Pea Ridge National Military Park

Overview

This 4,300-acre park memorializes a battle fought early in the Civil War for control of the Union state of Missouri.  It took place in March 1862, seven months after the events at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.  Pea Ridge National Military Park is located near Fayetteville, Arkansas and also contains a section of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.  Two regiments fighting on the Confederate side during the Battle of Pea Ridge were Cherokees that were forced to march to Indian Territory from North Carolina in 1838.

Highlights

Museum, film, driving tour, Elkhorn Tavern, cannons

Must-Do Activity

A quality film and further exhibits at the visitor center help fill in any unclear parts about the battle on March 7-8, 1862 that kept Missouri in the Union.  The seven-mile driving tour includes informational stops that explain the battle in chronological order from the Confederate assault at Leetown to their eventual retreat from Elkhorn Tavern. 

Best Trail

There are ten miles of hiking trails and 11 miles of equestrian trails that run through the park.  Also, a portion of the infamous Trail of Tears follows the route of the telegraph wire road from 1838.  To learn more about the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, we recommend a visit to Fort Smith National Historic Site, which is only a two-hour drive away.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Stop to walk around a reconstruction of Elkhorn Tavern, which was used as a hospital by both sides during the battle and later as a Union telegraph station.  The original building was burned by Confederate guerillas in 1863.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/peri/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Beaver Reservoir is 20 miles away and has public campgrounds.

Related Sites

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (Missouri)

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Fort Smith National Historic Site (Arkansas-Oklahoma)

Explore More – The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail has multiple routes; how long is it in total?

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

Overview

Early in the Civil War control of the state of Missouri hung in the balance.  Union and Confederate forces gathered near Springfield and both organized surprise attacks for the morning of August 10, 1861.  Rain overnight caused Confederate General Sterling Price to cancel his plan, but Union General Nathaniel Lyon went through with his in the face of overwhelming odds.  The strategy worked briefly but cost Lyon his life.  Even though the Union army retreated that day, seven months later they prevailed during the Battle of Pea Ridge in northern Arkansas, successfully keeping Missouri in the Union. 

Highlights

Museum, film, driving tour, Ray House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Missouri stayed in the Union throughout the war despite the $10-million in property damage caused by guerrilla fighters, making it the third most fought-over state.  Start your visit by watching a short film, then peruse the excellent museum before taking the five-mile driving route that provides an overview of the battle at eight interpretive stops.  The paved road is heavily used by locals for jogging and biking, so drive carefully.

Best Trail

A portion of the infamous Trail of Tears crosses through this park following the route of the telegraph wire south towards Elkhorn Tavern in Arkansas’ Pea Ridge National Military Park.  There are also hiking and equestrian trails through the park’s 1,926 acres.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Rebuilt at its original location, there is a reconstruction of the Ray House, which was used as a Confederate hospital.  Nearby split-rail fences add to the bucolic ambiance.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/wicr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Paved, but gate closes tour road exactly at 5 p.m.

Camping

Within five miles there is a private campground near Interstate-44, plus a variety of state parks within an hour’s drive.

Related Sites

Pea Ridge National Military Park (Arkansas)

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (Missouri)

George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

Explore More – How many Union soldiers were buried in the sinkhole near Totten’s Battery on Bloody Hill (then in 1867 were moved to a National Cemetery in Springfield)?

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Overview

The first major confrontation of the Civil War occurred on July 21, 1861 at Bull Run Creek near Manassas, Virginia.  Due to its proximity to Washington, D.C., civilians drove their carriages down to picnic and watch the spectacle of 34,000 men trying to kill each other.  It was on Henry Hill that Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson earned his nickname when he refused to flee in the face of a Union advance.  In the north it was known as the Battle of Bull Run and run they did when Confederate reinforcements arrived to take the field.  The next year there was another fight here, which the southern army also won on its march north before being turned back at Antietam.

Highlights

Museum, film, “Stonewall” Jackson statue, cannons, Stone House

Must-Do Activity

As with other battlefield sites, Manassas National Battlefield Park has a National Park Service (NPS) visitor center with a movie, maps, driving tour, and hiking trails.  Start in the museum, as the fiber-optic maps with recorded narration are one of the best ways to understand the events of each battle.  The first of the two Battles of Bull Run took place around the visitor center on Henry Hill.  The second battle was spread across the landscape and is the focus of the 18-mile driving tour.

Best Trail

Cannons line the one-mile hiking trail on Henry Hill, where one of the first civilian casualties of the Civil War occurred in a house that was rebuilt in 1870 and still stands.

Instagram-worthy Photo

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson earned his nickname at the first battle at Manassas.  We understand that Confederate statues are justifiably controversial, but this is one place that they actually belong.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mana/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Exercise caution as the 18-mile driving tour goes through residential areas with a couple unpaved roads.

