August 2, 2017

7 Tips For Visiting Civil War Battlefields

by Brandon Marie Miller

I'm working hard on a new middle grade book about Robert E. Lee! As part of my research, this past spring I visited Lee sites across Virginia including four Civil War battlefields. I've visited many such places over the years and find them beautiful and haunting. Today, it's difficult to remember the suffering and carnage that happened on these battlefields. They are lovely places to stroll or hike. But let's not forget the real stories of what happened.
Pondering things at the McLean House where Lee surrendered.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

Manassas National Battlefield Park where two major battles took place.

Here are a few tips for taking in the history of these national treasures.

  • Before you go, check out the park's website for plenty of information, including things you can do with your kids. Search the calendar for special events like living history demonstrations and meeting historic interpreters.
  • Start at the visitor center. Stroll through the museums, watch the orientation films about the events that took place all around you, engage with fiber-optic maps.
  • Talk to the park rangers at the desk. Pick up a map, get downloadable apps. Find out what programs and ranger-led walks are happening that day. These ranger programs and walks are excellent ways to learn the stories of the battles and the people involved, both soldiers and the civilians. There are also science and nature related things to do at the parks.
  • Take a self-guided car tour. In some places you can purchase a CD for this. The battlefields are big and spread out-- thousands of men camped, fought, and died at these places. Stop at designated spots along the driving route. Take a walk, read the markers that show what happened right where you are standing. You'll get a sense for how troops moved through the day, how armies clashed on multiple fronts, and how battles ebbed and flowed as reinforcements arrived or armies fell back.
  • Before your visit, you can also book a personal tour guide for several hours or for most of the day. Check the parks website. Guides can be found through outside groups or booked through the museum shops at the park. You can really immerse yourself in the tour which can often be tailored to fit your interests, so it is well worth the money.
An example of the trenches at Petersburg National Battlefield Park.
Thousands of Confederate paroles were printed after Lee's surrender.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
  •  Visit the museum shop and book store at the Visitor Center. Books cover an amazing range of Civil War subjects-- there is something for everyone's interests.
  • Find the donation box and slip in a few dollars. Help support these important sites of our nation's history! What Civil War battlefields have you visited?


  1. When visiting a battle site many years ago, I watched 3 siblings playing and reenacting a charge from the battle. I talked for a time with the mother who said her kids liked to learn about a battle beforehand and then "play" it. What a fun way for kids to learn history!

  2. That is really wonderful! Love kids learning history!