The Revolutionary War in the 18th century and, less than 100 years later, the bloody Civil War that tore America apart, have left a wealth of historic sites for visitors across the eastern half of the United States. Some celebrate the nation’s independence while others are more poignant, but all offer a fascinating insight into the chequered history of the USA.
The fort at sea in Key West
Civil War–era sites don’t come much more dramatic than Fort Jefferson
, which is set in Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico. This six-sided building constructed of 16 million handmade red bricks is the largest brick structures in North America. During the Civil War, Fort Jefferson served as a Union military prison for captured deserters and others. Its most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, convicted of conspiracy in President Abraham Lincoln's 1865 assassination but subsequently pardoned.
See the siege site in Mississippi
The Siege of Vicksburgh in Mississippi, lasted for 47 days until early July 1863, when the Confederate stronghold surrendered. At Vicksburg National Military Park
there are over 1,400 monuments and memorials, and Union ironclad gunboat USS Cairo, sunk by a torpedo in December 1862.
On the war border in Maryland
During the Civil War, Maryland was a border state with split loyalties and a battleground. On the state’s four Civil War Trails, you’ll visit battlegrounds like Antietam and Monocacy, and learn about John Wilkes Booth along the Booth's Escape Scenic Byway. On the Antietam Campaign Trail, for example, you’ll go through South Mountain, in Sharpsburg and Hagerstown, and end up at the Antietam National Battlefield, site of the deadliest single day of fighting during the War, a Union victory that served as impetus for President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The Gettysburg Campaign Trail: Invasion and Retreat includes the routes taken and stops made by both Confederate and Union troops during June and July 1863, leading up to and directly following the Battle of Gettysburg.
An iconic battleground in Pennsylvania
Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania is the most famous Civil War battle and the war’s turning point, and Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address here on
November 19 1863. Modern-day demonstrations with firing cannons and re-enactments bring things back to life.
Civil war tours in Virginia
The state of Virginia is full of civil war sites
where you can hear stories, read accounts, and see re-enactments of life during the Civil War of 1861-1865. Take a Civil War trail
to discover Yorktown Battlefield, which is where British commander Lord Cornwallis surrendered to the combined American and French armies led by General George Washington on October 19, 1781. You can drive past sites such as cannons and fortifications and see museum exhibits including Washington’s field tents. You can transport yourself back to the 18th century in Colonial Williamsburg, a fascinating living history museum depicting life in a colonial city just 13 miles from Yorktown Battlefield. You can enjoy carriage rides, stroll through gardens and talk to re-enactors in original buildings reconstructed on the 300-acre site. Meanwhile, Appomattox Court House and National Historical Park recreates the atmosphere for one of the most dramatic events of the war: Robert E. Lee's surrender of his famous Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. You can visit the McLean House where the surrender was negotiated and stroll through the restored and recreated village where the war in Virginia was ended.
Civil War's first shots at Fort Sumter, South Carolina
Guarding the harbour from an island off South Carolina’s Charleston, Fort Sumter saw the first shots fired in the American Civil War when Confederate artillery bombardments began on April 12, 1861. The fort surrendered less than 36 hours later and Union forces spent four years trying to retake it. A National Monument today, boat trips to the fort include tours narrated by a National Park ranger.
The iconic battle site, Tennessee
One of the last great battles of the American Civil War, the battle of Franklin is known as the ‘five bloodiest hours of the American civil war’. Fate and circumstance placed the small town of Franklin in the path of two great armies in late November 1864. The confederate side took a heavy defeat with over 6,000 casualties. You can visit the three Civil War sites - Carnton, Carter House and Lotz House. Each one has a unique story to tell about the Battle of Franklin.
Mark the start of the American Revolutionary War, Massachusetts
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War fought on April 19, 1775. This effectively was the start of the American uprising against the British. You can watch reenactments and explore the battlefields at Minute Man National Historic Park