Few periods in America’s history are as fascinating as The Civil War.
It began on April 12, 1861 and not only divided a nation, but split families apart too with neighbors, friends and even brothers fighting against one another, such was the passion for their cause.
Three million men fought for what they believed to be right and when the last gun was fired after four years of bloody battle, some 600,000 men had fallen – around two per cent of the country’s entire population.
No family was left unscarred by this war, but it paved the way for the nation to become the political and economic powerhouse that it is today.
Visiting some of the historic sites that were pivotal in this terrible war and learning the stories of the men that fought it will change you forever.
Fort Sumter National Monument, Charleston, South Carolina
Here’s where it all started – a mere 154 years ago. Confederate soldiers attacked the Federal fort and the war began.
Walk the walls of the fort and experience the view across the harbour of Charleston while imagining yourself as a Federal defender. There’s a museum and a huge exhibition of artillery.
Added bonus: View it from land or water, car or on foot but catch a glimpse of the Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge. The eight-lane cable-stayed bridge spans the Cooper River and connects downtown Charleston with Mount Pleasant.
Shiloh National Military Park, Shiloh, Tennessee
This is where the largest battle in the Mississippi Valley Campaign was fought with terrible cost to life. The Union were the ultimate victors but 23,746 men were killed or injured during the two day conflict.
During the battle’s anniversary at the beginning of April, living history actors give an accurate account of camp life.
In the same neck of the woods: Make a beeline for the Great Smoky Mountains. A sub-range of the Appalachian Mountains, the Smokies are visited by 9 million people every year making it the most popular National Park in the US.
This area is rich in Civil War history because it was the capital of the Confederacy and the ultimate target of the Northern army.
You could spend several days here exploring battle sites including Drewry’s Bluff where a planned attack by a US naval fleet was foiled.
Many of the original buildings of the time burned down when the city was invaded in 1865 but there’s still plenty to evoke the desperation of the time including the site of Chimborazo Hospital where countless war wounded were treated.
In the same neck of the woods: For some light relief after a hard drive and a head full of history, head over to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races where the razzle dazzle will jettison you back into the 21st century. As well as offering thoroughbred racing all year long, you’ll be able to find fun at the Vegas-style casino. Try your hand at Blackjack or roulette or make your mark in the poker world with a jovial hand at one of 26 tables.
Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland
This was the bloodiest battle in US history. Around 23,000 soldiers were killed or wounded here in September 1862. That’s nine times as many US troops killed on D-Day.
This was a turning point in the war as slaves were declared free and all out war broke out between North and South.
In the same neck of the woods: Find a Maryland Tavern and order one of their famous crab cakes. Fried or grilled, served in a bun or with saltine crackers, fries on the side or a serving of coleslaw, you just gotta try one.
Andersonville National Historic Site, Andersonville, Georgia
Finding yourself at Camp Sumter was no holiday. This was the site of the Civil War’s most notorious prisons. And even if your days of fighting were over, you were certainly not out of danger.
More than 45,000 Northern prisoners were held here during the 14 months that the prison was operation. Around 13,000 men died appalling deaths from malnutrition, disease and exposure.
Walk around the 26.5-acre prison and try and imagine how many men were crammed into such a small space. Actors help spark your imagination with living history exhibitions that give a clue to the brutality that the men incarcerated here must have endured.
In the same neck of the woods: Head to Atlanta and visit the World of Coca-Cola. Open since 2007, it’s the only place in the world where you can drink in the fascinating story of one of the planet’s best-known beverages.