By Lynneah Smith – It was a beautiful spring morning. The sun was shining down; a cool breeze wisped in the air; the smile on my face was bursting with excitement. I climbed up one, two, three steps, placed my left foot in the stirrup, swung my right leg around, pulled myself up and suddenly, I was seeing things from a much higher view…atop my new horse-friend, Gray. She and I had become very acquainted in the few minutes we had met as she walked us over to line up with the rest of the group. Then, after receiving thorough instructions about how to ride our horse, we were off. As a resident of Adams County for my entire life, I visited the Gettysburg battlefield often, but I was about to experience it in a whole new way.
The group departed from McMillian woods, led by Cornerstone Farm Horseback Tours wrangler, John Paxton and licensed battlefield guide, Andie Donahue. Each horse was happy, healthy, fully trained and unique in personality. As a first-time rider, there was no pressure to know exactly what I was doing. The knowledgeable staff from Cornerstone was patient and extremely helpful. It was a small group riding on the tour, which made for lots of insightful interaction and a personable experience. I met some friendly folks from all over the United States, including Oregon and central Florida. The trails followed the Confederate army’s side of the battlefield. Our tour guide, abundant in battlefield knowledge, encouraged us to get in the mindset of a soldier and experience the battlefield from the perspective of General Robert E. Lee and his army.
One of the first sights on the tour was the Emanuel Pitzer Farm, abandoned by its family during the Civil War, only to be taken over by Confederate soldiers for camp and supply storage. Moving along, we contemplated the wartime decisions of generals and anticipated Union reactions. We passed monuments and giant statues, like the bronze sculpture of Robert E. Lee riding his beloved horse, Traveler. I had the pleasure of riding Gray, who plays Lee’s horse in the Gettysburg reenactment. She was the perfect companion. As we continued our travels, we came upon Spangler Farm, where General George Pickett established his headquarters. To the west, we imagined the infantry assault of Pickett’s Charge. To the east we saw Union lines and Little Round Top in the distance. These are views that can only be seen on horseback, not visible by car or bus.
Crossing Emmitsburg Road, our minds transitioned to those of the Union soldiers. We saw the Trostle Farm used as a hospital and the headquarters of Major General Daniel Sickles, who insubordinately, under General George Meade, moved his III Corps to a position where it was destroyed. The most astounding thing was the view of Union soldiers from that point – nothing but a wall of ground in front of them. It became clear to me why Big Round Top and Little Round Top were so crucial in winning the Battle of Gettysburg.
My favorite part of the tour, aside from the thrill of riding such a kind and gentle animal, was knowing that I was able to be even a small part of such a noteworthy piece of our country’s history. The ground beneath Gray and I was so sacred and serene that having the opportunity to be so immersed in the history of the time was truly an experience filled with great appreciation and newfound understanding. For travelers visiting Gettysburg or those who live in the heart of this charming town such as myself, hoping to view the stunning and picturesque sights of the open grass of the battlefield, riding horseback is certainly a unique and memorable way to experience it. To experience the Gettysburg National Military Park on horse back as well as other inspiring ways, check out our Things To Do section on our website.