a web page by Don Roberson

Gettysburg National Military Park


Soldier statue at sunset near "high water mark," Pickett's Charge

The 'grand-daddy' of Civil War sites and certainly the best known battle, one can visit Gettysburg over and over. The three-day battle over 1-3 July 1863 ended Lee's final invasion of the North, and is often portrayed as the "high water mark" of the Confederacy. The battle's importance is often overrated [I rank it about 5th in Civil War importance] but the fights on Culps Hill, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, Little Round Top, and Pickett's Charge are now staples of American history. A visit to the scene is dramatic, both for the geography and the statues & monuments to see. The visitor's center is good, the tour routes well-interpreted, and there are private museums and battlefield shops in the town. Look for unspoken keys to the fate of officers shown on horseback in statues: one hoof off the ground means the officer was wounded, but two feet in the air means he was killed.

Thankfully the out-of-place tower was removed some years ago. Still, urban sprawl encroaches at the park's edges. There is concern about over-commercialism but, on the plus side, the Civil War Trust continues to add property to this great battlefield.

General G.K. Warren statute on Little Round Top
with Seminary Ridge in background (Dec 1994)
June 1967, Dec 1986, Dec 1994

Antietam National Battlefield


The battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg to the South) on 17 Sep 1862 was the single bloodiest day in American history. It ended Confederate General R.E. Lee's first invasion of the North, and was a major tactical victory for the Union, although Union General McClellan's failure to follow up brought on his final dismissal. President Lincoln used the victory to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and change the purpose of the war. As a battlefield site there are many places to visit, from the Cornfield, to Dunker Church, to the Sunken Road, to Burnside's Bridge. There are many monuments and statutes to seek out, including that of future President William McKinley carrying coffee to the front line.

On each anniversary candles are lit to mark the 23,000 casualties, no doubt a dramatic sight to see. It is unfortunate that the battlefield site itself is so constrained. Its smallish size is crowded with statues and markers.

Dunker Church (top) and Burnside's Bridge (bottom) were both scenes of ferocious fighting (June 2009)
June 1967, June 2009

Pea Ridge
Pea Ridge National Military Park


This 7-8 Mar 1862 battle in nw Arkansas secured Missouri for the Union. This large park preserves all the important sites of this sprawling battlefield. While there are rows of cannon here and there, the landscape is mostly preserved as it was in 1862. The site is thus different in character than well-known eastern battlefields over-filled with monuments. The interpretative materials (visitor center etc.) are excellent and one gets a real feel for the geography of the battle. I highlight this "new style" battlefield because not only was the battle important, but the interpretation is so excellent. With ~25,000 troops involved, the scale of this battle is only 15% the size of Gettysburg, but that makes it easier to follow the strategy devised by Union general Samuel Curtis to defeat the combined efforts of Confederate generals Earl Van Dorn, Sterling Price, and Ben McCulloch. Interesting sidelights include the use of 3 Cherokee & Creek Indian regiments on the Confederate side. The overall visitor experience is just superb.

Elkhorn Tavern, a central focus during the battle of Pea Ridge,
with Don & Rita (March 1997)
Mar 1997

The Battle of Franklin Trust: Carter House & Carnton Plantation


The Battle of Franklin, on 30 Nov 1864, was a full frontal assault by John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee against the Union barricades of Union Gen. John Schofield at the little town of Franklin. At the time, Sherman was marching south into Georgia after the fall of Atlanta; the new Confederate General Hood tried to go north and retake Tennessee. "The annals of war may long be searched for a parallel to the desperate charge of the Army of Tennessee at Franklin, a charge which has been called 'the greatest drama in American history'," wrote one author. Five Confederate generals were killed in the failed assault and almost a quarter of the rebel army lost. The battlefield site has mostly been lost to urbanization but a non-profit trust has preserved the Carter House (at the center of the fight) and Carnton Plantation (where blood from the wounded still stains the floors), and continues to add more land to this endangered battlefield site. The museum at Carter House is superb, and so are on-line resources, including an astonishingly good animated map on the Civil War Trust site.

