Monday, August 31, 2009

My Top 10 Civil War battlefields/sites

With malice toward none, and a confession that I have not been to all, here are my favorite Civil War battlefields.

10. Fort Moultrie (S.C.): I like Fort Sumter, but its sister on nearby Sullivan Island does a little more for me. Maj. Robert Anderson evacuated his troops from here to Sumter, which was shelled by Confederates to begin the war. You can spend more time at Moultrie and not feel the crush of visitors. Moultrie also is an important American Revolutionary War site, withstanding shelling by the British fleet.

9. Fort Pulaski (Ga): Confederate forces surrendered this fort between Savannah and Tybee Island after a withering bombardment in 1862. Visitors get a good idea of fort life and can see damaged sections of the outer wall. Huge freighters sail close by.

8. Harpers Ferry (W Va.): Stonewall Jackson seized this Union garrison at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in 1862. I’ll admit to listing this one principally for the picturesque setting. Harpers Ferry also was the site of John Brown’s 1859 raid.

7. Manassas (Va.): Scene of two battles, this park outside Washington, D.C., has a good museum. There’s nothing quite like walking up to Stonewall Jackson’s statue and imagining the chaos nearby in 1861 and 1862.

6. Chickamauga (Ga.): Confederates won a rare, but costly, Western theater battle here in 1863. Union George Thomas saved the Union from being routed and earned the sobriquet, “The Rock of Chickamauga.” I enjoy the numerous memorials and the museum, which features a compelling exhibit on Civil War guns.

5. Appomattox Courthouse (Va.): This is one of my three kids’ favorites. I have to admit they don’t share my passion for the subject but they, too, enjoyed the bucolic setting in the rolling hills of southern Virginia. This is where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in 1865 (photo at top of blog).

4. Antietam/Sharpsburg: (Md.): This momentous battle was the single-bloodiest day in U.S. history, with 23,000 casualties. The hotly disputed Cornfield, Dunker Church, Burnside Bridge are among the highlights. This beautiful farm country, dotted by barns and stone walls, seems so out of synch with the terrific fighting between forces led by Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan.

3. Pickett’s Mill (Ga.): Union Gen. William T. Sherman tried an unsuccessful flanking movement in Paulding County, Ga., during his 1864 campaign. This is one of the best-preserved Civil War battlefields. I love the trails and the holes left where artillery emplacements were hurriedly thrown up. Author Ambrose Bierce fought on the Union side.

2. Gettysburg (Pa.): First, read “The Killer Angels.” If you never even make a visit, you’ll still learn why Gettysburg is the most well-known Civil War battlefield. These are places enshrined in American history: Devil’s Den, Pickett’s Charge, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge and more. Seeing them makes lifelong memories.

1. Shiloh (Tenn.): The South was on the verge of a big victory after the first day of fighting along the Tennessee River. Grant (left) and Sherman regrouped and unleashed a crushing Union attack on the second, pushing Confederates off the field. A few years ago, I walked about 8 miles of the battlefield, stopping by the cemetery, Hornet’s Nest, Bloody Pond, Indian mounds and the site of Confederate Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston’s fatal wounding. Its size and remote location allow visitors to spread out and soak it in. Shiloh is overpowering.

Which battlefields would you put near the top of your list?

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