Category Archives: Forts and Battlefields

Third Winchester (Opequon) Battlefield

The Battle of Third Winchester (or Battle of Opequon) was fought in Winchester, Virginia on September 19, 1864 between Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 8,600 total casualties.

Like other battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley, the Third Winchester battlefield is a result of piecemeal purchases of private property, spurred by donations from preservationists. The Civil War Trust has preserved 222 acres of the 567-acre battlefield. The most recent acquisition was made in 2009 by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

Third Winchester was the largest Civil War battle, in terms of importance and number of troops engaged, in the Shenandoah Valley. 40,000 Union soldiers fought 10–12,000 Confederates, with predictable results. The Union soldiers, however, were inexperienced and fighting Jubal Early’s veteran divisions. Despite losing the battle, the Confederates inflicted a disproportionate number of casualties.

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Front Royal Battlefield and Bel Air Mansion

The Battle of Front Royal was fought in and around Front Royal in Warren County, Virginia on May 23, 1862 between troops under command of Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 800 total casualties.

Though a relatively small engagement, the Front Royal Visitors Center offers an extensive self-guided driving tour connecting several key sites, including Prospect Hill Cemetery, Bel Air Mansion, and Richardson’s Hill. Depicted above is the courthouse, around which two opposing Maryland regiments fought in a pitched street battle.

Bel Air Mansion, built in 1795, was home to 19-year-old Lucy Buck, whose detailed diary entries during the war have been invaluable for historians. General Robert E. Lee and his staff stopped here for refreshments on July 22, 1863, as his army retreated from Gettysburg.

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Gettysburg National Military Park

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863 in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. The battle ended in a Union victory and resulted in approximately 48,000 total casualties.

Gettysburg National Military Park preserves 3,965 acres and maintains approximately 1,328 monuments, markers, and memorials. Because the battle was fought in and around the town (home to 7,620 people and Gettysburg College), it would be impossible to preserve the entirety of the battlefield, but extensive efforts have been made to restore preserved land to its 1863 appearance. With 1-2 million visitors per year, Gettysburg is perhaps the most popular Civil War battlefield.

Battlefield tour guides are knowledgeable and well-trained. Applicants actually go through a process of written and oral exams, held every other year, before being licensed by the National Park Service. In 2008, the park built a new, $29.4 million visitor center with 20,000 square feet of exhibit space. It houses a cyclorama, galleries, temporary exhibit spaces, an archive, two theaters, a full-service restaurant, catering kitchen, classrooms, gift shop/bookstore, staff offices, and a conference room, and employs 85-105 full time employees. It’s truly impressive.

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Fort Ticonderoga from Mount Defiance

Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain in New York, from Mount Defiance. I had to pull out the 70-300mm zoom lens for this one.

Monocacy National Battlefield

Monocacy National Battlefield is located along Urbana Pike, outside Frederick, Maryland. Fought July 9, 1864, the battle pitted Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s Corps against Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace’s VIII Corps in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 2,200 total casualties.

While Antietam is a well-known and popular battlefield, many are unaware that a second battle took place in Maryland. This battle was part of Jubal Early’s 1864 campaign to threaten Washington, D.C. and draw forces away from Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Petersburg, Virginia.

While the battle was a Southern victory, Union forces delayed the Confederates long enough for reinforcements to arrive in Washington, D.C., earning Monocacy the moniker “the Battle that Saved Washington.” Nicely-designed interpretive signs explain various stages of the battle along a six-mile driving tour route.

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First Bull Run Battlefield

The First Bull Run battlefield is part of Manassas National Battlefield Park, located north of Manassas in Prince William County, Virginia. Fought July 21, 1861, the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) pitted Confederate Brig. Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard’s Army of the Potomac and Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah, against Union Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell’s Army of Northeastern Virginia in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 4,700 total casualties.

The Battle of Bull Run was almost a minor skirmish compared to later engagements, but it was the first major battle of the war. Both sides believed they would achieve an easy victory.  In the end, the Union army was routed from the field.

The battlefield centers on Henry House Hill, where the thickest fighting occurred. Here, as the Confederates began to waver, a brigade led by Thomas J. Jackson arrived on the field just in time. He earned the nickname “Stonewall” for stopping the Union assault and helping to turn the tide.

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Second Manassas Battlefield

The Second Manassas battlefield is part of Manassas National Battlefield Park, located north of Manassas in Prince William County, Virginia. Fought between August 28–30, 1862, the Battle of Second Manassas (Second Battle of Bull Run) pitted Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia against Union Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 21,700 total casualties.

The Brawner Farm Interpretive Center is where fighting began on August 28, when Confederate artillery opened up on the Union army’s Iron Brigade as it marched east along the Warrenton Turnpike. Nearby, on Battery Heights, Confederate artillery swept the field on August 30, devastating Union infantry attacking Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps in an unfinished railroad cut.

Unlike the First Bull Run battlefield, which is walkable, the Second Manassas battlefield driving tour is 18-miles long, with separate walking trails. Each tour stop has a parking lot or pull off and interpretive markers.

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Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield

Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield is part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Fought between May 8-21, 1864, Spotsylvania Courthouse was the second battle of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 31,000 total casualties.

The Spotsylvania battlefield is located a few miles south of The Wilderness battlefield along Brock Road and is not as spread out as its neighbors. There is no visitors center here, only an exhibit shelter staffed part time. Most of the monuments are located at what became known as the “Bloody Angle” or “Mule Shoe,” but an extensive line of earthworks is still visible.

The worst fighting occurred at a salient in Lee’s line, where General Grant twice tried to break through with a relentless frontal assault. The first attempt, on May 10, was led by Colonel Emory Upton and 12 hand-picked regiments. Today, you can follow the path of his attacking column along a trail leading from the Union lines to the Confederate.

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