Tag Archives: Virginia

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Overview

If the name Appomattox Court House rings a bell, that is because in U.S. History class you learned it was where the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865.  There was a courthouse in the town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia, but that is not where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant signed surrender papers; actually it was the home of Wilmer McLean.  In 1893, the McLean house was completely disassembled to be turned into an offsite museum, but was later brought back and rebuilt by the National Park Service (NPS).  The county jail is one of several other restored buildings in the park originally designated a National Monument in 1935 and changed to a National Historical Park in 1954.

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed McLean House, guided tours

Must-Do Activity

The restored courthouse now serves as the NPS visitor center and museum, from where visitors can start their walk through Meeks General Store, Clover Hill Tavern, the county jail, and other period buildings.  Much of the furniture from the McLean House was taken as souvenirs by Union officers, as well as a doll owned by 7-year-old Lula McLean that was not returned until 1992.

Best Trail

A four-mile hiking trail connects the Village of Appomattox Court House with the April 9, 1865 battlefield and the two General’s headquarters.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You have to take a photo inside the restored room in the McLean house where Lee surrendered his army of 9,000 men, essentially ending the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None in the park, but the campground at Holliday Lake State Park is only 12 miles away.

Related Sites

Petersburg National Battlefield (Virginia)

Richmond National Battlefield Park (Virginia)

Booker T. Washington National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – Seven regiments of African American soldiers in the Union Army participated in the Battle of Appomattox Court House; how many men is that?

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?

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?

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)?

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Overview

Robert Harper started ferrying folks across the Potomac River at this site in 1747.  It had a strategic location at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers where the point of what is now the state of West Virginia meets the border of Maryland and Virginia.  Harpers Ferry is most famous for the 1859 raid led by abolitionist John Brown of Kansas in attempt to seize the federal armory to incite a slave rebellion.  His trial and execution for treason helped foment the Civil War, during which conflict the town changed hands between the two sides an astounding eight times!

Highlights

Historic buildings, museums, Jefferson Rock, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

A portion of the town today is run as a series of museums by the National Park Service (NPS), though other parts remain open for business as restaurants, shops, and inns.  Parking is limited in town, so the NPS runs a shuttle (free with parking fee) two miles from their visitor center.

Best Trail

You can hike into town on the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail that cuts right through the buildings and over the footbridge across the Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Jefferson Rock is located just up the hill from town, named for Thomas Jefferson who visited in 1783.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$20 to park at NPS visitor center or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

There is limited parking in town so it is easier to take a shuttle from the NPS visitor center.

Camping

There are multiple private campgrounds in the area, as well as Maryland’s Gambrill State Park.

Related Sites

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Fort Scott National Historic Site (Kansas)

New River Gorge National River (West Virginia)

Explore More – Which famous member of the Corps of Discovery visited the national armory in Harpers Ferry in 1803 before heading to the Pacific Ocean?

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