The road trip is a classic American rite of passage, and few routes are more memorable than those marked by the Civil War. Stops include major battlefield sites such as Gettysburg and Manassas, but there's more to a Civil War road trip than just hitting the mega sites. Head off the beaten path into lesser-visited, but no less remarkable, regions. The routes offer more than battlefields, too. Museums, exhibits and more tempt Civil War enthusiasts. Get ready for a Civil War road trip along these 5 historic routes.
The Carolina Road was one of the main north-south roadways during the Civil War. Today, it runs parallel to a 175-mile stretch of road, Route 15, which winds past Civil War superstar sites, such as Gettysburg, Antietam and Manassas. You can also meander through dozens of smaller sites such as Ball's Bluff Regional Park and Battlefield and the Battle of Kettle Run. To help plan your trip, visit Journey Through Hallowed Ground. More than 30 small towns, such as Frederick, VA, Harper's Ferry, WV, and Leesburg, VA, lie along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground route, with histories dating back to the early 1800s.
The Deep South: Louisiana and Mississippi
Civil War fans have all but made ruts in the roads around the mid-Atlantic region's hotspot battle sites. Head instead to the Chalmette Battlefield, down river from New Orleans. Explore the thousands of military and civilian artifacts at the Civil War Museum. Then head 2 hours north to Port Hudson State Historic Site in Jackson, LA, where the Siege of Port Hudson occurred in 1863. Continue north to Vicksburg National Military Park, in Vicksburg, MS, site of a military campaign which led to the Union's control of the Mississippi River. Finally, journey through Corinth, MS, where you can visit the Civil War Interpretive Center and preserved antebellum houses, such as the Verandah-Curlee House Museum.
The Carolinas Campaign: The End of the War
After General William T. Sherman’s march through Savannah, GA, the general was on a bit of a tear. He headed north into the Carolinas, toppling the remaining Confederate strongholds. Focus your road trip on the North Carolina leg of this epic campaign at the Fayetteville Arsenal, an ammunitions and weapons depot later destroyed by Sherman. Next, visit the Market House, a former site of cavalry fighting when Union forces came to town. Head north to the battles sites of Averasboro and Bentonville; both feature informative exhibits, such as a Confederate mass grave (in Bentonville), period newspaper copies and maps of troop movements. Finally, check out the Confederate Line of March, the route soldiers took en route to the Battle of Bentonville.
Following the Second Battle of Manassas, General Robert E. Lee marched his troops over the Potomac River, toward the Battle of Antietam, in Maryland. Today, keep an eye out for the "Maryland Civil War Trails" markers along roads. (Download a map here). Start your trip just north of the town of White's Ferry at White's Ford. The route winds through the Maryland towns of Frederick, Middleton and South Mountain. Stop at any of the dozens of well-marked points along the trail, including the white, multi-storied and many-balconied Landon House, where General J.E.B. Stuart's men held a dancing ball (until a federal cavalry broke it up) and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, MD, which depicts the pains and horrors of medicine in the days before anesthesia.
Tennessee is mighty wide. So don't try to see the state's many Civil War commemorative sites all at once. The 4,000-acre Shiloh National Battlefield is a good place to start. Then head north to the 6-mile self-guided tour of Fort Donelson National Battlefield; the fort’s fall to Union troops in 1862 triggered the evacuation of most of Western Tennessee. Then drive east to Clarksville, TN, to visit Fort Defiance/Fort Bruce, a former Confederate army defense fort, and the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center to see Civil War diaries, currency and Confederate and Union weapons. Finally, head south to the Tennessee River Museum, which details the Union’s dramatic river invasion leading up to the control of Shiloh and the other riverfront forts.
Valerie Conners is a freelance writer and editor who has worked for media outlets such as the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and Frommer's Travel Guides. She's happiest when eating spicy massaman curries on the beach in Koh Mook, Thailand, snorkeling with sea turtles in Indonesia and bargaining for bangles in Indian markets.