Major Civil War Battlefields | Battlefields of the US Civil War

Civil War battlefields are among the most popular tourist destinations in America. The location of fierce and devastating conflict, today the battlefields of the Civil War are places of reflection and education, where both locals and visitors alike can gather to consider a struggle which tore apart a nation and yet helped forge modern America.

For those seeking to explore the sites where this costly war was played out, this list of major Civil War battlefields can provide a good way to start your journey. This article covers a selection of major set-piece battles of the American Civil War, and includes some of the most interesting Civil War battlefields to visit today. It isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list and wouldn’t claim to be, but hopefully for those seeking to visit important Civil War battlefields it will give you a good list from which to start exploring.

You can also view a more general list of Civil War sites - covering important memorials, fortifications, cemeteries and museums.

Major Civil War Battlefields | Battlefields of the US Civil War: Site Index

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Antietam Battlefield

Scene of the single bloodiest day of fighting in American history, Antietam Battlefield was the culmination of the Maryland campaign and ended General Lee's invasion of Maryland.

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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.

However, although not a conclusive victory for the Union, it did provide enough political cover to allow President Lincoln to move forward with his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

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. However, those with limited time can visit the Antietam Battlefield visitors centre to see their exhibits, enjoy a battlefield talk by one of the Park Rangers or embark on an 8½ mile self guided tour of the Antietam Battlefield by car, bicycle or on foot.

The Antietam Battlefield tour has eleven stops and audio/CD guides are available at the park’s bookstore. There are also audiovisual experiences, one of which is introductory and runs for half an hour and the second an award-winning hour long recreation of the battle.

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Averasboro Battlefield

The Battle of Averasborough, which took place on the 16th of March 1865, was part of the Carolinas Campaign during the American Civil War.

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Averasboro Battlefield  was the site of The Battle of Averasborough, part of the Carolinas Campaign during the American Civil War.

The Battle of Averasborough took place on 15 and 16 March 1865. Part of the Carolinas Campaign of the American Civil War, the Battle of Averasborough was fought between the Unionist Army of Georgia led by Major General Henry W. Slocum and a Confederate army led by Lieutenant General William J. Hardee. Hardee’s mission was to delay Slocum’s troops to allow General Joseph E. Johnston to amass troops at nearby Bentonville.

There is debate as to whether Hardee succeeded in delaying the Union army for as long as he required. Overall, the Battle of Averasborough resulted in over a thousand casualties, with 682 on the Confederate side and around five hundred Unionists.

Today, visitors can see the battlefield and a related museum commemorating the Battle of Averasborough.

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Brice’s Crossroads Battlefield

Brice’s Crossroads Battlefield was the site of a Confederate victory on 10th of June 1864. Despite being outnumbered, the Confederates were victorious, though this victory brought few real gains.

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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. This was a distraction tactic, aimed at diverting Forrest, a fierce cavalryman, whilst Sherman carried out his “March to the Sea.” The manoeuvre was successful and Forrest’s forces were met at Brice's Crossroads with Sturgis’ army.

Despite being outnumbered, the Confederates were victorious. However, this victory brought with it few gains and only succeeded in slowing down the Union incursion into the south.

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.

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Chancellorsville Battlefield

Chancellorsville Battlefield was the site of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s “greatest victory” in 1863 during the American Civil War, though the huge numbers of casualties leant it something of a Pyrric nature.

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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.

Yet, with the help of a risky plan by General Lee combined with Unionist miscommunication, badly managed Unionist corps and Hooker’s inexperience in command, the Confederates achieved victory. However, with over a quarter of Lee’s forces killed or wounded in the battle and the loss of his most important generals, including Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, this was something of a pyrrhic victory.

Today, visitors can explore Chancellorsville Battlefield within the wider remit of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Chancellorsville Battlefield offers numerous tours ranging from driving and walking tours to audio and virtual tours.

There is also a twenty minute video at the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center as well as exhibitions and literature. The site also has a monument to Stonewall Jackson.

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Chickamauga Battlefield

Site of the a major Confederate victory in the American Civil War, the battlefield of Chickamauga is now a 5,500 acre historic park with various monuments and information centres dedicated to the battle.

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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.

The 5,500 acre Chickamauga Battlefield is filled with historical tablets and monuments related to the American Civil War. Visitors can tour Chickamauga Battlefield by a seven-mile self-guiding auto tour as well while hiking and horse trails are also available.

Military enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center to see the Fuller Gun Collection with over 300 examples of military long arms. 

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Cold Harbor

Cold Harbor was the site of one of General Robert E. Lee’s final victories in the American Civil War. Fought between 31 May and 12 June 1864, the Union army suffered over 12,000 casualties. The battlefield now forms part of Richmond National Battlefield Park.

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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.

With over 12,000 casualties to the Union army, the battle of Cold Harbor would be one of Lee’s final victories, prompting Grant to change his strategy.

Cold Harbor now forms part of Richmond National Battlefield Park, Virginia where visitors can find a myriad of Civil War related sites, tours and exhibits. 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.

