Tag Archives: Civil War

Fort Union National Monument

Overview

Fort Union was a military outpost on the historic Santa Fe Trail first constructed in 1851.  An earthwork fortification was built during the Civil War before Confederate troops were pushed back into Texas after a nearby battle in early 1862 (see Pecos National Historical Park).  At its peak, 1,666 soldiers were stationed here, making it the largest fort in the southwest U.S.  This expansive post was abandoned in 1891 and officially became a National Monument in 1954.

Highlights

Museum, film, adobe ruins, wagon ruts on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Fort Union was not the most popular place to be stationed in the 1800s, especially for the military wives who bemoaned the constant winds and frequent dust storms.  That said; expect it to be windy during your visit.  The adobe walls here are smoothed by years of erosion and appear to be melting back into the prairie soil from which their bricks were formed in the 1860s.  If you line it up right, you can take a neat photograph where all the window frames are in a row.

Best Trail

Wagon ruts can be seen at Fort Union since it was located on the 1,200-mile Santa Fe National Historic Trail (like Fort Larned in Kansas and Bent’s Old Fort in Colorado).  Since there was no stockade around the fort, walking to all of its ruins covers quite a distance (like Fort Laramie in Wyoming).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The smooth adobe walls make a great backdrop for a wagon that looks like it needs a fresh coat of paint before it hits the Santa Fe Trail again.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The fort is not far off Interstate 25, but the last portion of the drive is a graded dirt road, as is the parking lot.

Camping

Storrie Lake State Park is 33 miles from Fort Union and there is also free camping in the summer at Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge located just off Interstate 25.

Related Sites

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Explore More – When did Spain grant Mexico its independence, opening up commerce with the United States and starting the Santa Fe Trail?

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Overview

More than 200 years ago, Fort McHenry survived a 25-hour bombardment from the British navy and inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” (which did not officially become the U.S. national anthem until 1931).  The flag flying the night of September 13, 1814 measured 42 x 30 feet!  It is no wonder he was stirred while watching “the rockets’ red glare” from aboard a U.S. truce ship under British guard floating in the Chesapeake Bay outside Baltimore, Maryland.  The Congreve rocket was a new type of weapon at the time, and, luckily for the Americans, very inaccurate.

Geese flyover!

Highlights

Museum, film, fort, twice daily flag changes

Must-Do Activity

Fort McHenry went on to serve as a temporary prison during the Civil War, when its many cannons were pointed towards the city of Baltimore so Confederate sympathizers would not secede from the Union.  During World War I, the fort served as a veterans’ hospital before being designated a National Park Service (NPS) unit in 1925.  Later it was re-designated Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, the only park with this unique distinction. 

Best Trail

Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is not a hiking trail so much as it is a collection of sites related to the War of 1812 in and around the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Our flag is still there.  This is officially the only NPS unit where the U.S. flag flies 24 hours a day.  Daily flag changes take place at 9:30 a.m. and 4:20 p.m., weather permitting.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved to the designated NPS parking lot.

Camping

Patapsco Valley State Park is located west of Baltimore, Maryland.

Related Sites

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (District of Columbia)

Hampton National Historic Site (Maryland)

Fort Washington Park (Maryland)

Explore More – When a new state is added to the union, the newly redesigned flag is first flown over Fort McHenry, so when did that last occur?

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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Overview

As one of the easiest crossings of the Alleghany Mountains, Cumberland Gap saw steady foot traffic from 1775 to 1810 as American settlers moved west then sent their trade goods and livestock east.  It later became the corner where the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all converge.  Today there is a tunnel on Highway 25E, maintaining the park’s quiet and its appearance of centuries ago. 

Highlights

Pinnacle Overlook, Tri-State Peak, Wilderness Road Trail, Hensley Settlement, Gap Cave

Must-Do Activity

All visitors will want to drive the steep four-mile long Pinnacle Road, along which trailheads lead to scenic overlooks and earthen forts dating to the 1860s.  Reservations are recommended if you want to take a tour of the Hensley Settlement or Gap Cave, which typically sell out.  Even if you cannot make it on a tour, there are 85 miles of shady trails through the park’s 24,000 acres of forest to make your visit worthwhile.

