If you can buy only one history book to prepare for your bicycle trip to Gettysburg, I recommend that you first consider your needs. Okay, that may sound obvious. But if you have never planned a historical bicycle tour, you may not know what you need.
Consider these questions: Do you need help understanding the Battle of Gettysburg, or do you need help understanding bicycling logistics in and around Gettysburg National Military Park? Of course, you probably need both. As of this writing, however, you won’t find one book that meets both needs.
Only One Book to Prepare for Your Bicycle Trip to Gettysburg?
This book review assumes first and foremost that your primary purpose for planning a tour is educational — and that you want to arrive at Gettysburg with a basic knowledge of battlefield events. If your primary purpose for bicycling Gettysburg is recreational or athletic, then I will recommend other options in a future set of blog posts.
Why One Book?
People who are busy with families and careers do not generally have a lot of time for their hobbies. If a hobby requires reading, then we yearn for that one thing that unlocks mysteries, solves puzzles, and opens yet more doors to understanding.
Only one history book to prepare for your bicycle trip to Gettysburg? Yes.
For me, American history was a hobby, and for many years I was desperate to find one accurate, interesting, and “complete” overview of the Battle of Gettysburg. My hope was always to find something that I could memorize well enough to talk intelligently with people who shared a common interest in American history. Honestly though, I never found a book that I could memorize. My brain is just not that good. But I could try, and I did.
In all of my reading (and forgetting), this 8″ x 11″ paperback published by the U.S. National Park Service was most helpful to me:
Pfanz, Harry W., Scott Hartwig and George Skoch. The Battle of Gettysburg: National Park Civil War Series. Hatboro, PA: Eastern National, 1994, 2006.
Former park chief historian Harry W. Pfanz wrote the text with supervisory historian Scott Hartwig. This 60-page book is packed with photos and maps. It captures the interest of both casual and studious readers. Unfortunately, this little gem is difficult to find if you don’t know where to look. Your best bet is to buy through an Amazon storefront or eParks. (If you purchase from my website link, I may receive a small payment from Amazon.)
A Pleasant Read
First, the Pfanz book reads like a magazine but without advertisements. There is a map or photo on almost every page. I particularly like to study the portraits of the principal commanders. When I can put a face to a name, the historical narrative becomes more of a story and less of a sequence of dry facts.
The book’s thirteen maps by George Skoch align nicely with the narrative and contain enough information to help the bicyclist to associate park monuments and signs with details in the Pfanz book. And thankfully, the maps are not so detailed as to be overwhelming and therefore distracting.
If you are fortunate to be the passenger in a car headed to Gettysburg, the Pfanz book is something that you can read in the car without getting dizzy. (That’s my experience, anyway.) The font is moderately sized and — most importantly — there is wide spacing between lines of text.
An Accurate Read
Second, Harry Pfanz and Scott Hartwig are well-known scholars and public historians. The only caveat that I raise is about the park map on the inside back cover. The map was accurate at the time of publication (1994) and its reprint in 2006, but it has one major flaw today. In 2008, a new visitor center opened and its location changed.
In my opinion, that flaw is easily remedied. Simply download an up-to-date park map from the National Park Service. Or grab a free map from a kiosk at the Gettysburg National Park Museum and Visitor Center.
One history book to prepare for your bicycle trip to Gettysburg? Yes, if history is your primary focus, I recommend Harry Pfanz’s book, The Battle of Gettysburg. For bicyclists who want to study the battle prior to arriving at Gettysburg National Military Park, this book is not only a pleasant read, but it is historically accurate. For more in-depth study, please consider perusing my “Gettysburg Reading Recommendations.” For reading recommendations specific to bicycling logistics, please stay tuned for future posts to the Civil War Cycling website.