Tag Archives: Civil War

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Overview

The spring at Apache Pass has attracted humans to this part of the Sonoran Desert for hundreds of years (at least).  As you might have guessed from its name, the Apaches were the area’s inhabitants when the Butterfield Overland Mail route built a station here in 1858.  Four years later, after Apaches ambushed the Union Army during the Civil War, they constructed Fort Bowie to help keep peace in New Mexico.  The fort received an upgrade in 1868, and then was used to fight against Cochise and Geronimo until it was finally abandoned in 1894.

Highlights

Fort Bowie ruins, cemetery, stage station ruins, site of wagon train massacre

Must-Do Activity

To visit the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center, the literal “must-do activity” is to hike 1.5 miles from the trailhead.  You do pass interpretive signs, a cemetery, and ruins along the way, plus you earn an “I Hike For Health” pin just by getting there.  For those unable to hike the trail, contact the NPS for alternate access directions.

Best Trail

Getting to the NPS visitor center means hiking three miles roundtrip in a shadeless desert.  If it is a nice day, make a loop of it by taking Overlook Ridge on the way back to the trailhead.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The post cemetery has freshly-painted wooden grave markers, including one for Geronimo’s two-year-old son.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Access to this NPS site requires driving a graded dirt road that is impassable during flash floods.

Camping

Private campgrounds are available in Bowie and Wilcox, Arizona, but we recommend a night at the NPS campground in Chiricahua National Monument (which is well-known for its ringtail and coati sightings).

Related Sites

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Explore More – When did Geronimo finally surrender to U.S. troops before being sent to Fort Bowie and on to Florida’s Fort Pickens (now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore)?

Natchez National Historical Park

Overview

Authorized in 1988, Natchez National Historical Park occupies 82 acres in the riverside town of Natchez, Mississippi.  The town started as Fort Rosalie, a French trading post built on the Mississippi River in the early 1700s, now the site of the Visitor Reception Center.  National Park Service (NPS) rangers or volunteers are always on location at the William Johnson House and Melrose Estate.  Although it is not part of the NPS unit, we also recommend a stop at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians State Historic Site for its free museum, film, historic mounds, and air conditioning (which is important in the humid summer).

Highlights

Melrose Estate, William Johnson House, Fort Rosalie

Must-Do Activity

The museum in the William Johnson House tells the story of a slave freed at age 11 by his owner, also named William Johnson and presumed to be his father.  The boy apprenticed to a barber, eventually becoming a successful businessman and slave owner himself.  A diary he kept for 16 years provides insight into antebellum Natchez, including the May 7, 1840 tornado that destroyed downtown, which had about 5,000 inhabitants at the time.  Inside the NPS museum you will learn the strange story of William Johnson’s murder in 1851 that ended in three mistrials.

Best Trail

Naturally, Natchez is one terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which also preserves its share of history starting at the Elizabeth Female Academy Site (Milepost 5.1) just outside town.  There are a few portions of the Old Trace that you can still follow along on the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Melrose Estate recalls the antebellum period when slaves grew cotton in the rich soil of the Mississippi River floodplains.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

The NPS museum at the William Johnson House is closed daily for lunch.

Fees

None for Fort Rosalie, William Johnson House, and Melrose Estate grounds, but $10 per person for mansion interior tours (no discount for America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Rocky Springs is the furthest south campground managed by the NPS on the Natchez Trace Parkway (Milepost 54.8) and it has no fees for camping.

Related Sites

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

Cane River Creole National Historical Park (Louisiana)

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail (Mississippi-Alabama-Tennessee)

Explore More – In 1839 a fire burned through Natchez destroying the William Johnson House, but the family was living in the country at the time to avoid an epidemic of what disease?

Reconstruction Era National Historical Park

Overview

Like Freedom Riders National Monument in Alabama, President Obama established Reconstruction Era National Monument in 2017.  The park is located about an hour south of Charleston, South Carolina and is still under development, but they already have a Junior Ranger program.  The Reconstruction Era took place following the Civil War when the U.S. military helped freed African-American slaves integrate into southern society.  It was a complicated and mostly failed social experiment with long-lasting repercussions within American culture.

Highlights

Old Beaufort Firehouse, Robert Smalls Memorial, Camp Saxton, Penn Center, Brick Baptist Church

Must-Do Activity

We recommend the ranger-guided tour of Camp Saxton that leaves from the National Park Service (NPS) operated Porter’s Chapel, next to the skate park in Port Royal, South Carolina.  Following the loss of Fort Sumter, the Union Army occupied this area by late-1861, eventually training former slaves to serve as soldiers.  There is nothing left to see of the camp, but there are tabby walls from old Fort Frederick.  After a short walk, the park ranger will help you imagine what the scene would have looked like when the black soldiers were officially freed on Emancipation Day, January 1, 1863.

