Tag Archives: American Civil War

Favorite Civil War Military Parks

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.


The Problem with Timeline-191

So I’ve already talked about two Harry Turtledove series before, Darkness and WorldWar, so now it’s time to talk about Turtledove’s other famous book series.  The unofficially named “Timeline-191” (and sometimes Southern Victory) comprises of eleven books detailing the history of the two American countries after the South won the American Civil War.  Told from multiple viewpoints from both countries (and one or two thrown in from Canada), we experience the tragic history of these two countries as they are drawn into conflict again and again up until 1945.  Now, upfront, I honestly think this may be Turtledove’s weakest major series but before I divulge why, let’s dive into the series and see what makes it so special and one of the most famous alternate history stories of our modern day and age.

So the first Timeline-191 book is called How Few Remain.  In this book we understand why the South won the American Civil War and what happened to the two countries shortly after.  After a brief prologue dedicated to the defeat of the Union, the book picks up twenty years later where the two American countries pick up arms again and fight each other but this time it’s for the C.S.A. acquisition of two Mexican provinces.  Fearing that the C.S.A. would become too strong, the U.S.A. declares war on the C.S.A. but is abysmally defeated thanks to the C.S.A.’s reliable generals and its alliance with France and Britain.

How Few Remain is probably the most interesting book in the series as it can stand by itself very easily.  The book retains all of the Second Mexican War and its immediate consequences as well and as such, many of our stories have a clear beginning and a satisfying ending.  What’s more, unlike the rest of the series, all of our viewpoint characters follow historical characters like Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.  The book also offers very reasonable ideas of what the world may be like in 1881 such as the C.S.A’s continual involvement with France and Britain and the dominance of Democrats in the U.S.A. up until the 1880s.  Now, Turtledove could have just left How Few Remain as it is but he decided to take this story he created and make a mega book series out of it.  What follows is the next logical step in our timeline, and a 30 year jump with it, the Great War.

This is my favorite part of the series and it’s awesome.  Because the C.S.A. allied itself with France and Britain, the U.S.A., in return, allied itself with Germany and the Austria-Hungary Empire to acquire its own strong allies.  Of course, everything went to Hell in a handbasket, thanks to a certain Archduke, and now, not only do you have the mess of Europe fighting each other, but now you got the U.S.A. fighting Canada and the C.S.A!  It’s a literal world war at this point.

So the first reason why the Great War trilogy is my favorite part in Timeline-191 is how it’s not immediately clear who will win this war.  It could honestly go either way.  In How Few Remain, right from the start, the U.S.A. is kind of done for so there’s not as much incentive to read the book.  But for the Great War, it’s so close and even that any small event can help push the war one way or another.

I also like how Turtledove just didn’t pull any punches with the harshness of trench warfare and the dire outlook for many of the soldier’s lives.  The settings and characters are highly realistic and don’t offer that sweet storytelling guidelines many of us are familiar with.  It’s very similar to the Song of Ice and Fire series, actually.  I also like how diverse our viewpoint characters are ranging from regular soldiers, to spies, farmers, commanders, and politicians.  We definitely get a full spectrum of viewpoints that cue us in what’s happening in this crazy world.  Turtledove excels at this and has done this before in the Darkness and Worldwar series.  This is a guilty pleasure but honestly one of my favorite POV characters is Gordon McSweeney who is a stupid, badass bigot.  The things this guy says and does in this series is great.

Now, there is a third reason but let me get back to that in a moment…

Gordon McSweeney at his craziest. Image from http://jakarnilson.deviantart.com/art/Sgt-McSweeney-s-MoH-47587475

So, spoilers, the U.S.A. along with the other Central Powers, won the Great War.  The series doesn’t end there though as we are treated to our next trilogy in the series, American Empire.  This trilogy is kind of weak as there are jumps of time within the books.  The three books cover about twenty years altogether meaning there’s a lot of plot development crammed into characters whom we already don’t spend much time with.

However, the second, and primary reason, why the Timeline-191 series falters at this point is Turtledove’s over reliance in incorporating plot developments that mirror our real world.  I’m serious.  Turtledove oversaturates his story with parallel events that almost defeats the purpose of an alternate history genre.  Long story short, the C.S.A. becomes Nazi Germany and fights the U.S.A. again in the 1940s.  And guess what?  The C.S.A. loses!  Go figure!

Now, the next four books in the series, called Settling Accounts, is entertaining to read but by this point, all sense of disbelief is kind of thrown to the curb and we aren’t as engaged with the story as we kind of know what will happen in the end.  I even stopped reading the series by this point due to the aforementioned reasons and it was getting depressing fast.  You see, throwing in a little nod here or there in reference to our timeline is fun or all but this is just overkill.

This is why I liked the Great War part of the storyline the best.  True, there are historical references in this trilogy but it doesn’t control the story as much as it does later on.  The trilogy is fun, original, and not bogged down by its sheer alternate history glory.  I’ve actually read online that supposedly, the U.S.A. was going to lose the Great War and actually become the next fascist power in North America.  But then Turtledove decided later on that that wasn’t going to happen which explains several things.  One, Jake Featherston, who becomes the C.S.A.’s Hitler, was a pretty nice, if awkward, guy early on before he almost suddenly develops this hatred against African Americans; and two, Gordon McSweeney was probably going to be the U.S.A.’s version of Hitler until Turtledove pulled the plug on that idea and killed him off, rather inexplicably, at the end of the trilogy.  Very interesting fan theory for sure and I’m interested to see how that story could have turned out.  Regardless, because of this switch, the Great War trilogy is not as tied down compared to the rest of the series and that’s what makes it so good.  My advice is to read How Few Remain and the Great War trilogy and just stop there.

You gotta love the propaganda posters people make for the series as well. Image from http://s13.photobucket.com/user/Redem10/media/Turtledovepropaganda.jpg.html

There’s a lot more to talk about this series so I’ll just leave that for another time.  For now, I’m curious to see if you like this series and if you agree with me or not.  If not, is there another alternate history story you like better involving the American Civil War?  Let me know!