Camping

There is not an NPS campground, but nearby Bull Run Regional Park has 150 sites with RV hookups.

Related Sites

Antietam National Battlefield (Maryland)

Fredericksbug and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park (Virginia)

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (Virginia)

Explore More – What state has a memorial to its troops on the spot where 123 men were killed in five minutes on August 30, 1862 (which was the greatest loss of life in any single infantry regiment in a Civil War battle)?

Top 10 Civil War Films

This summer, we are going to cover the many National Park Service (NPS) sites dedicated to remembering the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in American history with the greatest outcome (freedom for the country’s enslaved people).  Part of what makes the United States a great nation is its ability to remember the painful chapters in its past (i.e. Andersonville and Manzanar National Historic Sites).  It is also important to recall where we started so we can accurately see how far we have come and the positive trajectory we (as a nation) are on.  If you keep up with the daily news it is difficult to get this perspective, especially when living through periods of historical change.  That is what makes our NPS sites essential to the future of our republic.

With that long preamble, we now present our first Top 10 list dedicated to motion pictures.  So make some popcorn and find a comfortable seat!

10. Gods and Generals (2003)

This epically long film could have been titled “The Stonewall Jackson Movie.”

9. The Beguiled (1971, 2017)

More of a psychological thriller than a war movie.

8. Glory (1989)

The story of a regiment of African American troops in the Union Army.

7. Ride with the Devil (1999)

This film directed by Ang Lee follows guerrilla fighters in Missouri.

6. Free State of Jones (2016)

Tells the story of a revolt against the Confederacy in Mississippi in the middle of the Civil War.

5. Cold Mountain (2003)

A look into life on the home front in the South (and based on the novel).

4. Gettysburg (1993)

At over four hours, it does a decent job explaining the three days that changed American history.

3. Lincoln (2012)

Daniel Day-Lewis did arguably the best job of the many actors to portray Abe Lincoln.

2. Harriet (2019)

Believe it or not, Harriet Tubman led troops during the Civil War.

…and finally our #1 movie about the American Civil War:

1. Gone with the Wind (1939)

A classic.

Honorable Mentions

Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War (1990)

This nine-hour marathon changed documentaries forever and made historian Shelby Foote a star.

The Blue and the Grey (1982) and North and South (1985)

Mixed reviews for these two television miniseries from the 1980s.

Little Women (1918, 1933, 1949, 1994, 2019, etc.)

The war provides the backdrop for the many films based on Louisa May Alcott’s masterpiece.

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Fort Sumter National Monument

Overview

Located at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, a group of defensive forts have gone through many permutations since the 1770s.  The most famous, the five-sided Fort Sumter was still unfinished (after 30 years of construction) when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States on December 20, 1860.  This led Major Robert Anderson to flee Fort Moultrie with 85 Union troops for Fort Sumter, which Confederates fired at on April 12, 1861, marking the first shot of the Civil War.  Fort Sumter is only accessible by ferry, but you can drive a car to the National Park Service (NPS) museum at Fort Moultrie, commemorated on the U.S. quarter-dollar coin minted in 2016.

Highlights

Museum, Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Fort Sumter was built upon a sandbar in Charleston Harbor, raised and leveled with 70,000 tons of granite brought down from New England.  A toll ferry takes visitors to the island from downtown Charleston or Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.   Dolphins, pelicans, and shore birds are commonly spotted on the 40-minute ferry ride to Fort Sumter.  Destroyed by the end of the Civil War, the fort today looks nothing like it did back then, having gone through multiple upgrades before it was deactivated in 1947.  At the site, the NPS displays cannons representing each era alongside interpretive signs.

Best Trail

A walk through Fort Moultrie explains its 170 years of military use before it became part of Fort Sumter National Monument in 1948.  Constructed on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, Fort Moultrie was not yet finished when a British attack was repelled on June 28, 1776 at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  After being destroyed during the Civil War, it saw new life during World War I with the placement of disappearing rifles and World War II with anti-aircraft guns. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Major Robert Anderson surrendered and lowered the U.S. flag on April 14, 1861, though there were no casualties during the bombardment.  After rifled cannons had reduced the fort’s walls to rubble, Major Anderson raised the exact same flag above Fort Sumter four years later to-the-date near the end of the Civil War. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fosu/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person to visit Fort Moultrie (or America the Beautiful pass); charge for passenger ferry to Fort Sumter but no NPS fee

Road Conditions

Free parking at Fort Moultrie, but pay parking for the ferry from Liberty Square in downtown Charleston or Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Fort Pulaski National Monument (Georgia)

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site (South Carolina)

Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the famous Native American chief who died of scarlet fever as a prisoner at Fort Moutlrie in 1838?

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