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Fort Donelson Battlefield

Fort Donelson Battlefield was the scene of a fierce and pivotal battle and major Union victory, fought from 11 to 16 February 1862.

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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.

Background
The Battle of Fort Donelson was preceded by the capture of Fort Henry in western Tennessee by Grant a few days earlier. Viewing this victory as a chance to invade the South, Grant moved his forces towards Fort Donelson on 12 February.

The Battle
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.

Aftermath
The Battle of Fort Donelson marked a significant win for the Unionists, breaking the South and forcing the Confederates to relinquish southern Kentucky as well as much of West and Middle Tennessee.

Grant was promoted to the rank of major general and nicknamed “Unconditional Surrender" Grant. His army would later be known as the Army of Tennessee.

Visiting Fort Donelson
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.

It’s best to start at the Fort Donelson Battlefield visitor centre, which houses a number of exhibits and offers a short introductory film, giving an insight into the battle and a starting off point from which to plan your day.

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Fredericksburg Battlefield

Located near the heart of the Confederate capital in Richmond, Fredericksburg Battlefield is an important site of the American Civil War, where the Confederates defeated the Unionists in a fierce battle in December 1862.

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Fredericksburg Battlefield in Virginia was the site of the Battle of Fredericksburg, a major clash between the Unionists led by General Ambrose E. Burnside and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia led by General Robert E. Lee during the American Civil War. It took place between 11 and 15 December 1862 near the heart of the Confederate capital in Richmond.

Burnside, who had been newly appointed to replace General McClellan, had planned to launch a surprise attack on the Confederates, but was severely compromised by a series of administrative errors. Most heinous of these was the slow arrival of floating bridges which the Union troops needed in order to cross the Rappahannock River. The delay in receiving those bridges lost the Union Army of the Potomac its element of surprise and allowed the Confederates plenty of time to amass their troops in the area.

The result was a series of frantic attempts by the Unionists to regain their advantage. Several attempts were made to cross the river and gain ground, but each was deflected by the Confederates. Both sides fought fiercely, but in the end the Battle of Fredericksburg resulted in a decisive Confederate victory, with 12,653 Union casualties to 5,377 Confederate casualties.

Visitors to Fredericksburg Battlefield are presented with an incredible number of tours including walking, guided, driving, audio and even virtual tours. From the Sunken Road, which acted as a natural trench and the original stone wall to Telegraph Hill or “Lee Hill” and its many monuments, Fredericksburg Battlefield offers an in-depth insight into both the battle itself and the war as a whole.

As part of the larger Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Fredericksburg Battlefield is surrounded by history. Those planning to visit Fredericksburg Battlefield can expect to spend at least half a day there. The audio tour alone lasts three hours. Having said this, the official National Parks website has suggestions for shorter and longer trips and the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Centre does offer a good overview of the battle.

It is also worth noting that visitors can learn about the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, which took place in Marye's Heights on 3 May 1863 as part of the Chancellorsville Campaign.

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Gettysburg Battlefield

Probably the most famous of all Civil War battlefields, Gettysburg saw one of the fiercest and most important battles in the American Civil War, resulting in over 51,000 casualties. It was later the setting for Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.

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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.

The Battle of Gettysburg raged from 1 to 3 July 1863, resulting in over 51,000 casualties and victory for Meade and the Unionists. It marked a significant turning point in the war, followed twenty one months later by Lee’s surrender.

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.

The National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center is a good place to start as it contains a wide range of Civil War related information as well as a plethora of guided tours and exhibitions. The Soldiers’ National Cemetery also offers a draw, being the location of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. This site features as one of our Top Ten US tourist Attractions.

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Lookout Mountain Battlefield

Scene of a pivotal battle in the Chattanooga campaign in the American Civil War, Lookout Mountain Battlefield today forms part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

DID YOU KNOW?

Lookout Mountain Battlefield is the site where General Ulysses S. Grant led the Union Army to victory over the Confederate forces of General Braxton Bragg in what some know as the “Battle in the Clouds”. This battle formed part of the campaign to control nearby Chattanooga, considered to be the gateway to the South.

The Lookout Mountain Battle followed the Battle of Chickamauga, which the Confederates had won and this latest victory was essential to secure Union control of the South. Lookout Mountain Battlefield forms part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, which is brimming with monuments as well historical trails and markers. And, of course, the views are great.

It is also well worth seeing James Walker’s painting, aptly called “Battle of Lookout Mountain”. You can find this as well as other exhibits at the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Centre.

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park was the site of an US Civil War battle on 20 February 1864 won by the Confederates. Today the battlefield contains memorials and an Interpretive Centre with exhibits and information relating to the battle.

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On 20 February 1864 at Olustee Battlefield, Union and Confederate troops clashed for five hours in what became Florida’s largest battle during the American Civil War. Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park now stands in commemoration of that historic battle and its 2,807 casualties.

It was the Confederates led by Brigadier General Joseph Finegan who emerged victorious, managing to break the line of the Union army led by Brigadier General Truman Seymour. In fact, the Battle of Olustee marked the Union army’s final incursion into the area until the war’s end a mere fourteen months later.

