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If you only have time for 1 or 2 VA Civil War sites - which would it be?

If you only have time for 1 or 2 VA Civil War sites - which would it be?

Old Mar 7th, 2002, 10:31 AM
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If you only have time for 1 or 2 VA Civil War sites - which would it be?

I will only only have 1 or maybe 2 free days during a trip to Virginia and want to visit at least one Civil War battlefied site. I know I could spend weeks exploring - but if I have to pick the best one or two, which??

The ones with the best total experience and atmosphere.

Old Mar 7th, 2002, 10:52 AM
dan woodlief
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It is a tough one. I will give you my top three and let you decide.

Petersburg - The main battlefield tour takes 1-3 hours, depending on your interest. It is in a pretty wooded area (not like it was in 1864-65) but nice anyway. You can drive further to see more earthern forts, the national cemetery, Grant's headquarters at City Point, and a few smaller battlefields. The total experience comes if you also visit Pamplin Park, now a private park. Pamplin was the site of the Union breakthrough in 1865 (still has extremely well-preserved trenches with several walking trails); it also has daily reenactors giving demonstrations and an excellent museum on the Civil War soldier.

Richmond - You could see the Confederate White House and Museum of the Confederacy (connected) in the morning and do the circle tour of the battlefields in the afternoon - Beaver Dam Creek, Cold Harbor, Malvern Hill, Gaines Mill, etc. There aren't many cannon or monuments at the battlefields around there. Cold Harbor is the most extensive.

Appomattox - There are several buildings, so it has more to actually see than most Civil War sites.


Bull Run/Manassas - the site of two famous battles, but it is about the only important one in Virginia I haven't visited yet.

Fredericksburg - You would need two days to see the sites around it. The major battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania took place within about a twenty mile radius. The town of Fredericksburg is nice in itself. You can also visit Guinea Station and see the actual room where Stonewall Jackson died. There is a lot to see at some spots, but at many you have to really use your imagination a lot.

If I were to have one day, I would probably visit the two sites I mentioned within Richmond and then drive the short distance to Petersburg to see the battlefield there. With two, you have lots of options.

Mmy own ranking of actual Civil War "battle sites" in Virgina:

The Wilderness
Cold Harbor

I have a feeling Bull Run would be around the top if I had been there.
Old Mar 7th, 2002, 10:56 AM
dan woodlief
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Oh, by the way, I also have travelogues for most of the places I mentioned (not Appomattox), plus quite a few photos at www.oneeyed.homestead.com.
Old Mar 7th, 2002, 11:15 AM
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Next time I plan a Civil War visit, I know who to call. I'm impressed.

I'm just wondering, are there ghost sighting stories at these locations? I know that "Ghost" sightings at Gettysburg have gotten airtime on a few History Channel shows.

As I haven't heard these stories about the Virginia battlefields, I'm wondering if ghosts are only a "Yankee" problem.

Old Mar 7th, 2002, 11:33 AM
dan woodlief
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I am sure there are ghosts elsewhere, but I think more than anything else they are a tourist sight "problem," not just northern. You should see how popular the ghost tours are in Charleston, SC.

I also forgot to add Chancellorsville to my list. Make it number four. It has one of the best visitor center exhibits outside of Gettysburg too. If you just washed your car, you may want to avoid driving the miles of dirt road on the route of Jackson's flank march, but it really puts the battle into perspective to make the drive.
Old Mar 7th, 2002, 12:50 PM
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Wow, thanks for all the info Dan. This really helps a lot. From my little bit of knowledge, I was leaning towards Chancellorsville but you have given me better ideas.

What I am looking for - if it exists - is an experience like at Culloden or Glen Coe in Scotland. These both have very evocative settings where you can walk where the lines were and "feel" the ones who passed before you. Hard to put into words.
Old Mar 7th, 2002, 01:08 PM
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Wow Dan!
Very impressive. Are you a teacher or just interested in the civil War?
Old Mar 7th, 2002, 05:00 PM
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Old Mar 7th, 2002, 06:48 PM
dan woodlief
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No, I am not a teacher but did plan to be once. I have a masters in European history. I have always had an interest in the Civil War, being from North Carolina originally but put it aside until recently. For the last year and a half I have been reading a lot and traveling to a lot of battlefields.

As far as what you are looking for Janis - that evocative feeling. To me, no place captures that better than Antietam (the most authentic around and peaceful), but that is just across the border in Maryland. Right there with it is Gettysburg, which is very authentic but in a touristy town. In Virginia:

Fredericksburg - The city has changed so much that what you will see now is vastly different, but it has variety - city sights, the river, an old mansion/hospital, wooded areas with cannons.

Chancellorsville - The biggest disappointment is the site of Jackson's flank attack because it is now just a modern cemetery. The best spot is probably Hazel Grove, with all the cannons. Driving down all the dirt roads is long and maybe boring, but to me it was the best part perhaps because it added so much perspective.

The Wilderness - Not much remains but woods.

Spotsylvania - The trenches at the Bloody Angle are now very low, but knowing what happened there is bound to move anyone.

Petersburg - A heck of a lot more trees than during the seige, but you have the mine shaft, the crater, a mortar, lots of cannon, and remains of several forts. To me the most moving thing is the site of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery's charge. It is spine tingling to read all the names of the fallen on the monument.

Appomattox - still has lots of buildings, so there is a lot to see.

The Richmond battlefields - not much remains but the sites. Not many structures, cannon, or monuments. Cold Harbor has nice walking trails, and the site of the catastropic Union charge is moving.

If you want that feeling in Virginia, I think Petersburg may offer the most (again, with the possible exception of Bull Run) especially if you go out early or late (my preference) when you may be the only one around.

In regards to other things to see:

The best visitor center exhibit - Chancellorsville; Fredericksburg is also very interesting.

The best Civil War museum - The Museum of the Confederacy, but the Pamplin Park museum is superb. The latter has headphones and even has one part in which you are being shot at by soldiers on a large screen and can feel the bullets wizzing by (air of course).

The most fascinating site of all. Maybe The White House of the Confederacy. Great hour-long tour.

Best cemetery - Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond - two presidents of the U.S. and lots of famous Confederates. Very large.

The key to visiting any of the battlefields is to read ahead. It makes a world of difference. I can possibly recommend books on some of them if you are interested.
Old Mar 7th, 2002, 08:55 PM
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Dan - another Wow!. Thank you so much. That is exactly the sort of information I was seeking.

Please - do make recommendations of things to read.

(Antietam might fit into my plans - I know I said Virginia - but it is not that far.)
Old Mar 8th, 2002, 06:26 AM
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ttt really interesting information

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