Great Trips for Civil War Buffs

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — April 12 marked the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the American Civil War, and with it the official beginning of the sesquicentennial commemorations happening throughout the U.S.

You don’t have to be traveling to an actual battle site in the next four years to be treated to a history lesson in the war that divided a nation then – and still does to this day – according to historians.

David Martin, a New Jersey high school instructor and an author of books on the Civil War, says that lessons taught because of that war still resonate today because the lessons, as our country, are everlasting.

“One of the most important things that came out of the war was that it showed that we are forever one united country,” says Martin. “It forever resolved the question if one state or a part of the country has the right to leave.”

Many celebrations at the major Civil War sites have already kicked off this spring, so here’s a list of five events that could be a part of your vacation plans in 2011 and five inns and bed and breakfasts also hosting Civil War events:

Historical Sites

1. Fort Sumter and Charleston, S.C.

The first official shot of the Civil War was fired at Fort Sumter and the city has never forgotten the impact it had. Photographic retrospectives and art exhibits at galleries and museums in Fort Sumter will be on display through July with “Clothing and Textiles of the Civil War,” a permanent exhibit that is on display at the Charleston Museum. The state museum in South Carolina will also be adding to its permanent exhibits through 2015.

2. Gettysburg and battle sites in Pennsylvania

The Battle of Gettysburg didn’t occur until 1863, but a Civil War themed trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Gettysburg, Pa., where lectures and reenactments are planned there throughout the rest of the spring and summer. Gettysburg is also known as one of the “most haunted places in America,” so if you’re up for it, catch a ghost tour while there – you might get a close encounter with an actual (sort of) Civil War veteran.

3. Springfield, Mo., St. Louis and Eureka Springs, Ark.

One site that can lay claim to one of the first major battles of the war is Wilson’s Creek, now a part of the National Park system. A full-scale reenactment at the site will take place Aug. 12-14 featuring period demonstrations, crafts and food as a part of the commemoration.

St. Louis will commemorate the 150th anniversary with exhibits and presentations that tell the story of the city that was itself physically divided by the war. Eureka Springs, Ark., located about two hours south of Springfield, Mo. will hold a Chautauqua-style event on May 12 with lectures, dramatic performances, walks, readings and panel discussions.

4. Virginia Train Raid

Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson raided a batch of Union locomotives and supplies in 1861, and from May 28-29, visitors to the area of the Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historic Park can experience the Great Train Raid for themselves. Visitors will even be invited to kick up their heels at a Confederate ball, just as Scarlet did in Gone with the Wind. Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia was also a major site during the war and will host many of its own sesquicentennial events.

5. Georgia

As depicted in Gone with the Wind, Atlanta was a major Confederate city during the war and also one that sustained the most destruction. Travelers will be able to find many 150th anniversary events throughout the state, including at Fort McAllister in Savannah and Magnolia Springs State Park where archeologists recently unearthed a Civil War prison camp.

If you’re looking to go to some of the lesser-known sites, Civil War events will take place throughout the year in other states like Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee.  

Inns and Bed & Breakfasts

1. Cottage on the Knoll at Cedarcroft Farm - Warrensburg, Mo.

Built by the nation’s second president John A. Adams, the parlor in this cute B&B displays civil war mementos from both sides of the family, as well as Adams memoirs. The current innkeeper, a descendant of Adams, has been a reenactor for over 25 years and is not shy about sharing his unique take on the Civil War.

2. Holiday House Bed and Breakfast - Orange, Va.

The Civil War tour package at Holladay House includes everything you might want for an immersive Civil War history lesson. Included are a three-night weekend stay, two casual evening receptions and a dinner for two on Sunday evening, full breakfasts each morning, a Culpeper Civil War historical walking tour with local historian and acclaimed author Virginia Morton, a guided tour of Civil War battlefields with the local agency Tour Guide Ltd. (lunch included), a Civil War period dinner at the Inn at Meander Plantation and a self-guided driving tour packet with information about other nearby Civil War sites. Phew. The package is available only on certain dates through the spring and summer, so check with the inn.

3. Gettysburg Battlefield Bed & Breakfast Inn - Gettysburg, Pa.

Possibly one of the most famous Civil War sites, this Civil War-era home in Gettysburg is located on the Gettysburg Battlefield. Guests can participate in daily Civil War history programs where they can fire a musket, try on pieces of a Civil War uniform, and learn about the life of a Civil War soldier.

4. The Ebenezer House Bed and Breakfast - Madison, Va.

This inn, located near battle sites in Madison and Green counties in Virginia, has put together three different Civil War packages. They are available on different dates throughout the year. The packages include Civil War site tours, plantation dinners, wine tastings and signed books on the war. Check with the inn for details and available dates.

5. The Chalfonte Hotel - Cape May, N.J.
Constructed by Colonel Henry Sawyer, a decorated Union war hero, this inn was eventually taken over and ran by the Satterfields, a family with deep ties to the Confederacy. Just in time for Cape May’s summer tourist season, the Chalfonte will unveil its Chalfonte Collection, an assembly of artifacts connecting the hotel with the war.

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