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park has a mile-long nature trail with markings and signposts about the battle as well as an Interpretive Centre with exhibits and artifacts relating to the event. Visitors to Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park can start their day at the park’s visitor centre, which has information about the site and activities.

Richmond National Battlefield Park

Among the most important battlefields of the Civil War, Richmond National Battlefield Park in Virginia was a focal point of the war and includes several historic battlefields where a number of fierce clashes took place.

DID YOU KNOW?

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.

Richmond National Battlefield Park spans 1900 acres of Civil War sites, including famous battle sites such as Cold Harbor, Drewry’s Bluff and Gaines Mill, as well as the Chimborazo Medical Museum, which commemorates the work done at Chimborazo Hospital.  This was one of the largest hospitals of its time, treating over 76,000 Confederates during the war.

With such an array of Civil War sites, it is worth starting your visit to Richmond National Battlefield Park at the Civil War Visitor Center at the Tredegar Iron Works. Not only is this the place to find park ranger guided tours of the battlefields, but the centre also includes an expansive military exhibit.

Shiloh Battlefield

Shiloh Battlefield was the site of the Battle of Pittsburgh Landing which took place in April 1862 and saw almost 24,000 casualties.

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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.

The Battle of Shiloh, which raged from 6 to 7 April 1862, was an attempt by both sides to secure strategic crossroads in the area, resulting in a total of 23,746 casualties.

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.

In addition to viewing Shiloh Battlefield itself, visitors can see Shiloh National Cemetery and the Corinth Interpretative Centre. Corinth was also a crucial strategic point in the American Civil War, often known as the “linchpin” of Union control over the area. Several attempts would be made by the Confederates to seize Corinth, but the Union Army successfully defended their base.

Stones River Battlefield

Stones River Battlefield was the site of a fierce clash during the American Civil War which proved vital for the Union.

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Between 31 December 1862 and 2 January 1863, Stones River Battlefield in Murfreesboro was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War.

Prior to the Battle of Stones River, the Union had suffered a humiliating defeat at Fredericksburg. Morale was at an all time low and, anxious for a military victory, President Abraham Lincoln urged his new military leader, Major General William S. Rosecrans, to deliver.

In December 1862, Rosecrans moved his troops to Murfreesboro where General Braxton Bragg and the Confederate Army of Tennessee were camped. In the days that followed, there raged a fierce battle and, by the end, resulted in 9,239 Confederate casualties and 9,532 Union casualties as well as thousands of men taken as prisoners on both sides.

Overall, the Battle of Stones River is considered to have been inconclusive, however of vital importance was the fact that Bragg retreated from the battlefield. As a result, the Confederates gave up Middle Tennessee, an area of farmland which acted as a food source and, in Lincoln’s words, led the Union to view the Battle of Stones River as a “hard earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the country scarcely could have lived over.”

Today, Stones River Battlefield is part of the US National Parks network, with exhibitions and a series of tours exploring the area’s history. Stones River National Cemetery, which is nearby, is a military graveyard where 6,100 Union soldiers are buried.

On average, a tour of Stones River Battlefield and its museum lasts around two hours. Having said this, you might want more time to visit nearby attractions, such as Fortress Rosecrans.

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Vicksburg Battlefield

Vicksburg Battlefield in Mississippi was the site of a pivotal Union victory during the US Civil War.

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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.

Vicksburg was heavily defended and, only after two failed attempts on 19 and 22 May 1863, did Grant’s Union army manage to penetrate them. Grant changed his tactics from those of force to instigating a siege, cutting the Confederate troops at Vicksburg off from their communication and supply routes and preparing the way for an attack.

Then, from May 26, the Federal troops undertook a campaign to undermine the Confederate defences by tunnelling underneath them and destroying them with explosives. Two mines were indeed detonated in June together with several clashes and ongoing gunfire.

Finally, on 3 July, Confederate General Pemberton rode to meet Grant, displaying white flags. Initially unable to agree terms, the final Confederate surrender was signed the next day on 4 July 1863. The Union had gained their key to the South.

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.

There are various activities at Vicksburg Battlefield, including an in-car tour of the site and a visitor centre with several exhibits. Nearby are related sites including the batteries at Louisiana Circle and Navy Circle as well as South Fort.

Photo by Jo Naylor (cc)

Wilson’s Creek Battlefield

Wilson’s Creek Battlefield was the site of the second major battle of the Civil War and is now a US National Park, including a Civil War Museum.

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Wilson’s Creek Battlefield was the site of the second major battle of the American Civil War. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, also known as the Battle of Oak Hills, took place in Springfield, Missouri on 10 August 1861 and was the first such conflict to take place west of the Mississippi River.

At Wilson’s Creek Battlefield, the Union Army of the West, led by Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon was defeated by Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch’s Confederate troops. However, despite this victory, Missouri continued to be under Union control.

Today, Wilson’s Creek Battlefield is a US National Park, including a Civil War Museum and self-guided tours of the site. Overall, Wilson’s Creek Battlefield is very well preserved, offering a good insight into the battle.