It’s National Park Service Week and today, I’ll talk about my favorite American Civil War Military Parks preserved by this great agency. I recently got to experience these parks for the first time on a father-son trip this month and that was wonderful. This trip was special for my dad and I as we had never been to a military park before. Now, we visited all the famous battlefields in America history such as Shiloh, Manassas, and of course, Gettysburg. Many of these places were great so only the cream of the crop made the list. I highly encourage you to visit these parks in the first place but if you don’t have time, definitely check these out. For a full list of the places I visited, check out the list at the end of the article.
Manassas National Battlefield Park
For being so close to the nation’s capital, Manassas lacks encroaching suburban developments that plague the D.C. area. This is wonderful and certainly helps visitors interpret the battlefield thanks to its wide open fields and tour stops. Manassas also has one of my favorite visitor centers on our trip thanks to its well-polished orientation video and map diagrams. The first battle of Manassas was the first major battle of the American Civil War and the visitor center highlights the initial ignorance our country had about the conflict in 1861. My family was also lucky in getting a ranger-led program for both the first and second battle of Manassas. Both of the rangers were well informed, gave detailed, but not overwhelming, battle descriptions and answered our questions with ease. A beautiful park that any D.C. native should check out. Half-a-day recommended.
Petersburg National Battlefield Park
A hefty chunk of the military parks are driving-oriented so if you want a break from that, look into Petersburg. Not only are the trails very scenic but the original Civil War-earthworks still stand today. These earthworks, which are usually trenches dug out by the soldiers, helped me understand the battlefield and how close the combatants were from each other. The sign posts were also helpful as they act like a silent park ranger and tell who was doing what at what time. Very well organized and I highly recommend you check out “the crater,” which was a failed attempt by the Union to breech the Confederate line and capture Petersburg. Half a day is stretching it but achievable if you focus mainly on the eastern front portion of the park.
Vicksburg National Military Park
Unfortunately, this is a driving-heavy park but gosh darn you’re going to have a beautiful view anyway. We went in April which is probably the best time to visit this park, true, there weren’t any ranger led programs when we went but what you get in return is great weather and a low amount of park visitors. Again, earthworks are plentiful but they really add to the driving tour as you first go through the Union front, turn around and go through the Confederate front. Traversing the Confederate front really made me realize how close these two armies were to each other and it’s insane. There is a hidden gem in the park that many people don’t know about and that’s the U.S.S. Cairo, a sunken, Civil War gunboat that was raised in the 1960s. There aren’t many gunboats that are left from this time so I strongly suggest you check it out as the small visitor center really hones in on the river ships used during the war. Very interesting. I recommend a full day at the park.
Gettysburg National Military Park
I don’t think many of you are surprised that this is on my list but guys, this park is so worth it. First off, the military park is immense and every important part of the battle is preserved almost to perfection. When you’re at the field where Pickett’s Charge took place or standing on the rocky slopes of Little Round Top, you get this real humbling experience that nowhere else can replicate. The best part about the visitor center is the cyclorama which is very beautiful. It’s worth buying the ticket just to see it. We also had the best ranger-led tour on our trip by Ranger Matt. You are enthralled in his easy-going nature as he recounts tales of hardships and sacrifice. Not only did he teach me about Gettysburg but he also taught me how to be a better Park Ranger. Gosh, thanks to Ranger Matt, my dad and I ended our trip in a satisfying manner. Great park and a full day is recommended.
Extra Credit-A Park Celebrating its Annual Commemoration
My dad and I visited Shiloh during the anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh (April 6th and 7th) and we lucked out and visited both Fort Sumter and Appomattox Court House during their annual commemorations. The parks go above and beyond for their annual commemoration and I highly recommend you guys to check them out. At Shiloh, we arrived to the visitor center at 5:00 am to “witness” the first skirmish of the battle and from there, we followed ranger after ranger on the various battles that happened that day. Phenomenal. At Fort Sumter, we saw a rifle demonstration and at Appomattox we saw a reenactor who also knew his stuff extraordinarily well. The parks may be more crowded than usual but you are guaranteed a great time.
Here is a list of all the parks my dad and I visited: Vicksburg Military Park, Raymond Military Park, Shiloh Military Park, Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, Chattanooga Military Park, Kennesaw National Battlefield, Battle of Rivers’ Bridge State Park, Fort Sumter National Monument, Petersburg National Battlefield Park, Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania Battlefield Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Bentonville Battlefield State Park, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, Antietam National Military Park, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and Gettysburg National Military Park.