Driving through America’s South, I stumbled upon forts and battlefields where some of America’s bloodiest battles transpired. These settings can break the thickest southern humidity, sending chills throughout an already sweating traveler. With Memorial Day approaching, travelers on road trips through America’s South might want to center their stops on some of the Civil War’s southern stages and pay respect to all those who died fighting for a land of the free.
Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina: The shot that started it all began at Fort Sumter. Confederate artillery opened fire to this fort in the Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861. The Union would surrender and a full-blown civil war was declared in Washington. While not much remains of the original fort, complete tours provide insight into the monumental setting with a few original guns and fortifications.
Fort Pulaski, Savannah, Georgia: Standing guard over Savannah’s River, just 15 miles east of the city, you will come upon Fort Pulaski. While the fort didn’t remain in Confederate hands for long, its construction is a sight to see. The fine example of historic military architecture was completed in 1847. It is surrounded by a moat, with entrances and exits linked by way of drawbridges. Around 25 million bricks were used to build the fort in its pentagonal shape. Fort Pulaski also boasts a bit of baseball history in America. It was here some of the earliest known photographs of a baseball game were taken of soldiers who played inside to pass the down time. A number of trails can be covered from the fort’s grounds as well.
Andersonville National Historic Site, Georgia: What is mostly an open field, Andersonville National Historic Site in southwestern Georgia is so much more. Home to the National Prisoner of War Museum, the National Cemetery and the Prison Site, Andersonville is one of the most chilling reminders of America’s Civil War. The Prison Site would serve as one of the largest Confederate military prisons established during the War.
Built in 1864, the wooden stockade held 45,000 prisoners throughout its 14-month existence. The thought is hard to imagine in a field that doesn’t seem large enough to hold a few thousand. Of those 45,000, 13,000 lost their lives here. A National Cemetery was set up in 1865 to honor the lives of the deceased veterans of the Civil War. The museum and site serve as a memorial to all American prisoners of war.
Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi: Memorial Day road trippers in search of where the North largely won the South should add Vicksburg to their Civil War tour. Vicksburg National Military Park takes drivers through a 16-mile tour along Confederate and Union siege lines. The Siege of Vicksburg would end on July 4, 1863, some 40 days after battle began. Abraham Lincoln called Vicksburg “the key” for the Union, as it would later give them control of the Mississippi River south to New Orleans. The Confederacy would literally be halved.
Today, the driving tour takes cars past a number of monuments from states with participating soldiers. Some are grand while others are simple. The park is also home to the U.S.S. Cairo, a gunboat that sank just north of Vicksburg. The Vicksburg National Cemetery is home to 17,000 Union soldiers, 13,000 of which are unknown.
What other Civil War Sites in the South would you add to this list?
Photo: George Eastman House
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