The Gettysburg battlefield is one of the most studied, photographed, written about and visited Civil War sites. And yet, a portion of that field and its accompanying stories often go unnoticed, in part because the terrain has become obscured by vegetation and its viewsheds lost. The Gettysburg Foundation and Gettysburg National Military Park are changing that with a major rehabilitation of Culp’s Hill.
Importance of Culp’s Hill
Culp’s Hill anchored the Union right flank during much of the battle. The outcome of the fighting here was critical to the Union Army’s success at Gettysburg. One of the first three landmarks preserved by local citizens and veterans, in the early post-war years, Culp’s Hill was one of the most frequently visited places on the field. It bore testimony to the fierce and prolonged fighting that occurred here during two days of the battle with shattered trees and remnants of earthworks attesting to the hard fighting here.
During the following decades, veterans returned to Gettysburg, walked the fields and raised monuments to help future generations understand what occurred during the battle. Culp’s Hill was visited often, not only by the veterans who had fought to save or capture it, but also by those who desired to see evidence of the battle. However, as the veterans aged, the field seemed to age with them, losing some of its strength and ability to bear witness. Visitors’ attention was drawn to the fields of Pickett’s Charge, the heights of Little Round Top and the jumbled boulders of Devil’s Den. By the early 20th century, the official tour route offered Culp’s Hill as an option rather than a must-see part of the story. Even the extensive rehabilitation of the battlefield, envisioned in Gettysburg National Military Park’s 1999 General Management Plan, struggled to find resources to bring Culp’s Hill in line with the rest of the restored landscape.
Veterans walking the Union lines between upper and lower Culp's Hill during the 1913 reunion at Gettysburg. Boardman Collection.
Culp’s Hill Rehabilitation Project
A new National Park Service initiative, in partnership with the Gettysburg Foundation, is underway and the project is changing the interpretive value of Culp’s Hill.
The Gettysburg Foundation and Gettysburg National Military Park are partnering to rehabilitate Culp’s Hill. This comprehensive project includes landscape improvements and enhanced educational resources, both of which will help visitors better understand events that took place here. We are grateful to Charles ‘Cliff’ Bream, III and Julie St. John, whose lead philanthropic support is making this transformation a reality.
The thinning of 18 acres of woodlot will have the greatest impact on interpretation of this site. Since farmers owned most woodlots in Gettysburg before the battle, grazing animals kept woods clear of undergrowth. As such, Confederate soldiers’ assaults up Culp’s Hill would have been relatively unencumbered by vegetation. Edwin Forbes’ famous painting depicts this landscape. Prior to this rehabilitation, visitors parked along Slocum Avenue looking east into the woodlot had a difficult time imagining Confederates charging up the hill, given the overgrown vegetation. Visitors were unable to comfortably walk through this area and understand how intense combat took place here.
Edwin Forbes painting of the fighting on Culp's Hill. Library of Congress.
Because of woodlot treatment that began in February 2021, visitors can now visualize the unique fighting that took place on Culp’s Hill. Gettysburg National Military Park identified a key part of the Culp’s Hill battlefield to receive this treatment – 18 acres on the east side of Slocum Avenue from Spangler’s Spring to the summit. Work included the removal of brush and select trees that were five inches or less in diameter.
The initial thinning is only the beginning of the Culp’s Hill woodlot management program. Without proper treatment, this woodlot will return to its previous form within a few years. The Gettysburg Foundation is building an endowment to fund the maintenance of this project in perpetuity for generations to come.
Forbes Rock taken looking toward the summit of Culp's Hill, March 2021
The rehabilitation will also expose and highlight historic earthworks from Spangler’s Spring to the summit. The earthworks played a major role in the Union’s defense of the right end of their battle line. These earthworks, which were rebuilt by veterans at the end of the 19th century, have been overgrown by vegetation and shrubs. Seeing the earthworks through the overgrowth was nearly impossible.
Work to remove vegetation from the historic earthworks began in March 2021. These structures, which played a major role in the Culp’s Hill battle action, are now being exposed. The cleared earthworks, situated near the edge of the thinned woodlot, provide visitors with a more historically accurate view, unimaginable just a few months ago.
An American Conservation Experience (ACE) crew will complete the removal of vegetation from historic breastworks. ACE is a non-profit organization that provides service opportunities for youth of all backgrounds, allowing them to improve public lands and gain valuable experience. The ACE crew plans to complete this task by the end of June.
To keep updated on the progress being made on the Culp’s Hill Rehabilitation Project, follow the Gettysburg Foundation on Facebook where we share the Gettysburg National Military Park’s live stream videos throughout the project and visit us online.
Culp's Hill Rehabilitation Project area. National Park Service map.
The Gettysburg Foundation is building a Culp’s Hill endowment to make certain the 18-acre woodlot and trail are properly maintained forever. Contributions to this endowment can be made by visiting GettysburgFoundation.org/Culps or by texting CULPS to 41444 to help ensure our future generations can enjoy the same experience we are providing current generations.
Individuals who find preserving Gettysburg’s landscapes and lessons is important have the opportunity to become a member of the Gettysburg Foundation. Through volunteer and fundraising efforts, the Friends of Gettysburg help maintain the mission of acquiring and preserving battlefield lands and artifacts, improving the visitor experience and educating the public about the significance of Gettysburg National Military Park.
Visiting Culp’s Hill
Visitors to the Gettysburg National Military Park can experience the rehabilitation project in person. Before heading onto the battlefield, visitors have the opportunity to prepare for touring the battlefield with the resources and experiences provided at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center. The Film, Cyclorama & Museum Experience sets the framework for a visit to Gettysburg by introducing guests to the Battle of Gettysburg in preparation for a tour of the battlefield. Reserving a car tour with a Licensed Battlefield Guide gives visitors the opportunity to personalize a battlefield tour and request adding Culp’s Hill to the battlefield sites and stories desired for the tour. Repeat visitors can take another look at the Culp’s Hill artifacts on display in the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War at the Museum & Visitor Center prior to experiencing the rehabilitated landscape and hiking to Forbes Rock.
When visiting Culp’s Hill, keep in mind the new opened and more accessible area is hallowed ground and a vital resource the National Park Service works to preserve and protect. Take care when walking the ground and avoid walking on or over the historic breastworks that have been uncovered. Help us further protect the landscape by staying on established trails.
The rehabilitation of Culp’s Hill will make the stories above, and many more like these, accessible to future generations. The Gettysburg Foundation is honored to partner with Gettysburg National Military Park on this transformation.