Visit the Sites That Shaped History
This year, America commemorates the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War, which began in April 1861 and raged for four years, splitting our young nation in two. The war claimed 620,000 lives--more American deaths than in all other American conflicts combined--before ultimately reuniting the country and freeing four million African Americans from slavery. Fifteen decades later, the Civil War continues to capture the interest and imagination of millions for its role in defining America.
The stories of these victories and defeats are preserved throughout the National Park System. Experiencing the battlegrounds, monuments, cemeteries, and artifacts of the war first-hand is one of the best ways to see and understand how these places shaped history.
Civil War battlefields are being destroyed at the alarming rate of 30 acres per day, despite their continued value and meaning to America today. In 2009 there were nearly 90 million recreational visits to national parks that have a connection to the Civil War. Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Petersburg battlefields, along with other Civil War sites, are used today by military leaders to study and teach military strategy and tactics.
There are also persuasive economic arguments in support of preservation. Tourism around the National Park System’s Civil War sites generates $2.5 billion in economic activity annually for nearby communities. Americans love their Civil War battlefield national parks and those parks play a vital role in contributing to the quality of life and economic vibrancy of adjacent communities. But the job of preserving and protecting these special places is far from over. Legislation now pending before Congress would add critical areas to three Civil War battlefield parks in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Virginia, leading to increased protection for these sites and enhanced public understanding of events that helped define the course of history for this nation.
- See more: More than 100 national parks contain aspects of the war’s history; NPCA staff members suggest a short list of must-see battle sites as a starting place for visitors to learn more and commemorate this important anniversary.
- Do something: Many of these sites lack the funding they need for basic maintenance, and some are fighting the constant threat of encroachment from inappropriate development. We have the opportunity now to preserve 10,000 acres of historic battlefields in Mississippi, expanding Vicksburg National Military Park. Take action to save these battlefields for future generations.
- Learn more: Learn about legislation to improve the Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Vicksburg battlefields.
- Take an armchair tour: View our slideshow on Gettsyburg, Petersburg, and Vicksburg.
- Hear what a Park Service employee has to say: Read "The War That Shaped America," a thoughtful interview with a 30-year veteran of the Park Service on why the Civil War is still so important today, from the Spring 2011 issue of National Parks magazine.
- Learn about natural resources: find out what birds are being seen in our Civil War-related parks as part of NPCA’s Birding the Battlefields project.