Best Trail

At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park you can follow in the footsteps of salt-seeking bison, Shawnee and Cherokee warriors, hundreds of thousands of pioneers, and Civil War soldiers from both sides.  Hike the Wilderness Road Trail to the saddle of the official Cumberland Gap, which is marked by a sign.  You will also pass the same Indian Rock that was seen by frontiersman Daniel Boone when he helped blaze the Wilderness Trail in 1775.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You can see parts of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee from Pinnacle Overlook at 2,440 feet in elevation.  With its commanding views, you can see why both sides found the Cumberland Gap strategic during the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for the separate tours of Hensley Settlement and Gap Cave (reservations recommended).

Road Conditions

The four-mile long road up to Pinnacle Overlook is paved but steep enough to be closed to all trailers and vehicles over 20 feet in length.

Camping

The park’s Wilderness Road Campground is large and open year round.  Free permits are available for backcountry campsites.  Black bears are common in the park, so proper food storage is required.

Related Sites

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the Virginian who first “discovered” and named the Cumberland Gap in 1750?

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Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park

Overview

This relatively undeveloped section of Maryland’s Eastern Shore might still be recognizable to Harriet Tubman, who was born here as Araminta “Minty” Ross in 1822.  After her own solo escape to Philadelphia using the Underground Railroad network in 1849, she returned thirteen times to conduct approximately 70 people north, as well as to provide detailed instructions that enabled another 70 to find freedom.  During the Civil War, Tubman served as a Union spy and became the first woman to lead an armed U.S. military assault.

Highlights

Museum, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Bucktown Village Store

Must-Do Activity

Harriet Tubman lived a hard life, as described in the exhibits at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park (museum opened in March 2017), managed in association with the National Park Service.  Pick up a map at the museum, then make as many stops as you wish along the 125-mile long Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which offers a free downloadable audio guide.  You will definitely be inspired by the story of this brave conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Best Trail

Near the museum at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park, 28,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to see ospreys and overwintering birds. The Key Wallace loop trail is 2.7 miles long.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bucktown Village Store has been restored to its 1800s appearance and is open to visitors.  Harriet Tubman accomplished amazing feats despite suffering seizures throughout her life from a skull fracture suffered at the Bucktown Village Store during her youth (see the photo below for the full story). 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which is only $3 per vehicle and accepts America the Beautiful passes.

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved on the 125-mile long Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and the driving route is well-maintained through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. 

Camping

There are developed campgrounds at the northern end of Assateague Island National Seashore on Maryland’s Atlantic Coast.

Related Sites

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland-Virginia)

First State National Historical Park (Delaware)

Explore More – Before it became a National Historical Park, when was Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument established?

Tupelo National Battlefield

Overview

Two cannons and a monument mark this one-acre (less than a football field) National Park Service (NPS) site surrounded by the city of Tupelo, Mississippi.  The park was established in 1929 to memorialize the battle of July 14, 1864, when the Union army drove off Confederate troops trying to disrupt General William T. Sherman’s railroad supply line at the historic town of Harrisburg. Located only one mile off the Natchez Trace Parkway, Tupelo’s own Elvis Presley probably visited this park as a child.

Highlights

Cannons

Must-Do Activity

Unlike other NPS sites, Tupelo National Battlefield provides much easier access to a car wash and a Walmart store.  Its visitor center is combined with the one for the Natchez Trace Parkway just outside Tupelo.  The city of Baldwyn, Mississippi runs an interpretive center (with a small admission fee) that also commemorates a Confederate victory on June 10, 1864 at Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site.   

Best Trail

There is a sidewalk on two sides of the one-acre park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This is one of the smallest units in the NPS system, but from one angle, Tupelo National Battlefield looks like many larger Civil War parks.

Peak Season

“They get about a week of spring then the summer is blistering.” –Jason Isbell from the song “Tupelo”

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, with street parking available.

Camping

Tombigbee State Park offers camping about 10 miles from Tupelo.

Explore More – What does the T. stand for in General William T. Sherman’s name?