The Carter House, riddled with bullet holes, still stands at the center of the battlefield. During the battle the local family hid in the basement, which can still be visited today (with Rita; March 1997)
Mar 1997, Dec 2002

Vicksburg National Military Park


Vicksburg, a commercial port on the east bank of the Mississippi River, was they key to Union victory in the West. Indeed, one recent history of the campaign is entitled simply: Grant Wins the War: Decision at Vicksburg. General U.S. Grant did so by running gunboats past the batteries of Vicksburg at night, marching his army down the west bank and crossing below Vicksburg on 30 Apr 1863, and winning battles at Jackson and Champions Hill, bottling up Confederate General Pemberton's army in Vicksburg. The town fell and the rebel army surrendered after a 2-month siege on 4 July 1863. It was Grant's most brilliant victory.

The battlefield site is long and narrow, following the siege lines, and is filled with many statues and markers. What sets this site apart was the recovery and reconstruction of the Union gunboat Cairo. One of 7 Union ironclads, it was sunk during the campaign. Its hulk was discovered in 1956 but not recovered until Congress allocated funds in 1977. Today, the gunboat can be viewed at close range, and its museum has recovered artifacts along with excellent interpretation of its part in the battle, its discovery, and its recovery.

Union gunboats run the gauntlet past Vicksburg on the night of 16 Apr 1863 (art from a 1960s edition of Life magazine, top); recovered & reconstructed gunboat Cairo today (March 1997)
June 1967,

Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site


The confused fight at Perryville was one of the most important battles of the Civil War. It ended Confederate General Braxton Bragg's invasion to regain Kentucky for the South. Abraham Lincoln said in 1861 that “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game." With the victory on 8 Oct 1862, that key would remain in the Union's pocket for the rest of the war. The battle was fought by Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, but Buell did not even know it happened until it was over. It was the tenacious heroism of many smaller Union units that saved the day. Bragg would thereafter retreat all the way to southern Tennessee.

Yet the battle is little known, under-appreciated, and the site is not even federal property. Rather, the state of Kentucky maintains an exceptionally fine and well-interpreted battlefield. It is in the "new style" – very few statues or monuments but well-maintained woods and fields – so that one feels a part of the environment. Alas, during our Christmas Day visit, the museum and visitor's center were closed..

Approaching storm at Perryville Battlefield (Dec 2002)
Dec 2002

National Military Park


At the time it occurred on 6-7 Apr 1862, Shiloh was the biggest battle every fought in America. General U.S. Grant's army was encamped near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River when General Albert Sydney Johnston's Confederates launched a surprise attack. He was hit in the leg during the attack and bled to death before his aides understood what was happening. General P.G.T. Beauregard inherited the rebel attack. They almost pushed the northern troops into the river the first day, but Grant organized a late-afternoon stand. The next day, with new forces arriving from across the river, Grant counter-attacked and retook the field. Losses were astonishing: about 14,000 casualties of ~103,000 men engaged (a 23% casualty rate).

The battlefield drive takes one to famed sites like the Peach Orchard, the Hornet's Nest, and Bloody Pond. The landscape is heavily wooded, and the primary battle locations must constantly be cleared of new growth to give any sense of the circumstances. This is a classic site covering a very important early battle in this national conflict.

woods near site of Gen. A.S. Johnston's death; Rita at interpretive sign in background (Mar 1997)
June 1967, Mar 1997

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park


In traditional lore the Civil War ended when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on 9 April 1865. There were other Confederate armies still fighting, most notably that of Gen. J.E. Johnston in North Carolina, and the Confederate government still at large, but it is fair enough to say that the entire world saw Lee's surrender as the end of the war. There are many interesting stories associated with this surrender apart from the contrast in styles and dress of Gen. Lee and Gen. Grant. Among them is the story of the McLean family, whose home in 1861 was at Manassas -- and they moved here to get away from the War! As the narrator in Ken Burns' Civil War series says of Mr. McLean: "The war started in his back yard and ended in his front parlor."

When I visited here as a teenager, one could park right next to the site. Today, the entire small village of Appomattox Court House is preserved and visitors park some distance away, giving a much better period feel to the experience.

Front porch of McLean House
at Appomattox Courthouse (Dec 1994)
June 1967, Dec 1994

Ft. Sumter
Ft. Sumter National Monument

South Carolina

The American Civil War began with the rebel firing on Ft. Sumter on 12 April 1861. Ft. Sumter was a pentagonal fort of brick construction on a artificial island in the middle of Charleston's main ship channel. The bombardment lasted 34 hours before Maj. Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. No federal soldiers were killed but the fort was badly battered. The first Union casualty came during an accidental explosion during a ceremonial surrender salute.

The Fort is in a dramatic location, and is today visited by boat. The Fort is well-preserved and interpreted. One may also visit sites on the mainland, including Ft. Moultrie, which Anderson had abandoned on the night of 26 Dec 1860 to withdraw to Ft. Sumter. Rebel forces used it to bombard Sumter in April. [Additional battle sites around Charleston can be visited, including the site of Battery Wagner, detailed separately in this web project.]

Ft. Sumter (top) in a painting from 1861 (on a sign in the park)
and interior of Ft. Sumter today (bottom; Aug 1997)
Mar 1997

Harpers Ferry
National Historical Park

West Virginia

With Maryland on one side, and Virginia on the other, the West Virginia point of land at the confluence of the Shenandoah & Potomac Rivers is the little town of Harpers Ferry. In the 1850s it was important as a U.S. munitions factory & armory. John Brown's raid on the U.S. Armory in 1859 alarmed the South, and help lead to the Civil War. "Stonewall" Jackson led Confederate divisions to capture Harpers Ferry during the Sep 1862 Antietam campaign.

Today, the entire old town is reconstructed and preserved. Visitors take buses down into the town, where the fire station at which John Brown was captured is restored. There is a superb museum on the John Brown raid, its participants, and its impact. Another museum interprets the historic town. Upslope is a preserved battlefield with good explanatory signs and regular interpretive walks. Plus, amid all this, Harpers Ferry is in an absolutely gorgeous location.

The confluence of the Shenandoah & Potomac Rivers at Harpers Ferry (with Don & Rita, top); firehouse where John Brown was captured (bottom; June 2009)
June 1967, Sep 1985, June 2009


1. Battle of Gettysburg

  • Media: The 4-hour 1993 movie Gettysburg, directed by Robert Maxwell, and starring Tom Berenger (as Longstreet), Martin Sheen (as Lee), Jeff Daniels (as Chamberlain) and Stephen Lang (as Pickett), is outstanding and goes a long way in rebuilding Longstreet's long-tarnished reputation. We often watch it again on or about each July 4th as an anniversary commemorative of the battle and the Civil War. It was more fun to later buy the director's cut and see all the "extras" about the making of the movie.
  • Books: There are too many books to mention, including H.W. Pfanz's authoritative volumes on the first two days, but I especially enjoyed Stephen Sears' (2003) Gettysburg, Carol Reardon's (1997) Pickett's Charge in History & Memory, and Wittenberg & Petruzzi's (2006) Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg.

2. Battle of Antietam

  • Media: The director's cut of the 2003 movie Gods & Generals was released in May 2011, but only in BluRay, and I've not yet seen it. The extended version is 6 hours long -- adding 1.5 hours from the original release -- but it includes a filmed version of the Battle of Antietam that I am anxious to see. A review of the original 2003 film is discussed under Chancellorsville, later in these web pages.
  • Books: Stephen Sears' (1983) Landscape Turned Red: the Battle of Antietam is a little dogmatic and a bit dated; the essays in editor Gary Gallagher's (1999) The Antietam Campaign help add perspective.

3. Battle of Pea Ridge

  • Books: William L. Shea & E.J. Hess's (1992) Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign is the West is an outstanding history of the campaign and the battle, with good maps and period photos.

4. Battle of Franklin

  • Media: An astonishingly good animated map is on the Civil War Trust site, which also has extensive information on attempts for battlefield preservation.
  • Books: There are two exceptional books to read. James Lee McDonough & Thomas L. Connelly's (1983) Five Tragic Hours: the Battle of Franklin focuses directly on this fight, and has a nice set of photos of places and personalities. Wiley Sword's (1994) Embrace an Angry Wind: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville covers Hood's final campaign. It has good maps, a fine set of photos printed on glossy paper, and delves into Spring Hill as well as Franklin. Also, Thomas L. Connelly's (1971) Autumn of Glory, volume 2 of his history of the war in Tennessee & Kentucky, has a lengthy discussion of Spring Hill and the battles of Franklin and Nashville. Finally, an understanding of Franklin requires an understanding of John Bell Hood, and I found Richard M. McMurry's (1982) John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence a good exposition of that topic.

5. Battle of Vicksburg

  • Books: James Arnold's (1997) Grant Wins the War: Decision at Vicksburg is a fast-paced history of the entire Vicksburg campaign, including details of the battles of Jackson and Champions Hill. The latter served to bottle up Pemberton's army in Vicksburg for the inevitable siege, and is arguably one of the most important battles of the war. Bruce Catton's (1960) Grant Moves South is still a classic history of Grant's entire 1861-1863 western campaign that culminated in the victory at Vicksburg.

6. Battle of Perryville

  • Books: Kenneth W. Noe's (2001) Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle is an unexpectedly wonderful account of this pivotal battle, with maps and photos, some old and some current. It follows up on James Lee McDonough's classic (1994) War in Kentucky: from Shiloh to Perryville, which covers the campaigns leading to Perryville (with only a third of the book on Perryville). Earlier, Thomas L. Connelly's (1967, 1971) two-volume history of the Army of Tennessee [Army of the Heartland, Autumn of Glory] provided an overview of the entire war in Tennessee & Kentucky from the Confederate perspective.

7. Battle of Shiloh

  • Books: Larry J. Daniels' (1997) Shiloh: The Battle that changed the Civil War, is a fine battle history with detailed maps and period photographs. Wiley Sword's earlier (1974) Shiloh: Bloody April is perhaps more engaging in writing style, and both are heavily foot-noted. Bruce Catton's (1960) Grant Moves South is still a classic history of Grant's entire 1861-1863 western campaign, while Thomas L. Connelly's (1967, 1971) two-volume history of the Army of Tennessee [Army of the Heartland, Autumn of Glory] is a fine overview of the entire war in Tennessee & Kentucky from the Confederate perspective.

8. Appomattox Court House

  • Books: The truth is that I have not yet read the portions of the two books I have in my library that cover the surrender: Chris Calkins' (1997) The Appomattox Campaign: March 29-April 9, 1865 [a colorful account of the campaign by the recognized authority on the topic] and Richard Wheeler's (1989) Witness of Appomattox [a popularized account without footnotes and presumably without any original research]. Of course, all the major series on the Civil War have detailed descriptions of the surrender. These include Bruce Catton's (1965) Never Call Retreat, the final volume of his centennial history of the Civil War; Allan Nevins' (1971) The War for the Union: Organized War to to Victory, 1864-1865, the 4th volume in his Civil War series and the 8th in his history of mid-19th century America; and Shelby Foote's (1973) The Civil War: a Narrative (Red River to Appomattox), the final volume in his lively trilogy.

9. Ft. Sumter

  • Books: Robert Hendrickson's (1990) Sumter: the First Day of the Civil War is a decent account, with many period photos and some contemporary appendices of interest, but is not a foot-noted history. Of course, all the major multi-volume series on the Civil War give significant attention to Ft. Sumter. Ivan Musicant's (1995) Divided Waters: the Naval History of the Civil War also has a pertinent chapter.

10. Harpers Ferry Historic Site

  • Media: I haven't yet seen a movie featuring Harpers Ferry as a subject, but if you watch the 2003 movie Gods & Generals (reviewed under Fredericksburg & Chancellorsville later in these web pages), it is worth keeping in mind that the parts of the Battle of Fredericksburg that show fighting in the town of Fredericksburg were, in fact, filmed at today's Harpers Ferry.
  • Books: I don't have a specific book on Harpers Ferry. Stephen Sears' (1983) Landscape Turned Red: the Battle of Antietam covers the Sep 1862 battles there. I also have Stephen B. Oates' (1970) To Purge This Land with Blood: a Biography of John Brown, and will read it with interest some day. New information on John Brown's raid is in letters edited by Hannah N. Geffert in "When the Raiders Came," Columbiad 4: 109-121 (2000).

or the choices via links at right:



  page created 7-16 June 2011, updated 20 May 2014  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved