The Civil War has resulted in a variety of historically significant and interesting spots to visit, but no where is Civil War tourism as prominent as it is in the Southern states. There, there is undoubtedly still remaining a barely concealed Confederate pride in the area’s history. Even though many citizens will readily say that they’re not quite in agreement with everything the Confederacy stood for, most still hold to a romantic notion of the antebellum South — moss-laden trees, plantations and the Southern belle figure.
Many Civil War spots in this area of the country are now tourist attractions, visited by thousands of travelers each year, both from within the South itself and from abroad. Here are some of the can’t-miss destinations if you’re looking for the most influential battlefields and points of interest in the Civil War South.
1. Andersonville, Ga.
Andersonville, Ga., was home to the Confederate Andersonville Prison. During its use over the course of a little more than a year, almost 50,000 Union soldiers were held, with about 20 percent dying during their incarceration. The conditions were horrific, with open sewers, no medical care and small or non-existent food supplies. Disease and illness ran rampant. Today, visitors can see the Andersonville National Historic Site, quite different from how it once was. Next to the park is a cemetery with a mix of headstones and monuments. The surrounding gently rolling hills make for a peaceful atmosphere.
2. Fort Sumter
Go to where it all began: Fort Sumter, Charleston, S.C. The first fire was exchanged when the Confederacy attacked the Union fort, forcing them to surrender after a battle of 34 hours. Only two soldiers were killed during the engagement, both on the Northern side. Now, when you visit the fort firsthand, you can walk the walls, see a small museum and enjoy the views of the nearby area. In addition, war history enthusiasts will also love seeing the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley in the nearby Charleston Naval Shipyard.
3. Manassas National Battlefield
The Battles of Manassas (sometimes referred to as the Battles of Bull Run) took place in a very lovely section of Virginia. The Confederates won both battles, which occurred over a span of a year, the first in July 1861 and the second in August 1862. It was during these battles that General Thomas Jackson won his famed nickname, “Stonewall.” The entire area around Manassas is quite accommodating, and Civil War enthusiasts will find a variety of attractions to hold their interest, from museums to historic Civil War hospitals. The Battlefield itself is a great place to start, though, and it offers several walking trails that span the perfectly preserved piece of land.
4. Shiloh National Military Park
Shiloh, Tenn., was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the South. Part of the Mississippi Valley Campaign, there were almost 110,000 participants, with almost 24,000 dead, wounded or missing. However, the battle only lasted two days, if that gives you any idea of the kind of carnage that occurred. The Union victory was a huge blow to the Confederates. Today, visitors are treated to living history displays put on by reenactors, and the area has a huge event on the battle anniversary (April 6-7). Also, within the Shiloh Battlefield, there are prehistoric Indian mounds that are believed to have originated from settlements as early as 1000 A.D.
5. Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
In 1865, Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met within the McLean House in Appomattox, Va. There, the two signed an agreement marking the South’s surrender. Visitors to the park can now see a near-perfect reconstruction of the McLean House, as well as other buildings that have been preserved since their usage during the Civil War. The dirt road where the Union troops met with Confederate soldiers after their surrender is also preserved nicely, as is the spot where the Confederates relinquished their flags and weaponry. An on-site museum features artifacts from the day, including the pen used to sign the surrender agreement.
6. Vicksburg, Miss.
Visckburg, Miss., was the home of a 47-day siege. Now, guests can truly experience the town’s antebellum feel, as well as its experience throughout the Civil War. In addition to the military park, there’s also a museum with various artifacts and documents, from clothing to photos. Many tourists enjoy driving the historic loop around the area, so they can cover as much ground as possible, while still stopping as they like. Another popular attraction is the USS Cairo Museum, honoring the ironclad ship which sank during the Civil War and was then preserved underground until being dredged up after nearly a century. If you happen to pay a visit to the cemetery while there, look out for the headstone of the camel that was kept by some of the Confederate infantrymen as a kind of mascot. The camel was, unfortunately, killed in action.
7. Mobile Bay, Ala.
In 1864, in Mobile Bay, Ala., the Confederate controlled one port on the Gulf Coast, which was connected to Mobile via the railroad. The port was highly vital to the Confederacy, as it provided these troops with one of their only sources of supplies. The Union attack that occurred here consisted of quite a few ships navigating the straits between Confederate forces stationed on nearby islands. In addition to four newly constructed ironclad ships, there were also 14 wooden ships participating, that were all paired and tied together, so that if one sunk, it wasn’t entirely hopeless. Now, visitors can see the islands and the forts where the battle took place, via an almost hour-long ferry ride. However, it may be worth the time, for the great views. Once at Fort Morgan, guests can enjoy a relaxed tour and even blacksmith demonstrations.