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Take a Civil War Battlefields Road Trip from D.C.

History buffs traveling in and around the Washington, D.C. area have a wealth of possible attractions to visit, including numerous Civil War battlefield sites that are an easy road trip from the city.

Manassas National Battlefield Park
Just 32 miles west of Washington, D.C., in central Virginia, the Manassas National Battlefield Park reveals to visitors the location and stories behind the two Civil War battles fought here. The park covers approximately 5,000 acres and features historic sites and walking trails. Visitors will want to schedule time to visit the Groveton village and the historic homes, as well as the Henry Hill Visitor Center museum.

The Center exhibits the "Manassas: End of Innocence" short film which provides riveting details about the first and second battles fought here. From there, explore the exhibits and artifacts that are displayed inside the Visitor Center’s museum, including engaging audio-visual displays and a battle map that reveals troop movements as the battle occurred. There is also a bookstore within the Center that offers titles on the Civil War, as well as audio CDs for battlefield driving tours, as well as travel guides.

Antietam National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield is located in Sharpsburg, Maryland, approximately 70 miles to the north of D.C. The battle here represented the first incursion of the Confederate Army into Northern territory during the war. With nearly 23,000 soldiers missing, killed or wounded in a single day, it stands out as one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

One of the best ways to see the battlefield is to join one of the talks and walks led by Park Rangers. They are held daily and can be scheduled through the Visitor Center. Self-guided hikes are also recommended, with maps taking you through points of interest like the Bloody Lane, Union Advance, Sherrick Farm, and the Final Attack, among many others. There is a battlefield scavenger hunt that has proven to be a fantastic educational tool and a stop by the Pry House Field Hospital Museum is a fascinating experience. For those who would prefer to drive, take the 8.5-mile auto tour which includes 11 stops, beginning with Dunker Church.

The Visitor Center hosts an engaging museum full of stories and artifacts from the battle. A free introductory film is shown throughout the day, and a battlefield talk with a Park Ranger offers real insight into the fighting.

Gettysburg National Military Park
Drive north from D.C. into Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to experience Gettysburg National Military Park. The Battle of Gettysburg has become known as a turning point in the Civil War, but not without horrendous cost. Over three days, more than 51,000 soldiers were wounded, killed or captured.

There is a detailed, self-guided auto tour that is free, and will take you to numerous points of interest. You can buy an audio tour that will allow you to walk the battlefield to narrated information, or you can take a guided tour, led by a Licensed Battlefield Guide. There are also free programs that are ranger-guided, including summer battle walks and campfire programs.

The Museum and Visitor Center is run by the National Park Service. Here, you can explore more than 22,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, multi-media presentations, relics of the battle and stories from those who fought. A film called “A New Birth of Freedom” is shown throughout the day. Be sure to investigate the newly restored Gettysburg Cyclorama that illuminates “Pickett’s Charge.”

Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park
Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park is only 55 miles southwest of D.C., with the counties actually accounting for four different Civil War battlefields: Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. There were more than 100,000 casualties that resulted from the campaigns that took place here over an 18-month period, making this area the scene of the bloodiest battles of the War.

If you want to visit all four within the same weekend, it is recommended that you make a plan to start at the Visitor Centers for Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. Here, you can not only get the introduction to the battlefields but also gain access to maps and suggestions for how best to tackle each site. Walking tours, both guided and self-guided and auto tours are available for each battlefield.

Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park
Found in Bristow, Virginia in Prince William County, Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park is a 140-acre site that saw the Battle of Kettle Run and the Battle of Bristoe Station. It was home to numerous Confederate and then Federal encampments. It is still the home of hundreds of graves, the majority of which are unmarked. Today, you can walk the battlefield, as well as take the nearly three miles of hiking and equestrian trails. Guided tours are also available, and visitors are encouraged to visit the historic home on the site.

Monocacy National Battlefield
Known as the “Battle That Saved Washington, D.C.,” the Battle of Monocacy Junction will be forever commemorated at the Monocacy National Battlefield in Frederick, Maryland. The battle was fought in 1864, and today, visitors can take auto, self-guided and ranger-guided tours around the historic battlefield. There are hiking trails open to the public; some include tours that are largely scenic, while other offer interpretive displays relating to the battle. 

Richmond National Battlefield Park
Located just outside of River City, Richmond National Battlefield Park encompasses more than 7,000 acres and is the point of commemoration for 30 Civil War battle sites. The Park includes the Chimborazo Hospital Museum and numerous tour-able battle sites like Malvern Hill and Drewry's Bluff.