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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 at 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?

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park

Overview

There are only a handful of the 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system that we feel do not deserve that level of recognition, and Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park is one of them.  Despite its lofty sounding name, almost none of the land within this 3,700-acre park established in 2002 is owned by the federal government.  The majority of the acreage is private and inaccessible, and the rest is managed by a variety of non-profit organizations making this site more suitable to have simply remained a portion of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District.  There are several National Heritage Corridors and affiliated sites much more deserving of inclusion on the NPS list of 419 units than this one.

Highlights

Hupp’s Hill Museum, driving tour, Belle Grove historic plantation

Must-Do Activity

If you need the stamp for your NPS passport, stop at the Visitor Contact Station located in a strip mall in Middletown, Virginia.  There you can pick up a free guide to help you follow the driving tour focused on the October 19, 1864 battle fought at Cedar Creek.  There is also a free app available on the park website.  Managed by a non-profit that organizes an annual reenactment of the battle, Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park has a museum (fee).  You can also pay to take a tour of the manor house at Belle Grove.

Best Trail

When we visited in 2016, there was some talk of establishing a walking path with interpretive signs, and it now seems the Morning Attack Trails total 1.7 miles in length.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Available for guided tours (fee) between April and December, the manor house at Belle Grove plantation dates back to 1797.  Union General Philip Sheridan used the house as his headquarters in 1864 and most of his 31,600 camped on the property.

Peak Season

Fall

Hours

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

Fees

Admission charged for guided tours of Belle Grove manor house and entrance to Hupp’s Hill Museum.

Road Conditions

Some of the roads on the driving tour are unpaved and not recommended for buses or RVs.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia-Maryland-Virginia)

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Explore More – Belle Grove was owned by Isaac Hite, Jr. and his wife Nelly, who was the sister of which U.S. President?

Gettysburg National Military Park

Overview

The turning point of the Civil War undoubtedly occurred on July 3, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, especially when considered in combination with the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  After the Confederate invasion of the North was repulsed at Antietam, the next year General Robert E. Lee led 75,000 troops into Pennsylvania to face 88,289 Union soldiers.  After three days of fighting, there were 51,000 men killed, wounded, or missing; the most of any battle on American soil.  It can take more than one full day to visit Gettysburg National Military Park, especially if you add on a bus tour to neighboring Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Highlights

Museum, film, Cyclorama painting, driving tour, David Wills House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

It is free to take the 24-mile long driving tour, but an admission fee is charged for the museum (opened in 2008) that covers the entire Civil War, including Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.  You should also consider watching the excellent 45-minute film A New Birth of Freedom (narrated by Morgan Freeman) and viewing the audio-visual program for the Cyclorama (a 377×42-foot original oil painting on a round canvas that depicts Pickett’s Charge of July 3, 1863).  Commercial bus tours are available and you can also hire a licensed guide to ride in your car and provide a personal two-hour tour past the 1,300 monuments and memorials where so many men gave “the last full measure.”

Best Trail

If you have read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, you will want to get out of your car and walk around Little Round Top, which overlooks the infamous Devil’s Den, Peach Orchard, and Wheatfield.  The High Water Mark Trail and Soldiers’ National Cemetery Trail are each about one mile in length.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This site is perhaps best known for President Lincoln’s 272-word Gettysburg Address, which he gave in two minutes following a two-hour speech by Edward Everett.  Newspaper reviews from the next day were not favorable for the President.

Peak Season

Summer, though it was very busy even on a weekday in October 2016.

Hours

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

Fees

Free driving tour, $15 per adult for films and museum (no discount for America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There a numerous private campgrounds around Gettysburg, and the National Park Service’s Catoctin Mountain Park is only 20 miles away, as are Caledonia and Corodus State Parks.

Related Sites

Antietam National Battlefield (Maryland)

Eisenhower National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – When was the Cyclorama painting by French artist Paul Philippoteaux completed?

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Homestead National Monument of America

Overview

In the midst of the Civil War, a Republican-dominated legislature passed the Homestead Act of 1862, which allowed citizens to stake a claim to 160 acres of unappropriated government land.  Until its repeal in 1976, over 270-million acres across 30 states were transferred from public land to private ownership under this law.  Potential landowners had to apply and pay a fee then “prove up” their claim by farming at least 10 acres and building a home within five years.  Nebraska’s Homestead National Monument of America was authorized in 1936 to remember this era of settlement.

Highlights

Heritage Center, film, Palmer-Epard cabin, Freeman School, restored tallgrass prairie

Must-Do Activity

Since 1939, half of this 200-acre piece of land has been managed to resemble the tallgrass prairie that existed here when the Freeman family claimed this T-shaped homestead on January 1, 1863.  It was one of the first farms started after passage of the Homestead Act by Congress.  Inside the Heritage Center, there are many unique exhibits that tell the story of settlement across the western United States of America (plus Florida).  Do not forget to stop by the Education Center and one-room Freeman Schoolhouse that was used from 1872 to 1967.

Best Trail

At the National Monument, 2.5 miles of walking trails connect the museums at the Heritage Center and the Education Center, passing by hedgerows of Osage-orange trees. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Heritage Center’s roofline is designed to resemble a single-bottom plow stands and it sits at the edge of a restored tallgrass prairie ecosystem.  Similar to Fort Scott National Historic Site and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas, prescribed fire is used here to promote the growth of native plants.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved except a short section to access the parking lot for the Freeman School.  The parking lot at the Heritage Center is exactly one acre in size to help visitors visualize the 10 acres required to farm for “proving up” a homestead.

Camping

Four miles east of the National Monument, Beatrice, Nebraska has two city parks with campgrounds.

Related Sites

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Kansas)

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site (Arizona)

Explore More – Which First Amendment right was first challenged in court because of its use in teaching at the one-room Freeman School?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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?