What are the most important U.S. Civil War Sites?
From Fort Sumter and Gettysburg Battlefield to the thought-provoking Appomattox County Court, there are many fascinating Civil War monuments and museums to explore. A list of some of the prominent sites and monuments of the American Civil War can be found below. Click on the title of each for further information. If you're keen to visit these locations then this list of US Civil War sites will allow you to find out more information as well as the history behind each location.
1. Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter in South Carolina was originally built in the nineteenth century as part of the “Third System” plan to defend the coasts of America following the War of 1812 against the British. In fact, it would go on to become the site of the ignition of the American Civil War.
Build Up to the War
Following the election of Abraham Lincoln as the President of the United States in 1860, southern states began seceding from the Union, declaring a separate Confederate States of America. Whilst there were many reasons for the build up to this north-south conflict, the main issue was Lincoln’s opposition to slavery and in particular to legislation such as the Federal Fugitive Slave Act.
South Carolina declared its secession on 20 December 1860. Despite this, Fort Sumter was originally held by the Union under the command of Major Robert Anderson. Anderson had moved his forces from the nearby Fort Moultrie to the previously sparsely defended Fort Sumter six days after the secession. This was seen as a hostile act by the Confederates.
Tensions mounted over this move, resulting in a siege of Fort Sumter by the Confederates against the Union. Supplies at Fort Sumter began running low and, despite negotiations, an agreement failed to be reached.
The War Begins
On the morning of 12 April 1861, the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter, signaling the start of the American Civil War. Following 34 hours of bombardment, the Union surrendered Fort Sumter. They would not recapture it for a further four years.
Today, Fort Sumter is open to the public as part of the National Parks network. Visitors can hear a ten minute ranger talk about the site before embarking on a self-guided tour.
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.
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.
Visitors can also gain an understanding of the final battles of the Civil War by visiting the Appomattox Station and Court House. Living history experiences are conducted throughout the summer months and occasionally in the spring and winter, with actors recreating the famous surrender. You should allow at least three hours for your visit.
The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Virginia explores the experiences of those who fought in the American Civil War.
In its main exhibit, "Duty Called Me Here", the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier offers an audio guided tour of artefacts, multimedia presentations and dioramas which aim to tell the story of what it was like to be a Civil War soldier. Within the exhibit is a battlefield simulation.
The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier also commemorates those who fought by way of its Remembrance Wall, with the names of all those who answered the call of duty. A visit usually lasts around 45 minutes.
5. Fort Clinch
Fort Clinch on Amelia Island in Florida is a fort built in 1847 as part of the Third System defence plan. The Third System was a plan instigated by the US government following the War of 1812 to improve the country’s coastal defences and, with its pentagonal shape and brick structure, Fort Clinch is a typical example of the fortifications constructed under this plan.
A Union base used to establish control of the coasts of Florida and Georgia during the American Civil War, Fort Clinch was occupied by Confederates for a short period and later recaptured by the Union. It was also later used during the Spanish-American War, only to be abandoned.
Today, Fort Clinch is part of the Florida State Parks network, allowing visitors to view the original building. Park rangers are on site to provide an insight into the building.
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.
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.
During the American Civil War, Lee was asked to be a Union leader but refused, waiting to see how Virginia would side. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, Lee became a commander of the Confederate army and fled from Arlington House shortly before the Union crossed the Potomac River and took the land around Washington. Eventually captured, Arlington House would become a Union army base.
In January 1864, the government legally purchased Arlington House and, later that year, desperately in need of space to bury the increasing number of war casualties, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs designated Arlington a national cemetery – a function for which it had unofficially already been used. By the end of the conflict in 1865, Arlington housed the graves of over 5,000 soldiers.
Over the years, Arlington National Cemetery has come to represent a memorial to all US soldiers who have died for their country and is still an active cemetery. In fact, there are approximately 300,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery, neatly aligned and each with a white headstone.
With its status as a nationally heritage site, Arlington National Cemetery has also formed the location of numerous monuments. Amongst these are The Arlington Memorial Amphitheatre, where memorials and funerals are held, the United States Marine Corps Memorial, an iconic statue depicting soldiers raising the American flag and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
Arlington National Cemetery is also the home of The Tomb of the Unknowns, a burial place for one unidentified soldier from each of World War I, World War II and the Korean War. There was a soldier from the Vietnam War, but he was later identified and moved.
Many famous Americans are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, from military heroes to astronauts and leaders such as President John F Kennedy. Those visiting Arlington National Cemetery can start at the visitor centre, where there are guide books, maps and exhibits. Arlington House itself is also open to the public, with a museum and guides chronicling this building’s unique history.
8. Ford Theatre
It was in Ford Theatre on the night of 14 April 1865 that well-known actor John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln.
A Confederate sympathiser and spy, Booth had originally planned to kidnap Lincoln, but instead shot the President in the back of the head as he watched Ford Theatre’s production of “Our American Cousin” from the state box (box seven). President Lincoln was the first American President to be assassinated.
Ford Theatre is now an operating theatre house as well as a museum showcasing a variety of historical artifacts related to Lincoln’s presidency, his assassination and his life in Washington. Ford Theatre also stands across the street from Petersen House, where the President was taken following the shooting and where he subsequently died.
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.
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.
Full list of Sites, Museums and Landmarks of the American Civil War
As well as the entries above, we’ve added further entries to the list below and you can find out more information by clicking the individual entries.
Our list of U.S. Civil War sites may not be complete. If you know of other places you feel should be added please get in touch via our contact page.