Civil War History Road Trip (with teens) suggestions?
July 13, 2011 4:44 AM   Subscribe

Two moms, three home-educated early-teen boys, planning a learning adventure for two weeks at the end of August. Driving north from South Florida, which civil war sites/events should we not miss? Also looking for great not-too-primitive tent camping. So far all we know for sure is that we want to check out Gettysburg. We want to make it educational, but awesome and fun for our not-too-fascinated kids. Your suggestions welcome!
posted by theplotchickens to Travel & Transportation around Florida (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The First and Second Battles of Manassas, in Virginia.
During the First Manassas campaign, Confederate reinforcements travelled by rail from Piedmont Station to Manassas Junction. The 35 mile trip marked the first time in American history that railroads were tactically used to forward soldiers towards the frontlines of combat.

I'm also a big fan of Valley Forge, in Pennsylvania.

If you're going through the Ocala/North Florida area, my absolute (second) favorite place to camp is Juniper Springs Recreation Area. The kids will love the cold spring for swimming!

If you're passing through Baltimore, check out Fort McHenry, which was a prison during the Civil War, but was also the fort that Francis Scott Key saw being bombarded during the War of 1812. That event was the impetus for his writing of the Star Spangled Banner.
posted by bilabial at 5:10 AM on July 13, 2011

Off the beaten path somewhat, but the Battle of the Wilderness in central Virginia is fascinating. There's a 2-mile trail through the woods (much cooler temperature-wise) that follows the works (trenches) that still exist. So much is untouched out there that the kuanes kids found a musket ball (!!) on our last trip there. It's on state route 20, about 30 miles west of Fredericksburg (another great site). You may also want to consider Petersburg as you make your way up through central VA.
posted by kuanes at 5:14 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's painful, but I'd consider Andersonville, the Confederate prison camp near Americus Ga. Union prisons were no picnics, of course, but Andersonville illustrated a fundamental difference between the two sides. After the entire war, there was only one execution: Henry Wirz, the warden.
posted by LonnieK at 5:16 AM on July 13, 2011

2nd the Wilderness.
posted by LonnieK at 5:17 AM on July 13, 2011

If Gettysburg is among your destinations, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is in Frederick, MD, just about 45 minutes away. Highly recommended.
posted by imjustsaying at 5:19 AM on July 13, 2011

Antietam! The whole area of Harpers Ferry- Antietam is well worth a detour. Both are close to Gettysburg.
posted by pentagoet at 5:20 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Antietam, definitely.
posted by gaspode at 6:19 AM on July 13, 2011

If you are willing to swing by Ford's Theatre in DC it is worth the trip. You can even walk across the street to the Petersen House where President Lincoln died.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 6:48 AM on July 13, 2011

Since most of the war was fought in the South, don't skip straight to Gettysburg. Maybe go to Charleston and visit Ft. Sumter. And on the way you could stop in Atlanta and other parts of Georgia and South Carolina and see some of the sites of Sherman's March. A weird Civil War landmark in Atlanta is the Cyclorama which shows the Battle of Atlanta in a fairly dramatic way (and Stone Mountain is utterly trashy with a laser light show, if the boys might like that sort of thing.)

And if doesn't have to be an exclusively Civil War trip, you could also check out the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:59 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Visit the U.S. Naval Museum in Virginia to learn about the naval battles of the Ironclad ships. A wonderful camping spot is the city of Newport News park not too far from the Museum.
posted by francesca too at 7:00 AM on July 13, 2011

The Virginia Historical Society in Richmond VA has a great interactive exhibit up now: An America Turning Point

I've heard great things about the Tredegar Civil War Center in Richmond as well, though I've never been.

Pamplin Park near Petersburg VA is a good hands-on stop for kids. I took a bunch of 12-year-olds there last year and they loved it.

The White House of the Confederacy is in Richmond. Can be a little dry.

Jefferson Davis is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
posted by john m at 7:39 AM on July 13, 2011

We just visited the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Petersburg, VA. It's a top-notch experience that my whole family enjoyed immensely. Petersburg itself is the site of historic battles, a notable one being the Battle of the Crater (which was dramatized in the beginning of the film Cold Mountain, by the way). You can still see the softly eroded remains of the massive crater that was left by the explosion.

