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.
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.
Museum, film, Cyclorama painting, driving tour, David Wills House, cannons
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.”
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.
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.
Summer, though it was very busy even on a weekday in October 2016.
Following the victory at Fort Donelson, Union General Ulysses S. Grant moved his 50,000 troops aboard steamboats down the Tennessee River to Pittsburg Landing. The army camped near a log church named the Shiloh Meeting House where they awaited the marching Army of Ohio before advancing on the important railroad crossroads in Corinth, Mississippi. The Confederate army launched a surprise attack on April 6, 1862, pushing the enemy lines back two miles before Union reinforcements finally arrived. After two days and 23,746 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing, the Confederates abandoned the field and Corinth. There were an additional 7,000 casualties when they failed to recapture the town in October 1862.
Museum, film, driving tour, Shiloh Meeting House, Indian mounds, cannons
Start with the great 45-minute movie at the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center then take the 12.7-mile driving tour with twenty stops that passes 150 commemorative monuments, 229 cannons, and 4,000 graves in Shiloh National Cemetery. The site also contains 800-year-old American Indian mounds within a 45-acre National Historic Landmark. A free pass to the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah is also provided at the NPS visitor center. In addition to the NPS unit in Shiloh, Tennessee, there is an Interpretive Center 22 miles away in Corinth, Mississippi.
The short trail through the 800-year-old Indian mounds provides views of the Tennessee River.
A reconstruction of the Shiloh Meeting House log church is found along the driving tour.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even in the wake of Patriot victories at Kings Mountain and Cowpens, the British army was not giving up their southern colonies without a fight. Major General Nathanael Greene was in charge of the Continental Army in the southern theater and his troops were aggressively pursued by British General Charles Cornwallis. Although he lost the battle on March 15, 1781, Greene’s name was later applied to the nearby town of Greensboro, North Carolina.
Museum, film, Hoskins Farm, Major General Nathanael Greene statue
Start at the National Park Service visitor center, watch the
short film, then make stops along the 2.25-mile auto tour. You will learn the story of what took place on
March 15, 1781, when Greene’s defensive position at Guilford Courthouse was attacked
by British forces. While the Patriots withdrew
they only suffered 7% casualties, compared to the British who lost 28% of their
army, leading them to eventually retreat to Yorktown, Virginia. After the battle, Greene continued to fight,
leading his men against overmatched backcountry outposts of British troops such
as the one at Ninety Six, South Carolina.
In addition to the auto tour route, a paved bicycle path wends through the battlefield. The lovely 229-acre Guilford Courthouse National Military Park is heavily utilized for recreation by the local people of Greensboro. As such, you are allowed to walk your dog in the park. In the summer, you can also walk around Hoskins Farm, though its buildings are closed, as is the old Colonial Heritage Center.
Many monuments line the pathways that cut through 229-acre Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, with the equestrian statue of Major General Nathanael Greene being the most prominent.