When President Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, seven southern states chose to secede from the Union and ultimately began the American Civil War. This is the deadliest war fought on American soil to date leaving much of the south in ruin afterward. The war went on for nearly five years, until southern General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865 in Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
Here are the top battlefields and other war sites to visit today.
Fort Sumter located off the coast of South Carolina is where it all began. Although the fort was in the south, President Lincoln held on to those forts in protest of the south seceding. On April 12, 1861 Confederate artillery attacked the Union garrison. Once cut off from supply, the fort surrendered the following day. Then on September 8, 1863 the Union unsuccessfully tried to retake the fort.
Today the fort is open to tours though the National Park Service. Be sure to buy tickets ahead of time as they will sell out. A two-and-a-half-hour boat ride and tour of the fort will give you a deeper understanding as to what went on that day.
Gettysburg is one of the best-known battles from the civil war. From July 1-3, 1863 Union and Confederate troops met in what became the bloodiest battle to ever take place on American soil. Between the two armies, up to 51,000 soldiers were lost over the three days of battle. This marked a major turning point in the war, as it ended General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the north.
This battle was the inspiration for President Lincoln famous Gettysburg Address, which he delivered there four months after the battle. Today this is one of the best-known speeches in American history.
While there, be sure to check out the Gettysburg museum and visitor center artifacts. They have one of the largest collections of Civil War artifacts in the world.
During the war, the south used Richmond as the Confederate States of America capitol. Due to its proximity to the Mason Dixon line and being the capitol of the Confederacy, the city is home to numerous Civil War sites. Many of these sites around the city have been preserved to how they would have looked at the time of the war.
In addition to the battle sites, be sure to check out the White House of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Museum. The White House of the Confederacy is where Jefferson Davis lived and worked until the war ended in 1865 and is open to tours. The American Civil War Museum just opened its new location and exhibits.
Vicksburg, Mississippi was described as “the nailhead that holds the South’s two halves together” by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Control of the city was important for control of the Mississippi River which in turn meant control over food and supplies for the south. Confederates fortified the city with riverfront artillery batteries and a ring of forts around the city with over 170 cannons. Ulysses S. Grant held a 47-day siege on city ending in surrender, a major defeat for the north.
Visit the USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum while there. A flotilla of Union gunboats down the Mississippi River was the best way to attack Vicksburg. Although the USS Cairo was shot down during the Civil War, it was well preserved at the bottom of the river. The gunboat has since been restored and artifacts can be seen at the museum in Vicksburg.
Better known as the First and Second Battle of Bull Run, this battle field was home to a major Confederate victory. Here is where General Thomas J. Jackson earned his nickname Stonewall Jackson because he would not back down in the Second Battle for Bull Run. This battle marked the height of Confederate power during the Civil War.
While visiting, take a guided tour of the park, or observe a living history reenactment of the battle that took place.
These two sites represent a Union loss and retreat that ultimately turned in their favor. On September 18-20, 1863 Confederates won the battle at Chickamauga for their last major victory in the war. Union Generals thought there was a gap in their line, but in ordering to fill the presumed gap accidently created an actual gap. By luck the Confederates found the gap and successfully split Union lines leading to their retreat to Chattanooga. It is best to visit Chickamauga first since it was here the first battle happened, and the park headquarters is located here.
With the Union forces in Chattanooga, Confederate troops laid siege and surrounded the city. Over a three-day period on November 23-25, 1863, the disorganized Union troops were able to break through what was believed to be impregnable Confederate line. First Union troops pushed back Confederate lines on Lookout Mountain and the following day on Missionary Ridge. The Union victory in Chattanooga was the gateway to the deep south, and the victory they needed working toward ending the war.
This battle was a major defeat for Confederate forces. On September 17, 1862 the north ended General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the north. After the battle, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation stating that all slaves in the Confederate states would be freed.
With options from self-guided driving tours, battle field walk and talks with rangers, or exploring the Ry House Field Hospital Museum, there is plenty for groups of all interests to do.
The Battle of Shiloh went on for two days on April 6-7, 1862 and was key for control of the railroad junction in Corinth, Mississippi. Although there was no true winner of the battle, it was a loss for the Confederate army since Union forces were able to capture Corinth after the battle.
Here you can visit the battle fields as well as the United States National Cemetery. Shiloh is also known for the Shiloh Indian Mounds. These rectangular mounds with flat tops would have been for important buildings. One round top mound was used for burial of important member of the tribe.