What are the most important U.S. Civil War Sites?
1. Fort Sumter
Originally built to defend the coast against the British, Fort Sumter in South Carolina became the site of the ignition of the American Civil War. It was here that, on 12 April 1861, the Confederates fired upon the Union-held fort, signalling the start of the war. Following 34 hours of bombardment, the Union surrendered. They would not recapture it for a further four years.
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. Today, Gettysburg National Military Park is brimming with approximately 1,328 monuments, markers and memorials relating to the American Civil War.
It was in Appomattox, a village in Virginia, that General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant on 9 April 1865, marking the end of the American Civil War. The meeting took place at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean and lasted approximately an hour and a half. Appomattox County Court National Park now offers visitors a myriad of experiences and exhibits relating to the Confederate surrender. You can visit the Mclean House where the surrender took place as well as the Appomattox County Court Visitors Centre, which houses a number of exhibits relating to the event.
Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia is both a military burial site and an iconic monument to fallen soldiers. Initially, the site of Arlington Cemetery began as a house – Arlington House – built in memory of President George Washington. The house, which still stands today, then became the property of Mary and Robert E. Lee. After the Union crossed the Potomac River and took the land around Washington, Arlington House became a Union army base. It's use as a burial site started unofficially, but by the end of the conflict it had been declared a national cemetery. By the end of the war, Arlington housed the graves of over 5,000 soldiers.
Shiloh Battlefield was the site of a Union victory in April 1862. 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.
6. Ford Theatre
On 14 April 1865, five days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee, it was in Ford Theatre that well-known actor John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln in an attempt to revive the Confederate cause. Lincoln, who had led the Union through the war, was the first US president to be assassinated.
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. Chickamauga Battlefield is filled with historical tablets and monuments related to the American Civil War.
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.
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. The site forms part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, which is brimming with monuments as well historical trails and markers.
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. 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.