the monuments and mural.
Parking is limited but I’ve never seen anyone at this significant Gettysburg historical site.
4. Sad Story From The Battlefield
Further up Stratton Street beside the Gettysburg Fire Department station, stands a monument to one of Coster’s soldiers who fell near this spot.
This stone is the only monument to an individual enlisted man on the battlefield of Gettysburg.
Strangely, the news of this soldier’s death was the beginning of a far-reaching story that traveled throughout the United States.
Later identified as Sergeant Amos Humiston, the soldier was shot just above the heart. He apparently laid down, took out an ambrotype photograph of three children, and then died.
When the body was found with the ambrotype clutched in his hand, it started a nation-wide search for his identity.
After the picture was printed in newspapers, the children were identified as Frank, Alice and Fred Humiston.
A small group from the town of Gettysburg visited the Humiston home in New York in January of 1864.
When one of the representatives handed the bloodstained ambrotype to Amos’s wife, Philinda, it is said that ‘her hands shook like an aspen leaf, but by a strong effort she retained her composure.’
5. Gettysburg Historical Sites Include Presidential Pews
These Gettysburg historical sites are a bit more hidden, but they are still worth making the effort to see them.
Because Gettysburg is such a famous town, it has been visited by more than two dozen Presidents.
When Abraham Lincoln went to Gettysburg in November of 1863 to dedicate the Gettysburg National Cemetery, he attended a church service at the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church at the corner of Baltimore and High streets.
Visiting Gettysburg? Find the perfect Gettysburg Bed and Breakfast.
Today, his pew is corded off and preserved at the Church.
Two other Presidents—Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon—attended the Presbyterian Church as well, and their pews are also marked.
Eisenhower had strong ties to Gettysburg since he lived in a farm outside of Gettysburg after his presidency.
Nixon attended Easter service with the widowed Mamie when he was serving as the 37th President of the United States.
⬇️⬇️⬇️ KEEP YOUR MEMORIES ALIVE! ⬇️⬇️⬇️
6. First 50-Star Flag On Display
The Presidential pews are not the only Gettysburg historic treasures to be found at this particular Presbyterian Church.
The first 50-star flag of the United States is also on display, preserved in glass in the church entry.
For those who don’t presidential history, General “Ike” Eisenhower was elected the 34th president in 1952.
To honor his position as the president who presided over the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the United States in 1959, he was presented with the first 50-star United States banner.
Because he lived in a farm outside of Gettysburg, this important historic artifact was later donated to the church Eisenhower attended.
7. St. Francis Catholic Church Stained Glass Window
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church on High Street in Gettysburg was erected in 1853 and served as a hospital during the Civil War.
Between 200 and 250 of the most seriously injured from the battle’s aftermath were treated at the church by the Nuns from the Sisters of Charity in nearby Emmitsburg, Md.
These good Samaritans are now memorialized in one of the stunning stained class windows of the church.
One of the sisters wrote of the soldiers:
“They lay on the pew seats, under the pews, in every aisle, and there was scarcely room to pass among them in the sanctuary and in the gallery . . .”
Gettysburg resident Salmone “Sallie” Myers, who resided a few doors down, recalled seeing the suffering that took place there.
“I knelt by the first one inside the door and said ‘what can I do for you.’ He looked up at me with mournful eyes and said ‘Nothing. I am going to die.”
He was Sergeant Alexander Stewart of the One Hundred and Forty Ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers. Stewart soon died of his wounds.
8. Gettysburg Historical Sites, An Eye Witness To History
Just down the street from the Catholic Church on High Street stands The Academy Bed and Breakfast.
Like a handful other Gettysburg historical sites, this building carries the proof of the Battle of Gettysburg with an artillery shell that is still lodged in the brick exterior.
Other buildings that still have artillery shells include:
➡️ A cannonball embedded in a private brick home on Baltimore Street, directly across from Breckinridge Avenue.
➡️ A cannonball on the building on York Street connected to the Wills House. The cannonball is above the “Ice” in the Ice Cream sign.
➡️ There are two projectiles in private homes on Stratton Street, almost directly across from each other.
➡️ The Sheads House shell is located on Buford Avenue across from the Lutheran Seminary. The unexploded shell can be seen to the left of the top window below the awning.
