Written by: Anna Sibal
10/20/2012 09:37 AM
The Civil War was a major turning point in American history. This war put an end to slavery in the United States and molded the federal form of government in the country as we know it today.
Even though the Union won the war, men and women in both the Union and the Confederacy fought fiercely and gave their lives bravely for their beliefs. The Civil War is the bloodiest conflict the country has ever seen on its own soil, with an estimated death toll of 750,000 soldiers alone, not counting the civilians. Brother fought against brother in this war, and it tore families apart.
There are many lessons to be learned from the American Civil War, and these are lessons our children should learn. So it's only fitting that on Veterans Day we take them to the sites where the events of the Civil War took place. There they can honor the sacrifice of those who died during those dark years of the country's history as they appreciate the significance of Veterans Day.
With that in mind, we have listed in alphabetical order our ten best Civil War sites to visit this coming Veterans Day:
1. Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland
The Battle of Antietam marked the first invasion led by General Robert E. Lee into Union territory, and it was the first major Civil War battle held on Union soil. It has gone down in history as the bloodiest single-day in American military history, with around 23,000 people from both sides dead by day's end on September 17, 1862. No side emerged as victor in this battle, but it led Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Today, the Antietam National Battlefield preserves the site of the battle, the Antietam National Cemetery and the picturesque Burnside's Bridge. The best way to view the battlefield is to take the self-guided driving tour. The tour road is 8.5 miles long with 11 stops. You can also walk or bike the tour.
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2. Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Appomattox, Virginia
The Appomattox Court House was where General Lee made his last stand before surrendering to Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. It was one of the last battles of the Civil War and marked its end. When you visit the Park, you get to explore not just the court house but also the preserved buildings on Clover Hill. You can also follow the Appomattox Campaign Trail.
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3. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia / Tennessee
In the days of the Civil War, Chattanooga was considered to be the gateway to the Deep South. The Union and the Confederacy fought bitterly over control of Chattanooga in the autumn of 1863. The Confederates initially prevailed after the Battle of Chickamauga on September of that year, but come November the Union was able to seize Chattanooga successfully. The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is one of the first national military parks established by the Congress. Chickamauga Battlefield features a 7 mile self-guiding auto tour, monuments, historical tablets, hiking trails and horse trails. The Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center contains exhibits and the Fuller Gun Collection which contains over 300 examples of military long arms. Also head up to Lookout Mountain Battlefield for it's breathtaking views where you can gaze over miles of surrounding landscape and trace the movements of both armies during the epic campaign for Chattanooga.
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4. Fort Sumter National Monument, Charleston, South Carolina
The bombardment and the resulting surrender of Fort Sumter on April 1861 was the event that started the Civil War. Seven of the Southern states formed the Confederacy after the Battle of Fort Sumter; four more states seceded after Lincoln called for volunteers to help suppress the rebellion. It took four years for the Union to recapture Fort Sumter, and by the end of the war the fort was left in ruins. Today, the Fort Sumter National Monument preserves both Fort Sumter and nearby Fort Moultrie. Visit the visitor's center and take the ferry to Fort Sumter and listen to the short ranger history talk. Then walk the fort's walls, examine a wide array of artillery pieces, explore the museum, and enjoy the views.
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5. Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is considered to be one of the greatest American speeches ever written. The Address spoke of "a new birth of freedom" and a promise of true equality. More importantly, it memorialized the fallen heroes of the Battle of Gettysburg - the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, 51,000 died on both sides. It was General Lee's last attempt to invade the North, and the war's turning point in favor of the Union. The Gettysburg National Military Park today not only contains the Gettysburg Battlefield and Soldiers' National Cemetery where Lincoln delivered his Address, but also the Eisenhower National Historic Site. The best way to view the battlefield is to do the driving tour. Although you can do it self-guided, consider paying for a licensed battlefield guide to accompany you to really understand everything that happened.
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6. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
In 1859, two years before the start of the Civil War, abolitionist John Brown tried to arm the slaves and start a rebellion at Harpers Ferry. Brown was hanged for his attempt; before he died, though, he predicted that there would be a civil war. In the coming years, Harpers Ferry became a major point of contention between the North and the South. It changed hands repeatedly during the war. The Battle of Harpers Ferry on September 1862 saw the most number of Union soldiers (around 12,000) taken prisoner. Join a guided ranger tour, visit the exhibits and museums and hike a trail.
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7. Manassas National Battlefield Park, Manassas, Virginia
The Manassas National Battlefield Park is the site of the First Battle of Manassas (also known as the First Battle of Bull Run) in 1861 and the Second Battle of Manassas (the Second Battle of Bull Run), which occurred a year later. The First Battle of Manassas was the first major land confrontation between the North and the South; it was also where General Thomas J. Jackson of the Confederate Army earned his "Stonewall" nickname. In both battles, the Confederates forced the Union to rout. Explore the Henry Hill museum and see displays of civil war era uniforms, weapons and field gear. Play with the electronic battle map for a quick overview of field strategy and tactics and see the park's 45 minute orientation film. Join a ranger for a guided hike around Henry Hill and then buy an audio CD and do a driving tour of the Second Battle.
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8. Pea Ridge National Military Park, Pea Ridge, Arkansas
Pea Ridge National Military Park, the site of the Battle of Pea Ridge, is one of the best preserved Civil War battlefields today. The Battle of Pea Ridge is significant for a couple of reasons. One, it secured Missouri and northern Arkansas for the Union. Second, it is one of the few battles where the Union emerged victorious despite being outnumbered by the Confederates. Check out the visitor center exhibits and orientation film. Then do the 7-mile self-guided tour road and hike a trail.
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9. Shiloh National Military Park, Shiloh, Tennessee
The Battle of Shiloh, a two-day conflict fought on April 6 and 7, 1862, was one of the first major battles of the Civil War. It was also one of the bloodiest. Around 24,000 soldiers from both sides died on that day in the attempt to gain control of Corinth, a strategic railroad junction in Tennessee. Shiloh National Military Park today not only preserves the Shiloh Battlefield but also the nearby Corinth Battlefield, Shiloh National Cemetery and the Shiloh Indian Mounds Site. Check out the exhibits and films at both the the Shiloh Battlefield and the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Centers. Buy an audio CD from Shiloh Battlefield store and drive the 12.7 mile auto tour route.
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10. Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg, Mississippi
Abraham Lincoln once said that "Vicksburg is the key"; the Civil War could never come to a close if Vicksburg was not secured. And so Vicksburg became the target of a series of battles that culminated in a 47-day siege. At the end of the Vicksburg Campaign, the Union won control not just of the city but also of the Mississippi River, thereby dividing the South into two halves. At Vicksburg National Military Park, check out the exhibits in the visitor center and enjoy the 16 mile park tour that parallels the Union and Confederate lines and features 15 designated stops at places from artillery battery sites to the Vicksburg National Cemetery - final resting place of some 17,000 dead. Make sure you check out the ironclad gunboat U.S.S. Cairo, that has been restored and, together with an adjacent museum, offers a fascinating glimpse of Civil War naval life.
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There are so many lessons that we can all learn from the events of the American Civil War. The best way to learn what the Civil War has to teach us and its effects on the way we live today is to visit Civil War sites. Make an excursion to a Civil War site near you this coming Veterans Day.
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