From Gettysburg and Chickamauga to the thought-provoking Lookout Mountain Battlefield, the battlefields of the American Civil War are important sites to explore.
The location of fierce and devastating conflict, today these battlefields are places of reflection and education, where both locals and visitors alike can gather to consider a struggle that tore apart a nation, yet helped forge modern America.
Here we have collated some of the most important Civil War battlefields in the United States, each with its own history to explore.
Gettysburg National Military Park in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is brimming with approximately 1,328 monuments, markers and memorials relating to the American Civil War.
In fact, Gettysburg was just a small town until the summer of 1863, when it became the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in the war between General Robert E. Lee and his Confederate Army and General George Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac.
Visitors can follow the route of Battle of Gettysburg, from Seminary Ridge and Culp’s Hill to Cemetery Ridge and Devils Den as well as visiting David Wills’ house, a museum about the town.
Richmond National Battlefield Park in Virginia is a collection of several historic battlefields, representing some of the fiercest fighting in the American Civil War, including the Seven Days’ Battles.
Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, meaning that, between 1861 and 1865 Richmond and its surroundings were at the centre of a bloody tug of war between the Union and Confederate armies.
With such an array of Civil War sites, it is worth starting your visit to Richmond National Battlefield Park at the Civil War Visitor Centre at the Tredegar Iron Works.
Antietam Battlefield was where, on 17 September 1862, General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia met Major General George B. McClellan and the Army of the Potomac in what became the most brutal battle of the American Civil War. In fact, the Battle of Antietam remains the USA’s bloodiest single day of battle to date.
Part of the Maryland Campaign and the Confederate Army’s first incursion into the North, the Battle at Antietam raged for twelve hours and ended with a Confederate withdrawal, though only after a long, inconclusive, mutually destructive day’s fighting. The total cost to both sides was estimated to be upwards of 23,000 casualties.
Antietam Battlefield National Park commemorates this battle and is a goldmine of information about the War. With so many activities and tours, one could spend days there.
Vicksburg Battlefield was the site of one of the most important Union victories of the American Civil War and, together with the Battle of Gettysburg, marked a pivotal moment during the conflict.
With its strategically vital location near the Mississippi River, wealth of resources, access to Richmond and ability to split the south, President Abraham Lincoln considered Vicksburg to be “the key” to winning the war. Thus, Lincoln launched the Vicksburg Campaign to seize the town from the Confederates and, in 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant led the Union Army of the Tennessee towards the fateful battlefield.
Today, Vicksburg Battlefield is a National Historic Park, which houses over a thousand monuments commemorating the siege of Vicksburg and its surrounding events together with a restored Federal navy boat, the USS Cairo, with its accompanying museum and a National Cemetery.
Shiloh Battlefield in Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee and Mississippi was the site of a Union victory in April 1862 during the American Civil War.
Known as the Battle of Shiloh and also as the Battle of Pittsburgh Landing, this clash saw the Confederates, led by General Albert Sidney Johnston mount an initially successful surprise attack on the Union army of Major General Ulysses S. Grant, only to be defeated the next day. Johnston was killed during the battle.
Today, Shiloh Battlefield is part of the National Parks network and offers visitors a range of tours and exhibits to explore the area’s history.
Chancellorsville Battlefield in Virginia was the site of a major Confederate victory during the American Civil War and part of the wider Chancellorsville Campaign, an attempt by the Unionists to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond.
Fought between 30 April and 6 May 1863, the Battle of Chancellorsville saw the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia led by General Robert E. Lee defeat Major General Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac despite all the odds being stacked in favour of the Unionists. Lee’s army was not only half the size of Hooker’s but was also in a state of disarray when the Chancellorsville Campaign began.
Today, visitors can explore Chancellorsville Battlefield within the wider remit of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Fort Donelson Battlefield was the site of a fierce and pivotal battle fought from 11 to 16 February 1862 as part of the American Civil War. The two parties involved were the Unionists commanded by the then Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and the Confederates, led by Brigadier General John B. Floyd.
After a number of probing attacks and a naval gunship battle won by the Confederates, the Unionists started gaining momentum, due in large part to the reinforcements amassed by Grant. By 16 February, the Confederates had suffered major losses and Confederate Brigadier General Buckner asked Grant for terms to end the fighting. Grant’s now famous response was “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.” And thus Buckner surrendered.
Visitors to Fort Donelson Battlefield can learn more about the battle, its participants, and its effects though a six mile self-guided tour as well as visiting the Fort Donelson cemetery.
Chickamauga Battlefield forms part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and is a major landmark in US history.
In the fall of 1863, General William S. Rosecrans’ Union army fought General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates for control of Chattanooga, a key rail centre and what was considered the gateway to the South. Nearby Chickamauga became the scene of the first battle for Chattanooga and in which the Confederates emerged victorious.
In fact, this was the last major victory for the South in the Civil War.
Visitors can tour Chickamauga Battlefield by a seven-mile self-guiding auto tour. Hiking and horse trails are also available.
The Battle of Cold Harbor was part of the overland campaign of 1864 during the American Civil War.
It was here in Cold Harbor that, between 31 May and 12 June 1864, the Army of the Potomac led by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant battled General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.
Walking tours of Cold Harbor ranging from one to three miles start at the Visitors Centre in Mechanicsville which also houses a series of exhibits such as an electric map program for Cold Harbor and Gaines Mill.
On 10 June 1864, Brice’s Crossroads Battlefield in Mississippi was the site of a clash between 4,787 Confederate troops led by Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest and 8,100 Union soldiers commanded by Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis.
By this time, the Union had won several important battles such as in Gettysburg and Chattanooga. In fact, the reason that the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads occurred was that Sturgis had been sent there by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman.
Today, Brice’s Crossroads Battlefield is a National Park managed by the Natchez Trace Parkway. There are no visitor facilities at the site, but the nearby Brice’s Crossroads Visitor and Interpretive Center offers an insight into the battle.