Highly recommended!
posted by BurntHombre at 8:53 AM on July 13, 2011

Another vote for Antietam; it's a pretty powerful experience being there. Gettysburg is also amazing. With those on your agenda, you will be very close to Manassas, Battle of the Wilderness, Harpers Ferry, and Ford's Theater. All would be easily within a day's drive of each other and are really interesting in terms of the beginning and ending of the war.
posted by goggie at 9:21 AM on July 13, 2011

At Gettysburg, I recommend getting a licensed tour guide. Well worth the extra cost, in my experience. The guides drive your car around the battlefield to show you the sites and tell you about stuff. They're friendly and super-knowledgeable, and it makes the tour more personalized. I felt much more comfortable asking lots of questions, which made the tour more interesting for me. Your kids might feel the same way.
posted by kayram at 10:19 AM on July 13, 2011

posted by Ideefixe at 10:24 AM on July 13, 2011

Lincoln's Cottage in DC. He spent the summers of 1862, '63, and '64 there.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:46 AM on July 13, 2011

Chickamauga (just south of Chattanooga) - after Shiloh, the best documented battlefield I've been to. Savannah is awesome, and if you get to Ft. Pulaski near there, it is too; the most amazing all-masonry fort this side of Fort Point in San Francisco.
posted by charris5005 at 11:06 AM on July 13, 2011

Antietam! The whole area of Harpers Ferry- Antietam is well worth a detour. Both are close to Gettysburg.

Antietam, definitely.

Sharpsburg, as it is known in the South, is without a doubt of equal or greater historical significance than Gettysburg. Not only did this battle see the greatest number of casualties in American history, it was the victory Lincoln needed to issue his Emancipation Proclamation which changed the Civil War from a war to preserve the Union as it was, to a war to create a new Union without slavery. When the Confederates lost at Sharpsburg they lost the chance for foreign recognition and with that really any hope of independence.
posted by three blind mice at 11:34 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the above recommendation for Juniper springs as a place to camp. Or Alexander springs. They're both beautiful and close to one another. I like swimming in Juniper best, one reason being that there's a big ledge to jump off of so you don't have to go through the ten minutes of "oh god so cold so cold so cold" as you inch into the water. Alexander springs has beautiful boils, though. Can't go wrong camping at either.
posted by Gymnopedist at 11:42 AM on July 13, 2011

If you can plan to be in Fredericksburg on a Friday evening the NPS historians here do a phenomenal program called History at Sunset, in which they take some aspect of one of the battles here and spend 2 hours diving into it detail, while walking the grounds. I can't even begin to describe just how much I've learned on these Friday nights.

I was just at Antietam last weekend with my son. It's probably the best preserved Civil War battlefield in the country.

Where ever you go though, take advantage of whatever tours the park rangers are giving, and check out for podcasts for the various parks. We used the walking trail podcasts at Antietam last weekend and they really add a lot to the experience. IMO, you miss 98% of the battlefield tour experience if you stick to the driving tour and monuments. You have to get out and walk the grounds with an expert, or an expert on MP3, to really get an appreciation for what went on these battlefields.
posted by COD at 4:59 PM on July 13, 2011

posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:32 PM on July 13, 2011

(Still from Ms. Vegetable):
There may also be some reenactments going on - which a bunch of my friends did growing up. I don't know where/when or who puts them on, but it'd be worth some digging, I think.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:57 PM on July 13, 2011

Fredericksburg, VA and Battle of the Wilderness area, also if you are in that area you could drive down to stay at Westmoreland State Park which is a beautiful park just a few miles from Stratford Hall (the birthplace of Robert E. Lee) and also George Washington's, and James Monroe's Birthplace.
posted by SuzySmith at 7:31 PM on July 13, 2011

Did not go to the museum, but also enjoyed my visit to Petersburg, as mentioned above. The Battle of the Crater is kinda crazy.
posted by maryr at 9:13 PM on July 13, 2011

Oh, and I don't really know specifics, but we're focusing a lot on the Civil War here. Don't forget that the Revolutionary War had big battles in the South too - here's a quick Wikipedia link. I'm from New England so, honestly, we really didn't learn about anything south of New York much in school re: the Revolution, sorry I'm not more helpful.
posted by maryr at 9:19 PM on July 13, 2011

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