Top Civil War Battlefield Tours
Brutal days-long battles, young soldiers dying in unprecedented numbers and Americans fighting one another. These realities of the Civil War have left a dark but memorable stamp on the nation's history. As America's deadliest conflict, the Civil War attracts history aficionados and novices alike. Here are some of the most gripping battlefields to explore.
It's fitting that the bloodiest battle of the Civil War -- the Battle of Gettysburg -- is marked by one of America's most impressive Civil War battlefield parks. "People lock onto the tragedy of the Civil War; an emblematic part of that is the story of Gettysburg," said Katie Lawhon, public relations specialist at the Gettysburg site. Take a walking tour or purchase an audio guide and drive along the widespread battlefield sites and trails. To get a better sense of Gettysburg's history and overall site layout, the visitor's center includes a gigantic spread of interactive displays, artifacts and films, including a bone-rattling reenactment of Pickett's Charge. Within walking distance from the visitor's center is the Soldiers’ National Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln famously delivered the Gettysburg Address.
On the Civil War's single deadliest day, 23,000 soldiers were killed here at Antietam. Following this battle, Lincoln created his initial draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, shifting the war's focus from fighting for reunification to fighting for slavery's end. Today, what’s equally remarkable about this battlefield is its faithful preservation through careful restoration of historic buildings such as the Dunker Church, a simple house of worship built in 1852. Worried the kids will be bored? Take part in a "scavenger hunt," a series of questions on paper which your kids can fill out as they tour the sites. Adults will dig this experience, too. We promise.
A hush permeates the 5,000 acres of meadows and woodlands that sprawl before visitors at Manassas National Battlefield Park -- a far cry from the bloody First and Second Battles of Bull Run that occurred here 150 years ago. The Henry Hill Visitor Center offers an impressive array of detailed exhibits such as original uniforms, weapons and a fantastic fiber-optic map highlighting strategies and movements of Confederate and Union troops at Bull Run. Visitors will depart chock-full of knowledge about those fearsome days of fighting. You can also imagine the booming chaos as you stroll through the fields, past cannons and looming monuments, with signposts that further detail the site's history.
Civil War fun fact: The first shot fired in the war didn't hit a target; it merely served as a starting signal for Confederate soldiers to fire on Union-held Fort Sumter. Still, Fort Sumter owes its popularity in US history as home to the Civil War's first shot. Exhibits at the visitor center, help explain the medley of circumstances that brought the fledgling nation into war. To reach the fort, reserve tickets through the ferry concession from Liberty Square in Charleston, SC.
A trek to our nation's Civil War battlefields is hardly complete without stopping by the place where it all ended, the village of Appomattox Court House, VA, where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Boasting excellent interactive living history programs -- complete with reenactors -- Appamattox is a hit with families. While at the visitor center, check out the "Soldiers' Diaries," a slideshow and audio program which includes excerpts from soldiers' journals, and take a peek at the very pencil Lee used to sign the Confederacy’s surrender.