Tag Archives: National Battlefield

Top 10 Civil War National Park Sites

At least 22 of the 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system deal directly with the Civil War and a few others are related (like Rock Creek Park and Fort Monroe National Monument).  This does not even take into account the multiple sites devoted to Abraham Lincoln.  While we have not been to all of them yet, this is our ranking of our favorite NPS sites dedicated to remembering the Civil War.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 lists, including our favorite Civil War books and films.

10. Antietam National Battlefield (Maryland)

9. Pea Ridge National Military Park (Arkansas)

8. Manassas National Battlefield Park (Virginia)

7. Shiloh National Military Park (Tennessee-Mississippi)

6. Appomattox Court House National Historical Park (Virginia)

5. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Tennessee-Georgia)

4. Fort Sumter National Monument (South Carolina)

3. Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

2. Andersonville National Historic Site (Georgia)

…and finally, our #1 NPS site dedicated to the Civil War:

1. Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

.

Honorable Mentions

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

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Richmond National Battlefield Park

Overview

Richmond, Virginia was the capital of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, located only 110 miles south of Washington, D.C.  The heavily fortified city repelled Union attacks in 1862 and 1864, but was abandoned following the retreat from Petersburg on April 2, 1865.  Richmond National Battlefield Park is composed of thirteen units connected by an 80-mile driving tour, some of which are only staffed seasonally.  The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center at Tredegar Iron Works is located near the historic Virginia capitol building and not far from Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site.

Highlights

Tredegar Iron Works, film, Cold Harbor battlefield, Chimborazo Medical Museum

Must-Do Activity

The modern NPS visitor center is located downtown inside the Tredegar Iron Works on the Canal Walk.  During the war, this foundry produced almost 1,100 cannons, as well as armor plating for ironclad gunboats.  Today the stabilized and enclosed remains of Tredegar Iron Works offer three stories of exhibits, including a film and several interactive multimedia displays.  The site of the June 1864 Battle of Cold Harbor has a year-round visitor center northeast of Richmond.  We also highly recommend a stop at the Chimborazo Medical Museum, which covers an often overlooked aspect of a war that claimed 620,000 soldiers’ lives, many from disease.

Best Trail

Short trails help visitors understand the battles at Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines’ Mill, Malvern Hill, Cold Harbor, Fort Harrison, Fort Brady, Parker’s Battery, and Drewry’s Bluff.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The stabilized brick walls of Tredegar Iron Works are an interesting subject for photographs.  The foundry was protected by its workers from destruction by the retreating Confederate army on April 2, 1865.  This proved important during Reconstruction after the war.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None except for parking at Tredegar Iron Works

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Pocahontas State Park and Forest offers a campground with running water just outside Richmond, Virginia.

Related Sites

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site (Virginia)

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

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park (Virginia)

Explore More –Opened in October 1861, how many sick and wounded soldiers were treated at Chimborazo Hospital (with its 3,000 bed capacity and 20% mortality rate) by the end of the Civil War?

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Overview

There are probably not many places on the list of top 50 most visited units in the National Park Service (NPS) system that you have never heard of, but Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park may be one.  Located in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, this 2,923-acre park receives more than 2.3-million visitors annually.  The park memorializes a Civil War battlefield on General Sherman’s “scorched earth” march to Atlanta in 1864 and is now surrounded by a heavily-populated suburb and a university.  Watch for pedestrians on the road to the top of the 700-foot tall Kennesaw Mountain.

Highlights

Museum, film, scenic views, hiking trails, Kolb’s Farm, cannons

Must-Do Activity

You can drive to the cannons and earthworks on top of Kennesaw Mountain when the shuttle bus is not running on weekdays, but most recreationists walk the road or trails to get there.  Inside the NPS visitor center at the 700-foot hill’s base, you will learn about the Atlanta Campaign of 1864 when Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led 100,000 troops out of Chattanooga, Tennessee on the “March to the Sea.”  After 5,350 soldiers died at Kennesaw Mountain, he decided to just go around it on his way to the city, causing the Confederates to abandon their fortifications there.  If you do drive to the top, you will need to go around many pedestrians and bikers, too.

Best Trail

There are 19.7 miles of hiking trails, but we found that most visitors just walked or biked down the center of the paved road to the top.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Kennesaw Mountain offers sweeping views of the Atlanta-metropolitan area.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$5 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The road to the top is paved, but there is limited parking up there so a shuttle bus runs on weekends.

Camping

There are several campgrounds on nearby Lake Altoona managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Red Top Mountain State Park is also located north of Kennesaw, Georgia.

Related Sites

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Tennessee-Georgia)

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (Georgia)

Andersonville National Historic Site (Georgia)

Explore More – The attack on Kennesaw Mountain occurred on June 27, 1864, but when did the Union army finally occupy Atlanta?

Antietam National Battlefield

Overview

Antietam National Battlefield was established in 1890 to commemorate those who fought in Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest single day in American military history with more than 23,000 total casualties.  In fact, it was in the aftermath of Antietam that Clara Barton earned her nickname “The Angel of the Battlefield” before going on to found the American Red Cross in 1881.  The battle was a draw, but together with a Union victory at Harpers Ferry stopped the Confederate advance north and provided the impetus for President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. 

Highlights

Museum, film, driving tour, Observation Tower, Pry House Medical Museum, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Your entrance fee allows you access to the museum and eight-mile driving tour, as well as 3,200 acres of beautiful Maryland countryside.  Even though this site holds a grisly honor, today it is a charming open space with picturesque bridges and monuments, perfect for a pleasant walk or bike ride.  During our visit, Burnside Bridge was being rebuilt after it collapsed in 2014.  Overall, it is a much quieter spot than nearby Gettysburg National Military Park.

Best Trail

The park has more than doubled in size since 1990 and there are walking trails accessible all along the driving tour route.  At a minimum, you should get out of the car to walk “Bloody Lane” before climbing up the Observation Tower.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A split-rail fence provided cover for Confederate troops on Sunken Road, also known as “Bloody Lane.”  A nice view of it and the Maryland countryside is offered from the Observation Tower.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Reservations are required for organized groups to camp within the park, but there is a walk-in campground located five miles south within Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.  Greenbrier State Park offers a developed campground about 15 miles away.

Related Sites

Catoctin Mountain Park (Maryland)

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

Clara Barton National Historic Site (Maryland)

Explore More – How many Union soldiers are interred at Antietam National Cemetery (alongside veterans from four other wars)?

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)?