Best Trail

You can walk around the historic Penn Center (guided tours offered) where the NPS maintains a visitor center in Darrah Hall, a donated part of this National Historic Landmark that has a long history of African-American education. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Old Sheldon Church Ruins are not technically part of the park, but they are located just down the road from the Penn Center.  The Parrish Church of St. Helena outside Beaufort is also very photogenic.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major access roads are paved, although parking can be scarce around Port Royal during the farmers’ market.

Camping

Hunting Island and Edisto Beach State Parks both take camping reservations, so book early.  There are also campgrounds and backcountry campsites north of Charleston, South Carolina in Francis Marion National Forest.

Related Sites

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park (South Carolina)

Camp Nelson Heritage National Monument (Kentucky)

Fort Monroe National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – How did future U.S. Congressman Robert Smalls escape slavery during the Civil War?

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

Overview

Established in 1996, there are 34 separate sites encompassed within Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.  Not all of the areas are islands, some, like Worlds End, are the tips of peninsulas with roads accessing them from the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts.  The park is a managed by a hodgepodge of agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boston Light on Little Brewster Island (open to ranger-led tours in the summer months).

Highlights

Worlds End, Governors Island, Webb Memorial State Park, Spectacle Island

Must-Do Activity

It is probably best to pick one island and thoroughly explore it by catching a ferry from Long Wharf North in downtown Boston, Hingham Shipyard, or Pemberton Point in Hull.  We chose Georges Island which is mostly taken up by Fort Warren, which dates back to 1850.  During the Civil War, the fort served as an artillery base and a prison.  The National Park Service (NPS) operates an excellent museum on the island and shows a film on its history.  Georges and Spectacle Islands are the only two islands that offer food for sale, plus they have water taxis leave from each dock to access many of the other islands.

Best Trail

Spectacle Island has five miles of hiking trails and also contains the highest point within Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area at 157 feet in elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The site of the first lighthouse in America, Boston Light on Little Brewster Island can be seen from Georges Island and is open to guided tours in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/boha/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

Passengers ferries charge fares, but there is not an entrance fee to the islands or Webb Memorial State Park.

Road Conditions

Most of the islands do not allow private vehicles, but you can bring your bicycle onto the ferries.  Webb Memorial State Park, Deer Island, Worlds End, and Nut Island are accessible by paved roads in the Boston area.

Camping

There are yurts on Peddocks Island and tent camping is allowed on Bumpkin, Grape, Peddocks, and Lovells Islands from late June through Labor Day.  Backcountry permits are required for stays on undeveloped islands.

Related Sites

Boston National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Explore More – During the Civil War, who wrote the lyrics to “John Brown’s Body” while serving at Fort Warren?

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Overview

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was authorized in 1890, the first park of its kind in the United States.  It covers multiple battlefields from late-1863 that straddle the Tennessee-Georgia borderline.  Though the Confederate army initially won at Chickamauga, Georgia, the Union took control of Chattanooga, Tennessee after the arrival of General Ulysses S. Grant with reinforcements in November.  Like Fort Monroe in Virginia, this area then became a beacon for escaped slaves, eventually numbering 2,000 people.

Highlights

Museums, film, driving tour, Point Park, Ochs Memorial Observatory, Cravens House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Point Park sits on top of Lookout Mountain offering awesome views of the city of Chattanooga and Moccasin Bend on the Tennessee River.  It is also the home of Ochs Memorial Observatory and museum, one reason Point Park charges an admission fee.  The nearby National Park Service (NPS) visitor center displays the 30×13-foot painting The Battle of Lookout Mountain by James Walker.  At the Chickamauga battlefield, a seven-mile long driving tour explains what happened there on September 20, 1863.  The National Military Park also entails seven small military reservations and the Phelps Monument along the road atop Missionary Ridge, east of Chattanooga.

Best Trail

There are miles of trails atop Lookout Mountain and Ochs Memorial Observatory is only accessible by trail (and many stair steps).  It contains a museum dedicated to the Civil War and American Indians, specifically the Cherokee who passed through Moccasin Bend (which has its own three-mile loop trail) on the Trail of Tears in 1838.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The entrance to Point Park is designed to look like the Army Corps of Engineers insignia.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person to enter Point Park or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but there is limited free parking available at the NPS visitor center near Point Park.

Camping

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia is about 20 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Related Sites

Fort Donelson National Battlefield (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Shiloh National Military Park (Tennessee-Mississippi)

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

Explore More – Why did President Abraham Lincoln consider capturing Chattanooga (a town of only 2,500) as important as Atlanta?