Top American Civil War Sites To Visit Today

The Lincoln Address Memorial (top left) in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The 2 small flanking markers for the 3rd NY Artillery monument (foreground) indicate the breadth of the unit's position. By Sallicio -
 CC BY-SA 3.0
The Lincoln Address Memorial (top left) in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The 2 small flanking markers for the 3rd NY Artillery monument (foreground) indicate the breadth of the unit's position. By Sallicio - CC BY-SA 3.0

The American Civil War was one of the bloodiest wars fought on American soil. Many of the war sites found throughout the eastern half of the United States have been very well preserved and are still easily visitable today.

In fact, many of these sites are large tourism draws for the various towns and states where they reside. If you’re planning a visit to the U.S., check out a few of our favorite Civil War sites below.

1. Gettysburg, Pa.

Of course, when most people think of the Civil War, they automatically think of Gettysburg. The important destination is only a short drive away from Philadelphia, making it an easy day trip if you’re already visiting the historic city.

Gettysburg was the site of not only President Abraham Lincoln’s all-important Gettysburg Address, but also remains a crucial turning point in the war, effectively making it very clear that this would not be one the Confederates would win. The spot is also a great one to visit if you’re interested in haunted history or paranormal travel, as it’s said that a large amount of ghosts of fallen soldiers reside on, near and around the battlefield.

The “high water mark” at the Gettysburg Battlefield.


2. Fort Sumter National Monument

The history books will tell you that the American Civil War began at Fort Sumter, when the Confederates first attacked. Now, the Union fort is located within Charleston, South Carolina, a great U.S. southern city to visit regardless of your travel itinerary.

Visitors not only walk the walls of the Fort, following in the footsteps of soldiers long before, but also come to see the museum and the sites nearby. One of those additional sites is a Confederate submarine that’s on display for those with an interest in historic naval combat.

3. Manassas National Battlefield Park

Period fence at Manassas Battlefield - By Billy Hathorn - Own work, CC BY 3.0,
Period fence at Manassas Battlefield. By Billy Hathorn – CC BY 3.0

Manassas was the site of not one, but two Civil War battles, both of which were won by the Confederate troops under Stonewall Jackson. In fact, it was here that he actually earned his nickname. You can visit the battlefield, which has been very nicely preserved, as well as the on-site museum.

The staff are extremely helpful and very knowledgeable about the events which took place, from detailed troop movements to the spectators who came to watch the event from Washington, D.C., expecting an interesting skirmish, but receiving a bloody slaughter instead. Nearby are other interesting Civil War sites to visit, though none as major as the battlefield. These include plantations and war hospitals, which are still worth a visit.

4. Antietam, Md.

Image of the Sunken Road – "Bloody Lane". At the memorial Antietam National Battlefield, in northwestern Maryland. Public Domain
Image of the Sunken Road – “Bloody Lane”. At the memorial Antietam National Battlefield, in northwestern Maryland.

In Maryland, Antietam stands as a reminder of the single bloodiest day on American soil, during which thousands upon thousands died. The national battlefield is strikingly beautiful, however, whichever time of year you visit, and ‘living historians,’ as they call themselves, abound, dressed in Civil War garb and introducing visitors to the site’s tale.

Also visit the adjacent Antietam National Cemetery, which took the place of miles of temporary graves constructed right after the battle.

5. Richmond, Va.

Richmond, Virginia, is known as a quintessential southern city in the States, and War buffs will find quite a lot to keep them occupied when visiting the city. The area does a very good job of showing all sides of the war but places a special emphasis on the experience of African Americans during the time, something which the other sites on this list may not do as well.

Richmond is also home to Belle Isle, a war prison used by the Confederacy, a great place to visit for those interested in sites that maintain a creepy feel.

6. Andersonville National Historic Site

Along the same lines is the Andersonville National Historic Site and Camp Sumter, located in Georgia. This was basically the South’s POW camp, where they shipped all of their Northern prisoners during the war. In fact, the prison camp was filled with almost 50,000 soldiers over the course of the little more than a year that the prison camp was operational.

You can walk the camp’s almost 30 acres and explore the cramped conditions, harsh treatment and the small spring that gave prisoners hope in the midst of a very hopeless situation.

7. Appomattox Court House

This was the site that saw the inevitable defeat of the Confederacy and the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. A refurbished McLean House represents exactly where the surrender happened, although the original structure no longer stands, unfortunately. Souvenir looters actually tore the place apart in search of historic gems to take home.

However, you’ll still enjoy your visit, as you learn about the area and enjoy reenactments of the surrender by actors dressed as Generals Lee and Grant. Other buildings make up a village mimicking the way it would have looked at the time of the surrender.

8. Battle of Glorieta Pass

Historic marker for Glorieta Pass/Wikipedia/Public Domain
Historic marker for Glorieta Pass.

Believe it or not, there actually was one lone battle which took place on the western half of the United States, and why exactly it happened is something that still annoys historians to this day. It’s a great stop if you’re traveling in the American Southwest, and don’t have time to make it to the East’s Civil War sites. The Battle of Glorieta Pass took place in New Mexico, in what is now Pecos National Historical Park.

Basically, the Confederates wanted to take the West for themselves, ranging from New Mexico and Texas, up to Colorado and then further out to California, where they would gain both wealth and more land to extend slavery. Some say they even wanted to invade Mexico. It was an ambitious undertaking, to say the least. The Union was alerted to the fact that Confederates were on the move out west, and skirmishes ensued, after which the Confederates, of course, evacuated New Mexico.

Holly Godbey

Holly Godbey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE