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Reader Participation Day: Which Is Your Favorite Civil War Park Unit?


Confederate General Thomas Jackson received his nickname, "Stonewall," at the First Battle of Manassas from Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee. Today a statue of the general presides over the battlefield. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Last week I had an opportunity to tour part of Manassas National Battlefield Park with my brother, and couldn't help but scan the landscape and try to envision the fighting that went on there during the Civil War.

The same can be said of my previous visits to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and Petersburg National Battlefield. Each site had me struggling to imagine what it must have been like to do battle on those grounds 150 years ago.

Do all Civil War battlefields preserved by the National Park Service come across to you the same, or does one stand out? And if so, why?


I haven't been to every Civil War battlefield in the NPS, but I'd have to say of those I have visited, Antietam was the most interesting and moving. But this is only by a hair: they are all profoundly somber places, inviting deep reflection and great pride in me as I try to imagine what it was like the day of the battle.

In general, I find visits to battlefields to be very challenging. Unlike most parks, the main qualities you need to experience don't consist of visible scenery or structures, but the mental recreation of a long-past battle -- movements of troops, changing tides of the struggle, and actions of both individuals and entire groups. The battlefield parks definitely require you to invest more mentally and emotionally while you're there, and so they are a different type of national park experiences.

Hands down Andersonville. I find old cemeteries very moving not to mention the Prisoner of War Museum.

There are more than simply battlefields with a meaningful connection to the Civil War.

I would note that Fort Point NHS was an Army installation with soldiers standing guard against a possible Confederate attack of San Francisco. In fact the CSS Shenandoah was heading for San Francisco when they found that the war had ended.

The monument at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania for Richard Kirkland. As a former Army medic, that has special meaning for me.

I am a big fan of Appomattox!

I once went to Gettysburg and Vicksburg on the same trip, within several weeks of each other. Both were incredibly impressive and moving, but what struck me the most was that if I hadn't known better, I'm not sure I could have told they were sites in the same war.

In writing my Civil War Road Trip books, I've seen just about all of them. Gettysburg and Antietam are hard to beat, but to me, the best is in the west - Pea Ridge NMP.

Great interpretation, a nearly intact battlefield, almost zero modern-day visual intrusions such as roads, buildings, or power lines, and even a mountain smack in the middle of it that gives you a great view of the field without building an observation tower.

It's also not as hard to get to as you might think. It's near Fayetteville, Wal-Mart HQ, so flights are frequent and cheap. Throw in the fact that two other great battlefield sites at Wilson's Creek and Prairie Grove are within a short drive, and you've got yourself a perfect excuse for a Trans-Mississippi Civil War trip.

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