There are probably very few states in this nation that were not affected by the Civil War, but of course the areas where the battle raged have the most historic sites. While it would be impossible to include every single monument, battlesite, building or park of significance, here are a few highlights in each of several of the most important states.
While Alabama didn’t see a lot of military action, it was the first seat of the Confederate government. Today it’s popular as a vacation destination because of its mild climate and natural beauty with lots of exciting things to do from motor speedways to golf courses to music and even Shakespeare.
- Be sure to visit Montgomery and see the first White House of the Confederacy. Off the Beaten Path Alabama recommends the Rosa Parks Library and Museum. Also, don’t miss the Shakespeare Garden adjacent to the Carolyn Blount Theatre, home of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
- Check out Cathedral Caverns in Woodville. These massive caves were said to have been used as refuge for Confederate soldiers. They were also used to film Disney’s Tom and Huck.
- Birmingham is the setting for Anne George’s Southern Sisters series, hilarious mystery books highlighting two sisters, who seem to be complete opposites, as the sleuths.
This state boasts over 200 significant Civil War sights including Chickamunga, site of the 2nd bloodiest battle, Andersonville Prison and the city of Savannah, which Sherman presented the capture of as a gift to President Lincoln.
- The Insider’s Guide to Atlanta is chock full of information about this beautiful and historic city where the classic Civil War novel Gone With the Wind was set.
- Altanta was the beginning of Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea. Jerry Ellis in Marching Through Georgia chronicles his journey to retrace Sherman’s steps. In To The Sea, Jim Miles gives a comprehensive history and tour guide of the march.
- In tiny Fitzgerald is the Blue and Gray Museum. Hidden Georgia author Marty Olmstead lists this museum as a favorite because of authentic items such as the last general orders from Lee to the Army of North Virginia.
- Olmstead also includes in his book a section on Traipsing Through the Garden of Good and Evil based on the best seller by John Berendt.
- Don’t miss the Andersonville National Historic Site and Cemetery and, in the same area, the Andersonville Civil War Village and National Prisoner of War Museum.
Kentucky has the ironic distinction of being the birthplace of both the Union and the Confederate presidents. Because it was located on the border, its people and even families were divided in their loyalties.
- The Lincoln Homestead State Park is located just east of Bardstown which is also the center of bourbon making.
- Visit the Lincoln Heritage Area between Elizabethtown and Hodgenville which includes the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site and the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home.
- Fairview is where Jefferson Davis was born and is the location of the Jefferson Davis Monument State Park. Read about all these sites in Kentucky by Susan Reigler.
- Farther west in Paducah is the Tilghman Civil War Museum as mentioned in Off the Beaten Path Kentucky. Eight other Civil War sites are included in a walking tour of Paducah.
Louisiana had one of the largest black populations in 1860 and was a leading slave state. New Orleans, being a major port, was an early target of the Union Army and the city spent a long time under Union control.
- The Insider’s Guide to New Orleans lists the Confederate Museum as the oldest museum in the state, opening in 1891. It also houses the largest collection of Civil War artifacts in the nation.
- Louisiana is known for its beautiful antebellum plantations. Tour the River Road plantations or visit Greenwood Plantation in St. Francisville, northwest of Baton Rouge. According to Off the Beaten Path Louisiana, the mini-series North and South was filmed there.
- Also northwest of Baton Rouge is the State Historic Site at Port Hudson, a battlesite. Louisiana’s African-American troops fought bravely in this battle and were crucial in the Union’s victory. As at many sites, you can watch an authentic re-creation of the battle.
Another border state, Maryland was the site of the bloodiest single-day battle of the war with more than 23,000 casualties. Maryland has also been called “America in Miniature” because it has every type of terrain from beaches to mountains.
- Antietam is a must-see for any Civil War buff. Fodor’s Virginia and Maryland says, “A self-guided auto tour follows 8.5 miles of well-preserved battlefield…” Also on the site is the Pry House Field Hospital Museum. Guide to the Battle of Antietam, edited by Jay Luvaas & Harold W. Nelson, is designed to “enable the reader to locate points…where critical or fascinating events occurred…”
- In Baltimore, be sure to visit the Greenmount Cemetery, the final resting place of John Wilkes Booth and more. Also, see the Baltimore Civil War Museum – President Street Station.
- Annapolis boasts the U.S. Naval Academy Museum & Gallery of Ships among other things.
Named for the mighty river that forms its western border, Mississippi was the second state to secede. It’s also the birthplace of Elvis as well as home to great writers like Eudora Welty and John Grisham.
- Follow the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway, an ancient pathway that originated 8,000 years ago. In one original segement are preserved the graves of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers.
- Also in Natchez visit Longwood, one of the great houses of the city. A wealthy planter’s home, its construction was interrupted by the Civil War and it’s preserved just as it was left. According to Off the Beaten Path Mississippi the ghost of the owner is still around.
- Vicksburg is a necessary stop on any tour of the Civil War history. Visit the acclaimed Vicksburg National Military Park, a tribute to the 47-day siege of the city.
- Port Gibson is one Mississippi town that escaped the ravages of war after being deemed by Grant as “too beautiful to burn.”
Even though North Carolina seceded from the Union, its residents were painfully split on the conflict. The last major battle of the war was fought at Bentonville.
- Off the Beaten Path North Carolina recommends the Cape Fear Museum of History & Science. Besides the Civil War there are exhibits on a 20-foot-long sloth and Michael Jordan.
- See the remains of the Confederate ironclad gunboat CSS Neuse at Kinston, southeast of Raleigh.
- To get an idea of life on a large plantation, visit Somerset Place in Cresswell or Historic Stagville in Durham. Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington includes a rare example of urban slave quarters. North Carolina by Sarah Bryan tells about all three.
Gettysburg is almost synonymous with the Civil War. From the famous battle to Lincoln’s equally famous address, the name symbolizes the pain and the poignancy of this time in our history.
- Gettysburg – American’s Best Historic Sites lists it in their top ten. Off the Beaten Path Pennsylvania says, “Don’t miss it.”
- Harrisburg has the National Civil War Museum with over 850 artifacts and losts of multi-media exhibits on the personal experiences of both sides.
- Philadelphia offers lots of history as well as all the urban attractions you’d expect from the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the country.
Although the only major battles were fought around Charleston, South Carolina was the first to secede and the last to fall to the Union.
- Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston marks the site of the first battle of the Civil War. According to The Charleston, Savannah & Costal Islands Book, the experience begins with a relaxing ferry trip.
- Also in Charleston, Fodor’s recommends Middleton Place in their guidebook The Carolinas and Georgia. Though a large part of the mansion was destroyed, it currently boasts amazing gardens and a first class restaurant. Checkout the Old Slave Mart Museum, too.
- In Beaufort, visit the Rhett House Inn, just like celebrities Barbra Streisand and Dennis Quaid, among others. Beaufort is also the home of Robert Smalls, a former slave who became a hero of the Civil War and a prominent congressman.
More Civil War battles were fought in Tennesee than any other state except Virginia. However it was the last state to secede and the first to be readmitted to the Union.
- The Shiloh National Military Park marks the site of “Bloody Shiloh,” one of the most gruesome battles in all American warfare. Total casualties were over 23,000. According to Off the Beaten Path Tennessee, the Shiloh National Cemetery has more than 3,600 unknown dead buried there.
- In Dover, the Fort Donelson National Battlefield includes the Dover Hotel where Grant earned his nickname of “Unconditional Surrender.”
- In Chattanooga, take the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway to see the commanding view of this coveted spot during the war. See the listing in Tennessee by Robert Brandt.
The state became a major Civil War battleground when the Confederate capital was transferred to Richmond.
- The Manassas National Battlefield Park commemorates the first massive clash between North and South at the stream of Bull Run according to Frommer’s Virginia.
- Appomattox Court House National Historical Park includes the McLean house where the Civil War officially came to an end.
- In Richmond see the Museum and White House of the Confederacy. Fun With the Family in Virginia recommends the Richmond National Battlefield Park for ages 7 and up.
- Check out the Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge from Off the Beaten Path Virginia. This is the site of the Lee family plantation where the father of Robert E. Lee was born and raised.
These books would be of interest to the serious Civil War buff and in planning your historical itinerary.