➡️ There is also a shell located in a house on the Lutheran Seminary grounds.
The Seminary president at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg was an ardent abolitionist who was slated for capture when the Confederates invaded Gettysburg.
He evaded the troops by going into hiding, but his home was ransacked. There is a cannonball embedded in the wall on the porch near the door and under the protruding roof.
There are also a myriad of bullet-damaged houses (including the Jennie Wade House and Museum where the only civilian was killed during the battle).
9. The Town
Many people don’t realize that the town itself is a vital part of the battlefield, where Union and Confederate forces fought in its streets after the Union line retreated on July 1. Many buildings, both public and private, served as hospitals during the battle and still show signs of damage.
While the town has modern and commercial elements, it also boasts small museums, historic buildings, monuments, and plaques, some tucked away in corners or on building walls. It’s worth taking the time to explore beyond the National Park Service tour route.
10. Gettysburg College
Gettysburg College, initially founded as Pennsylvania College in 1832, played a notable role during the Civil War in July 1863.
When Governor Andrew Curtin urgently called for volunteers on June 15 due to General Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, around half of the college’s students, about 54 in number, formed Company A, 26th Regiment, Pennsylvania Emergency Militia.
On June 26, they unsuccessfully attempted to defend Gettysburg. The battle on July 1 disrupted college classes as Union troops used the campus for positioning, with signalmen taking over Pennsylvania Hall’s cupola.
By day’s end, Union forces had retreated, leaving the Confederates in control of the town and college grounds.
Pennsylvania Hall was turned into a field hospital, causing significant interior damage. Students and faculty sought refuge in town while President Baugher remained at his campus residence.
11. Evergreen Cemetery
The Gettysburg National Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery are next to each other, separated by a fence. Evergreen Cemetery was where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
Notable Battle of Gettysburg-related burials include Jennie Wade, who was reburied there in 1865, and a monument and perpetual flag in her honor.
There’s also a statue at the cemetery entrance for Elizabeth Thorn, who cared for it during the Civil War while her husband served in the military. Elizabeth and her husband are buried there too.
12. Willoughby Run
Willoughby Run is where the Union Iron Brigade faced off against Archer’s Confederates on the battle’s first day, marked the start of a fierce fight for the town.
Private Patrick Moloney of the 2nd Wisconsin captured Confederate General James J. Archer here, earning a posthumous Medal of Honor. Moloney returned to battle and perished in the woods, his exact fate and burial place unknown.
It’s an important historical site in Gettysburg, but not many people take the time to visit it.
This serene battlefield spot offers solitude and reflection, away from tourists and roads. To reach it, leave Gettysburg via Chambersburg Pike, turn left onto the park road near the NPS information building and Reynolds equestrian statue on Meredith Avenue.
In the woods, near the 24th Michigan monument, you’ll find parking. Across the road, a rose-colored monument to the 26th North Carolina marks the trailhead into the woods.
13. Barlow’s Knoll
The Union’s initial infantry forces at Gettysburg were Reynolds’ I Corps and Howard’s XI Corps. When Reynolds was killed, Howard took charge, causing some reshuffling in the XI Corps.
They aimed to secure Oak Hill’s high ground, but Confederates got there first, positioning artillery. Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow received orders to reinforce the XI Corps’ defensive line.
He positioned his division on Blocher’s Knoll, which was isolated from the rest of the XI Corps, making it vulnerable. When Confederates attacked, Barlow’s division was caught on both sides and collapsed.
Barlow was wounded and left behind but was later cared for by Confederate General John B. Gordon. He rejoined the Union after the battle. Barlow’s Knoll is on the NPS driving tour route.
You can find Barlow Knoll by driving north on Carlisle Street and taking your first right outside of town.
14. Culp’s Hill
Culp’s Hill, at the Union’s right flank during Gettysburg, saw fierce fighting on July 2. Greene led the XII Corps in building defenses. Lee planned attacks on both Union ends that day: Longstreet on the left, Ewell on Culp’s Hill. Ewell’s first attack was feeble.
At dusk, Ewell launched a stronger assault, catching Greene’s brigade stretched thin. Greene requested help, and Confederates suffered heavy losses in the dark. By night’s end, they held some trenches.
