GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Gettysburg changed the direction of American history 150 years ago, and the town hasn't been the same since.
The couple of hundred thousand visitors expected at events to mark the anniversary of the July 1-3, 1863, clash won't have to look far to find remnants of the pivotal campaign of the Civil War, even outside the grounds of the meticulously maintained national park.
Cannonballs and shrapnel remain embedded in a few of the roughly 200 buildings that remain from the period.
Many of the businesses in the rural county seat -- from General Pickett's Buffet to Abraham's Lady, a battle-era clothing shop -- cater to the throngs of tourists that stream into one of the country's most historic places.
And residents can be eager to share their expertise -- and their pride.
"To have one of the most iconic battles in the history of our country or the world to take place here and to have this historical heritage in our community is wonderful," said Randy Phiel, the county's top elected official and the logistics manager of an annual re-enactment. "This opportunity won't come again. It's our Olympic moment."
Gettysburg was a quiet backwater in the mid-19th century, but roads connected it to all points on the compass, including south, where the Confederate Army under Gen. Robert E. Lee had launched his army to take the war to its Northern opponents.
With a population of 2,400, about one-third its current size, the town was dominated by the carriage industry when war broke out, said Bob Alcorn, a 73-year-old Air Force veteran who leads walking tours of the town. The story that Confederates arrived in Gettysburg looking for shoes appears to be apocryphal, as there was not a single shoe factory in Adams County -- though there were 30 in neighboring Franklin County.
What it did have was a location on the road to Harrisburg, the state capital, along with three newspapers, two telegraph units, two brickyards and a rail spur that connected the town to Hanover Junction, 15 miles east, and strong trading ties with Baltimore, 60 miles southeast.
Alcorn shows visitors the third-floor rooftop where Union Gen. O.O. Howard monitored the fight, a corner where a townswoman used a mirror to help signal soldiers to safety and a building where some legal maneuvering by noted abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens helped an academy's founders get their hands on a tax-sale property.
A block from the square, a tiny graveyard holds the remains of Edward McPherson Woods, a 3-year-old boy who died July 6, 1863, after being shot by his toddler brother with a military musket. Edward was among several local children killed by abandoned weapons and ordnance after the armies had moved on.
Another battle relic is the row of war-era houses on High Street where Gettysburg residents trapped between the lines took in severely wounded soldiers from a church that had been converted into a hospital. These days, most of the Civil War hospitals in Gettysburg -- and there are many -- are marked with simple red flags.