Gettysburg National Military Park maintains a large and diverse museum collection that is used to tell the story of the people and events surrounding the famous Battle of Gettysburg, the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery and Gettysburg Address, the aftermath of the battle and the war, and items related to Gettysburg as it was developed into a national military park. Maintenance and care of this vast resource is the responsibility of the Office of Museum Services, which is located in the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. As with all museums, only a small percentage of the collection is on exhibit in the Museum Gallery and the items not on display are preserved in a controlled storage environment where they are protected and receive periodic care to insure their long term preservation.
The centerpiece of the park's museum holdings is the famous Rosensteel Collection, amassed over many years by the Rosensteel family of Gettysburg. Many of the relics from their collection were first displayed in a new museum built by the family in 1912 just across the street from the Soldiers' National Cemetery. The Rosensteel's collection grew as did their museum, which later included an "electric map" exhibit around which were galleries cases exhibiting countless Civil War weapons, uniforms, collections of locally recovered items, photographs and paintings of many different subjects. This incredible collection was given to the United States government in 1971 and continued to be exhibited in the old park visitor center. The care and maintenance of this collection as well as those items previously owned by the National Park Service, became a priority in 1993 and featured in the 1999 General Management Plan. In 2008, the collection was moved into its current home at the Museum and Visitor Center.
Many of the objects that were familiar to our repeat visitors are once again featured in the new exhibits in the Museum and Visitor Center. Additionally, items related to President Abraham Lincoln's visit to Gettysburg in 1863 and the establishment of the Soldiers' National Cemetery have been placed on display at the David Wills House in Gettysburg, which opened to the public in February 2009.
The museum collection is an educational resource and provides us with the objects that were important to Americans at a time of war and during a time of peace. Some of the more unique items are those with a story to tell- the mantle clock damaged by a bullet, the canteen used by a Union soldier at Gettysburg, battle-damaged rafters from a Gettysburg home, an artillery shell dug up by a farmer tilling his fields, the bullet shattered belt plate of a soldier found near the Peach Orchard as well as many one of a kind examples of Union and Confederate equipment, swords, bayonets and rifles. The relics of peace include reunion ribbons from veterans who came to the battlefield to dedicate a monument or partake in one of the many reunions here, a cane carved by hand from a battlefield tree, or the Official Program for the dedication of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial.
Researchers and interested parties have studied many of the three-dimensional items in the collection for use in books and film, and will continue to appreciate the value this vast collection provides to understanding Gettysburg and American History.
Museum Services also maintains the Park Archives, a collection of primary documents and planning records relative to the history of the park that includes original plans for the battlefield park avenues and commemorative structures, maps, drawings, and documents. Many of the records and record books date back to 1895 when the park was administered by a commission of Civil War veterans who laid the foundation for the battlefield we see today. The Archives also includes duplicates of battlefield views and the William S. Tipton photo collection, the Gettysburg photographer who photographed the numerous improvements that took place on the battlefield as well as countless park visitors and dignitaries who visited the field between 1880 and 1925. (Tipton's original glass plate negatives and prints are now housed at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC.)
Accessing the Museum Collection and Park Archives
Access to the museum collection and park archives is by appointment only and must be made at least one month in advance. To arrange an appointment, please email the Museum Curator Greg Goodell.
Research the Gettysburg museum collection holdings on line through the NPS Museum Services Catalog.
Please Note: Access to items currently on exhibit will not be permitted during the period of the year from March 15 through December 1 yearly due to high visitation and staff commitments.
View some of the unique artifacts related to Civil War soldier life from the collection at Gettysburg National Park.
Last updated: September 13, 2018