Tag Archives: film

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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Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

Overview

In a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri is the antebellum plantation (White Haven) of Ulysses S. Grant.  Following his graduation from West Point in 1843, Lieutenant Grant was stationed at nearby Jefferson Barracks.  It was while visiting his former roommate at White Haven that he met Fred Dent’s sister, Julia.  Grant would eventually marry her and together they raised their children here from 1854-59, following his resignation from the U.S. Army.  The family intended to return to the plantation following the Civil War, but Grant’s two terms as President did not allow that to happen.

Highlights

Museum, film, historic house, cannons

Must-Do Activity

A thorough museum housed in the former horse stables provides days’ worth of reading on this controversial General and President.  Opposing arguments are posted around the stables allowing visitors to answer tough questions like, Was Grant a butcher? and Was Grant a corrupt politician?  Access inside the house requires a free guided tour given regularly throughout the day by National Park Service (NPS) rangers.

Best Trail

There is a short walking tour on the ten-acre NPS property.  The neighboring wildlife park named Grant’s Farm (admission fee) contains a log cabin built by Grant in 1855.

Instagram-worthy Photo

During our visit in early April, the redbud trees were in bloom.  Plus, there are cannons to pose with.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, but a free guided tour (tickets required) is the only way to enter the main house

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None at the site, but several private campgrounds nearby.

Related Sites

General Grant National Memorial (New York)

Ozark National Scenic Riverways (Missouri)

Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)

Explore More – Did the family have slaves at White Haven?

Fort Scott National Historic Site

Overview

Near the border of Kansas and Missouri sits Fort Scott, which like Fort Smith (to the south) was an important frontier military post during the Mexican-American War and skirmishes with Plains Indians.  Several buildings were sold off in 1853, two becoming hotels that catered to pro-slavery and anti-slavery clients when this region was dubbed “Bleeding Kansas.”  During the Civil War, the town became a strategic location utilized to quell uprisings and maintain supply lines.  Abandoned by the military after the war, soldiers returned when settlers opposed railroad construction in the 1870s.  This 17-acre historic site was authorized in 1965 but not established as a part of the National Park Service (NPS) system until 1979.

Highlights

Museum, film, Officers’ Quarters, restored tallgrass prairie

Must-Do Activity

The NPS visitor center is located in the old hospital at Fort Scott National Historic Site.  There are 11 original structures here and you can walk through the well-maintained Officers’ Quarters, bake house, and carriage house.  Posted here 1842-1853 were flamboyantly-uniformed dragoons, who were elite fighters on foot or horseback.  Dragoons knew they were only as effective as their horses, so they took good care of them.  In fact, the horse stables remain the largest building at Fort Scott on the edge of the beautifully-landscaped parade ground.

Best Trail

The site may be small and surrounded by roads and development, but it does maintain five acres of restored tallgrass prairie (utilizing controlled burning) with a short nature trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The site is especially pretty in November, when the maple leaves turn red and orange in sharp contrast to the white buildings.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is a city-operated campground about two miles from the fort, as well as several state parks in the region.

Related Sites

Fort Smith National Historic Site (Arkansas-Oklahoma)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Kansas)

Explore More – What are the three architectural styles reflected in the buildings are Fort Scott?

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park

Overview

The first battle of the Mexican-American War took place on May 9, 1846 north of the Rio Grande near present-day Brownsville, Texas.  General Zachary Taylor and a young Ulysses S. Grant (both future presidents) led U.S. troops during this engagement.  Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park was established in 1991 across 3,400 acres, and in 2011 an additional 38 acres were added in the heart of Brownsville to commemorate the Resaca de la Palma Battlefield.  Plus, a few earthen mounds remain of Fort Texas (later renamed Fort Brown) near a golf course on the campus of the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Highlights

Museum, film, cannons, interpretive trail

Must-Do Activity

The 1846 battle was primarily an artillery conflict, so there are many cannons at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park today showing how close the battle lines were.  This skirmish and a subsequent fight at Resaca de la Palma pushed Mexican troops back across the Rio Grande for the remainder of the two-year long war.  History buffs will also be interested in the Civil War history of this region, including the final battle of the war fought May 12-13, 1865 at Palmito Ranch.  Information about all of these sites can be found at the small yet nice visitor center that opened here in 2003. 

Best Trail

A half-mile paved interpretive trail leads through the battlefield from the visitor center.  While here you can also learn about Harris’s hawks, horned lizards, javelinas, and other remarkable species that live in the area and the surrounding Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you make it to this remote southern corner of the United States, make it a point to take a guided tram tour through Resaca de la Palma State Park.  The park is a great place to see bird species found nowhere else in the country, like the great kiskadee (pictured) and rose-throated becard.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None for the NPS site, but there is an admission fee at Resaca de la Palma State Park.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are several private campgrounds around Brownsville, Texas.

Related Sites

Chamizal National Memorial (Texas)

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Amistad National Recreation Area (Texas)

Explore More – Who was the president that campaigned on the platform of extending the U.S. border to the Pacific Ocean and subsequently annexed Texas in 1845 (fomenting the Mexican-American War)?