At dawn, the Confederates resumed their attack, facing a reinforced Union line. They launched three costly attacks followed by a futile Union counterattack.
Fighting eased by noon. Lee’s failed plan led to his July 3 attack on the Union center. Culp’s Hill is named after its owner, Henry Culp, with a tragic story involving Wesley Culp, a Confederate soldier.
His note to Jennie Wade, who died in the battle, was never delivered. Culp’s Hill used to be a popular attraction but is less visited now. You can access it via an offshoot of the NPS driving tour near East Cemetery Hill.
15. Big Round Top
While Little Round Top is famous for its role in the July 2nd battle, its larger counterpart, Big Round Top, often goes unnoticed. Both sides were unable to position weaponry atop the hill due to the ruggedness of the terrain.
However, Union forces had to clear Confederate sharpshooters from Big Round Top to protect their own troops. Furthermore, Chamberlain’s 20th Maine regiment occupied Big Round Top after their actions on Little Round Top on July 2nd.
The area features several monuments, including one for the 20th Maine, and a marked trail that leads up the hill is indicated on the NPS map. You can easily visit Big Round Top as part of the NPS driving tour.
16. East Cavalry Field
J.E.B. Stuart aimed to exploit Pickett’s charge on July 3 by getting into the Union rear. Lee and Union General David Gregg were notified of Stuart’s position, which sparked an artillery duel.
Stuart ordered a cavalry charge by the 1st Virginia Cavalry, clashing with George Custer’s 7th Michigan Cavalry. The Virginians retreated after Custer’s counterattack, and Stuart sent reinforcements.
Wade Hampton’s brigade charged the Union horse artillery, drawing Custer back into the fight. John McIntosh’s brigade attacked Hampton’s flank, while the 3rd Pennsylvania and 1st New Jersey hit Hampton’s left.
Surrounded, the Confederates withdrew, ending the 40-minute battle. While tactically inconclusive, it was a strategic loss for Lee. Casualties were 254 Union and 181 Confederate.
To reach East Cavalry Field, take Hanover Road (116) east from town or follow Route 15 north from the NPS Visitor Center and exit onto Hanover Road (116). There was another cavalry engagement on July 3 at South Cavalry Field, marked in green on the NPS map along Emmitsburg Road.
17. David Wills House
While the battlefield understandably attracts the most attention, there are important buildings in town that played a role not only during the clash but also in its aftermath.
The David Wills House is a fascinating museum that focuses on the period after the conflict when locals had to recover and rebuild their lives following the violence. David Wills, a local lawyer, played a crucial role in this rebuilding process.
He also hosted President Lincoln while Lincoln worked on his famous speech. During your visit, make sure to explore the room where Lincoln stayed and Wills’ personal office. Both rooms are remarkably preserved, offering a glimpse of how they looked in 1863.
18. Shriver House Museum
Situated in the heart of town, the Shriver House Museum is a remarkable tribute to the ordinary citizens profoundly affected by the Civil War.
In 1860, the Shriver family opened a ten-pin alley and saloon, with living quarters attached, not foreseeing the drastic changes that would soon come their way. Three years later, when the fighting reached their doorstep, their home became a hospital for wounded soldiers.
Remarkably, the attic served as a perch for sharpshooters. After the war, the house was abandoned and fell into disrepair. However, in the 1990s, it was meticulously restored to showcase civilian life during the Civil War.
Stains on the floor in the attic were proven to contain human blood.
Visitors can explore perfectly preserved rooms and furnishings that authentically depict life during this tumultuous period. Additionally, you can learn about the Shriver family and how their experiences reflect the unique challenges faced by civilians during the war.
Wrap-Up Of Hidden Gettysburg Historical Sites
There is so much to explore in the town of Gettysburg and the surrounding battlefield that it’s easy to run out of time.
Keep your eyes open though for all of the historical surprises that others pass by.
You never know what you might stumble across that is hidden in plain sight.
If you want more information on things to explore in Gettysburg, pick up a copy of the Gettysburg Handbook and Insider’s Travel Guide.
Planning a Trip To Gettysburg?
Before you visit, you may want to check out Mistakes To Avoid When Visiting Gettysburg Battlefield, and The Best Time To Visit Gettysburg Battlefield.