Over the years, I have traveled to many civil war sites, battlefields and museums. It never gets tiring because I always learn something new. Fortunately, a number of historic sites have been preserved for posterity and here are just a few of my favorites.
The Civil War, also known as the American Civil War, was a major conflict that took place in the United States from 1861 to 1865. It had a profound impact on the nation and led to significant political, social, and economic changes. The anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg is July 1-3 and so I thought I’d take a moment to share some ideas on how to visit some significant sites of the American Civil War.
Start your research by spending time on the National Park website. The history of the American Civil War can be explored through nine National Military Parks, eleven National Battlefield Parks, and One National Battlefield Site. Of course there are thousands of monuments to see as well. But to get a sense of the highlights, here are a few suggestions.
First, The Civil War Trail is an excellent way to explore the Civil War sites. The Civil War Trail is a historical route that winds through various significant sites associated with the American Civil War. Stretching across several states in the eastern and southern regions of the United States, the trail offers visitors a chance to explore key battlefields, historic towns, and landmarks that played a crucial role in the conflict. From the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg to the somber surrender site of Appomattox Court House, the trail invites history enthusiasts to walk in the footsteps of soldiers and leaders who shaped the destiny of a nation. Along the Civil War Trail, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the war's impact on America's past and appreciate the sacrifices made by those who fought and died during this tumultuous period.
While it is challenging to rank the sites in terms of significance, here are six significant locations associated with the Civil War:
- Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: The Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1 to July 3, 1863, was a turning point in the Civil War. It was the deadliest battle with over 50,000 casualties, and the Union victory halted General Robert E. Lee's second invasion of the North, boosting Union morale and shifting the war's momentum. Our first episode of our first season of Beyond Your Backyard was shot in Gettysburg and it is still one of my favorite episodes. You can watch it here.
- Appomattox Court House, Virginia: This small town is where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. The surrender at Appomattox effectively ended the Civil War, leading to the reunification of the United States.
- Antietam, Maryland: The Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with over 22,000 casualties. The Union army, led by General George B. McClellan, repelled Lee's invasion of Maryland, and it gave President Abraham Lincoln the opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
- Vicksburg, Mississippi: The Siege of Vicksburg, which took place from May 18 to July 4, 1863, was a crucial Union victory. General Grant's forces laid siege to the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, eventually capturing the city. This Union triumph gave them control of the Mississippi River, effectively splitting the Confederacy in two.
- Bull Run/Manassas, Virginia: The First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861) and the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-30, 1862) were both significant engagements near Manassas, Virginia. They were early battles of the war that demonstrated the complexity and bloodshed that would follow. The first battle shattered the Union's hopes for a quick victory, and the second battle marked a significant Confederate victory under General Lee.
- Atlanta, Georgia: The Atlanta Campaign, conducted from May to September 1864, aimed to capture the vital Confederate city of Atlanta. Union General William T. Sherman's forces fought against Confederate General John Bell Hood's army. The fall of Atlanta on September 2, 1864, boosted Northern morale and contributed to President Lincoln's re-election, further solidifying the Union's war effort.
Please note that these are just a few significant sites, and there were many other important battles and locations during the Civil War. The war had a wide-ranging impact, and the conflict extended to numerous areas throughout the United States. But this list will certainly give you the highlights. I have been to many of these and every time I was moved by the sacrifice of so many.