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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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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)?

Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park

Overview

Roger Williams National Memorial used to be the only National Park Service (NPS) site in Rhode Island, but in 2014 Blackstone River Valley was upgraded from an affiliated National Heritage Corridor to a National Historical Park.  It commemorates the industrial revolution that changed the landscape of America during the 1800s, as well as the immigration of factory workers that changed its face.  Another NPS-affiliated point of interest in the tiny state is Touro Synagogue National Historic Site (admission charged) in Newport.

Highlights

Slater Mill Historic Site, Blackstone River State Park, Statue of Hope Fountain

Must-Do Activity

Formerly known as the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, this NPS unit remains a partnership between government agencies, non-profits, and businesses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Its centerpiece is the nation’s first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory: Slater Mill Historic Site in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  By 1880, this “hardest working river” was one of the most polluted in the country, but has recovered so that canoeists can float portions of its 46-mile length.

Best Trail

Blackstone River State Park has a free museum (inside the Kelly House) and a section of the canal that followed the river.  There are 3.5 miles of the 14-mile (of a planned 48) paved bikeway along the canal towpath within this Rhode Island park.  Another section of trail lies within Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park near River Bend Farm in Massachusetts.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Statue of Hope Fountain was dedicated on November 12, 1904 in the town of Hopedale, Massachusetts.  It was carved from Carrara marble by Waldo Story and was once considered the “finest drinking fountain in the United States.” We found it a little creepy looking.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for Blackstone River State Park, but Slater Mill Museum charges $12 per person.

Road Conditions

All major roads paved

Camping

Rhode Island State Parks manages several campgrounds, including George Washington State Campground in Chepachet.

Related Sites

Roger Williams National Memorial (Rhode Island)

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Explore More – When did English immigrant Samuel Slater take over a failed mill to start the first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory in America?

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Overview

Across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon stands the palisade of Fort Vancouver National Historical Park.  From 1825 to 1860 it served as the Hudson’s Bay Company’s western headquarters, even after the U.S. took control of the territory from Great Britain in 1846.  Within walking distance, the National Park Service (NPS) also manages the free Pearson Air Museum at an active airport surrounded by the Vancouver National Historic Reserve.  A separate unit of the park, the McLoughlin House (free) is found in downtown Oregon City and focuses on the area’s significance as the terminus for the Oregon Trail.

Highlights

Reconstructed fort, period garden, Pearson Air Museum, McLoughlin House

Must-Do Activity

Today’s fort buildings are reconstructions, including the bakehouse, blacksmith shop, chief factor’s house, fur store, and bastion which are open to visitors with costumed reenactors inside happy to answer questions.

Best Trail

True to its past, Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with the large city across the Canadian border) remains a major shipping center to this day.  Its waterfront is home to a sculpture honoring “Wendy the Welder” and the women who worked here during World War II.  Many structures are preserved in the surrounding Vancouver National Historic Reserve, including the Marshall House (tours for a fee). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

A garden designed to mimic one from 1845 is maintained just outside the fort’s palisade.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person (only to enter the fort itself) or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access roads paved, but parking is a short walk from the fort.

Camping

Battleground Lake State Park has a campground 20 miles northwest of Vancouver, Washington.  There are many camping options across the Columbia River in Mount Hood National Forest.

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

Explore More – Before it became a unit of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in 2003, when was McLoughlin House named a National Historic Site in the “father of Oregon’s” honor (even though he was Canadian)?

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Overview

In the wake of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson was anxious to know what he had just bought from France and find out if it provided an easy route to the Pacific Ocean.  He tapped his secretary Captain Meriwether Lewis as leader of the Corps of Discovery, who in turn named his former colleague Captain William Clark co-commander.  Lewis and Clark National Historical Park celebrates the wet winter of 1805-06 that the expedition spent on the coast of Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Highlights

Fort Clatsop, Fort to Sea Trail, Cape Disappointment State Park, Fort Stevens State Park

Must-Do Activity

The park is spread across multiple sites, including scenic Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington, plus Fort Clatsop and Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon.  Fort Clatsop was named a National Memorial in 1958 and still serves as the primary National Park Service (NPS) visitor center with exhibits and a film.  Other points of interest include the spot Sacagawea visited to see a beached whale and the salt works where seawater was boiled to produce the necessary commodity for the return trip.

Best Trail

When the Corps of Discovery finally saw the Pacific Ocean on November 7, 1805, Clark journaled, “Ocian in view! O! the joy.”  You can follow in their footsteps by starting at Fort Clatsop then hiking the 6.5-mile one-way Fort to Sea Trail, which marks the terminus of the 4,900-mile long Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (which is mostly a driving route).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Clatsop is a well-made replica of the small structure where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06 and inside you will find rustic furniture similar to that built in 1805.

Peak Season

Summer for costumed demonstrations, though a winter visit would be more historically accurate.

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person to visit Fort Clatsop (or America the Beautiful pass) and each State Park has a separate entry fee

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved

Camping

Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon coast has hundreds of campsites for tents and RVs, and there is also camping available at Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington.

Related Sites

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Washington)

Missouri National Recreation River (Nebraska-South Dakota)

Explore More – Where did the Corps of Discovery spend the winter prior to Fort Clatsop and first meet Sacagawea?

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