Virginia is the epicenter for history buffs looking for historical Civil War sites. Drive through time on this road trip through U.S. history.
There’s more to Virginia than romantic Virginia Beach getaways. With roots that stretch back as far as 1607, Virginia is an obvious first-rate destination for history buffs. What might surprise, however, is that the state holds the record for the highest number of recorded military events during the Civil War. With more than 2,000 significant events recorded, Old Dominion is the ideal spot to hit the road and see some of the best historic Civil War sites.
Manassas: Site of the First Big Battle
Located about a half-hour’s drive from Arlington off Interstate 66, the Northern Virginia area known as Manassas National Battlefield Park is the site of two major battles, both won by the Confederate Army. The First Battle of Bull Run occurred in the summer of 1861 and is widely considered to be the war’s first major battle. The second battle occurred between one and two years later and is considered the catalyst for Robert E. Lee’s 1862 Maryland invasion.
Before or after touring the battlefield, be sure to check out the museum at Henry Hill Visitor Center to learn more about that first battle. The center features exhibits and a 45-minute film.
Driving Tours of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania
Less than an hour from Manassas via Interstate 95 South, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Military Park is the site of North America’s bloodiest terrain. More than 100,000 soldiers were injured or killed in this area over the course of an 18-month span and four key battles. It’s the world’s second largest military park and is home to five historic structures and four battlefields, each with its own walking trails and driving tours.
Although the battlefields are the main attraction, those who want to experience lesser known Civil War sites can drive down Lee Drive, a Park Service road that follows five miles of the main line the Confederate Army marched during the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Afterward, head to Slaughter Pen Farm via Route 17 to view a 208-acre Civil War site operated by the Civil War Trust. It was a pivotal site in the Battle of Fredericksburg and is the only spot where visitors can follow in the footsteps of history by tracing the Union army’s actions on December 13, 1862, from the beginning to the bloody end.
Richmond: The Capital of the Confederacy
History lovers have several stops to make in the bustling city of Richmond, located about two hours south of Manassas. The city was the Confederacy’s capital and a major target for Northern forces during the war, and Richmond National Battlefield Park is the site where two union campaigns nearly captured the Confederate capital. The North ultimately fell short in the Battle of Cold Harbor, a bloody show that stopped General Ulysses S. Grant’s hopes of breaking through to the city. A large section of Richmond burned during the Confederate occupation in 1865, but many historic structures are still standing, including Tredegar Iron Works, which produced most of the Confederate army’s munitions and now serves as the park’s visitors’ center.
Richmond is also home to the American Civil War Museum, an institution that explores the war itself along with the legacy left behind. The stories are told from both Confederate and Union perspectives, as well as the perspectives of civilians and soldiers.
Appomattox Court House: Where It All Ended
Most history buffs who visit Virginia want to see Appomattox Court House, the site where General Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. So, where is Appomattox Court House? It’s located less than two hours from Richmond via U.S. 360 and U.S. 460.
This historic site includes more than 12 buildings, including a reconstruction of McLean House, the dirt road the Union troops lined while saluting the surrendered Confederate Army, and the exact spot where General Lee’s army laid down their weapons. Helpful resources include a museum with artifacts and a 15-minute film that plays every half-hour. During warm weather months, the park also offers ranger programs and living history talks to deepen visitors’ understanding of the history of the area.
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