American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
A Sober Sojourn to Virginia's Battlefields, Part 2
Last Wednesday night, I posted the first part of a series about Virginia's national battlefields, military parks, and historical parks – all of which can be enlightening, heart-wrenching, and, ultimately, inspiring places to visit. So, given that today is New Year's Day and you'll no doubt be planning your 2012 vacations soon (if you haven't already), I thought I'd give you a little nudge and persuade you to consider making a trip to these atmospheric destinations.
In the first part of this series, I briefly described Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park and Colonial National Historical Park. Here, then, are two more worthy stops operated by the National Park Service:
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
120 Chatham Lane, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22405, 540/371-0802
Halfway between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, you'll encounter Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, which commemorates four separate battlefields of the American Civil War. Collectively, the four battlefields serve as the “bloodiest landscape in North America,” where 85,000 soldiers were wounded and 15,000 were killed.
The first of these battles, the Battle of Fredericksburg, occurred on December 11-13, 1862, and is now considered one of the greatest Union defeats of the Civil War. To experience this legendary battlefield, you should first stop at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitors Center (1013 Lafayette Blvd., Fredericksburg, 540/373-6122, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily), where you can peruse informative exhibits, browse through the bookstore, and watch a 22-minute orientation film. Afterward, you should take advantage of the self-guided driving tour, seasonal walking tours, or, better yet, on-site walking trails, which guide you past various key spots on the battlefield, such as the Sunken Road, Lee's Hill, and Chatham Manor (9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily), a gorgeous, Georgian-style mansion that was built in the late 1760s, served as the heart of a thriving plantation, and once welcomed such famous guests as President George Washington and Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
From the Fredericksburg Battlefield, you should head west, past the Old Salem Church, to the site of the Battle of Chancellorsville, which took place April 27-May 6, 1863, and is now considered Lee's greatest victory. Your first stop should be the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitors Center (9001 Plank Rd., Fredericksburg, 540/786/2880, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily), where, as with the Fredericksburg visitor center, you can examine informative exhibits, stroll through the bookstore, and watch a 22-minute orientation film. Here, you'll also have the option of a driving tour, seasonal walking tours, and self-guided walking trails, and along the way, you'll see such sights as the Chancellor House site, Bullock House site, and Lee-Jackson Bivouac.
After exploring Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, you can tour two more battlefields, neither of which has a visitor center. The first commemorates the Battle of Wilderness, which took place May 5-6, 1864, and initiated a six-week campaign that became the bloodiest in American history. The site of this key Civil War battle now includes an open-air exhibit shelter, a few farms and fields, Grant's Headquarters, and the modest Ellwood Manor – all of which can be experienced via a driving tour, walking trails, and seasonal walking tours. Not far away lies the site of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, which occurred May 8-21, 1864. Here, you'll be able to visit an open-air exhibit shelter and see such sights as Upton's Road, Bloody Angle, and the Harrison House – all of which can be experienced via a driving tour, walking trails, and seasonal walking tours. To the southeast, via Massaponax Church and Guinea Station Roads, you can also visit the “Stonewall” Jackson Shrine, the plantation office building (open seasonally) where Confederate General Thomas Jonathan Jackson died.
Admittedly, given all that you can see and do at these four battlefields, visiting this park could take quite a while. Be aware, too, that the hours of operation vary seasonally, and from building to building. Save for New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day, however, the park itself is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Happily, no matter when you choose to visit, admission to the park is free, though there is a viewing fee ($2 adults, $1 seniors 62 and over, children under 10 free) for each of the two 22-minute films at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
Manassas National Battlefield Park
12521 Lee Highway, Manassas, Virginia 20109, 703/361-1339 or 703/754-1861
About 35 miles west of Washington, D.C., lies Manassas National Battlefield Park, which preserves the site of two key battles in the American Civil War. The first took place on July 21, 1861, on the fields overlooking Bull Run; it was actually the first time that the Union and Confederate armies clashed, and after 10 hours of fighting, it became clear that the war would not be over soon. The Second Battle of Manassas took place in August 1862; this time, it lasted three days and ended with a solid Confederate victory.
After arriving, you should first visit the lovely Henry Hill Visitor Center (8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily), where, after paying the requisite fee ($3 adults, children under 16 free), you'll be able to watch a 45-minute orientation film, browse the bookstore, and explore an array of Civil War-era weapons, uniforms, and field gear. Afterward, you're welcome to explore the rest of the 5,200-acre park, which is typically open from sunrise to sunset every day. Besides taking a 20-mile driving tour or a seasonal ranger-led hike, you can opt for a self-guided trek on several interpretive loop trails, which pass sights like the Stone Bridge, Matthews Hill, Deep Cut, Unfinished Railroad, and Chinn Ridge. On the premises, you'll also spy several historic structures, including the Stone House, which will reopen in April 2012, and the Brawner Farm Interpretive Center, which presents exhibits and audio-visual programs about the Second Battle of Manassas.
Additionally, you'll find several cemeteries on-site, such as the Groveton Confederate Cemetery. Beyond historic sites and structures, the park encompasses forests, meadows, grasslands, and freshwater creeks and ponds, so not surprisingly, other activities here include bird-watching, horseback riding, fishing, and picnicking. Occasionally, you'll also be able to witness living history programs, such as musketry and artillery demonstrations. It should be noted, too, that as with Colonial National Historical Park, Manassas honors the America the Beautiful-National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass ($80 annual pass, $10 lifetime pass for seniors, free access pass for disabled individuals).
As I mentioned in the first part of this series, Virginia boasts a wide array of historical sites, recreational opportunities, and other attractions. So, before planning your trip to the Old Dominion, make sure to consult Katie Githens' helpful Moon Virginia guidebook. In the meantime, stay tuned for the third and final part of my three-part series about Virginia's battlefields and historical parks. Also, although it perhaps goes without saying, I wish everyone a happy, healthy, prosperous, and well-traveled New Year!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of the Chancellorsville battlefield courtesy of Carl & Peggy Backes / Text © 2012 Laura Martone