The 250th anniversary of America’s most defining struggle--the Civil War--begins January 2011 and continues through 2015. States, cities and sites associated with the conflict are showcasing compelling new exhibits and new museums. The Washington, D.C. area, is a good place to start your Civil War tour. After all, President Lincoln planned his strategy from the District and Northern Virginia’s Manassas saw the war’s first battles.
The Civil War saved the Union, abolished slavery and cost more than 620,000 American lives. “Consequences” at the National Archives, Washington, D.C., employs letters, photos and telegrams along with interactive exhibits to explore the personal impact of the war. This exhibit runs through April 12, 2012.
Washington, D.C.’s focusing its celebration on the theme of Civil War to Civil Rights. In conjunction with that, the National Geographic Museum presents “America I Am: The African American Imprint,” Feb. 2-May 1, 2011. Through photographs, documents and other objects, the exhibit details 500 years of African American contributions to the U.S.
The highly anticipated Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial is slated to open in D.C. in late summer 2011. In addition, by the end of 2011 both the African American Civil War Memorial and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine will open.
Manassas, VA, just outside of D.C., held a key position in the war since the town had the only railroad connection between Washington, D.C. and the Confederate capital, Richmond. The side that controlled Manassas, controlled the Northern Virginia piedmont and the rail link to the Shenandoah Valley. Follow Manassas’ historic markers to locate the turn-of-the-century railroad depot, town hall and other important sites.
Allow time to visit Manassas National Battlefield Park. The war’s first major battle, known as First Manassas or the Battle of Bull Run, erupted here July 21, 1861. On the mile-long walking tour, you see the spot where General Thomas J. Jackson got his nickname, “Stonewall Jackson,” and where, by battle’s end, the rebels routed the entire Union army. More than 900 soldiers died that day.
The Battle of Second Manassas, a three-day bloodbath, took place over 16 miles and left 3,300 dead and the Confederacy in the lead. Along the driving tour, markers indicate sites of the fiercest or the most strategic struggles.
You see the Stone House, which served as a field hospital; the L. Dogan House, from the old village of Groveton; the Groveton Confederate Cemetery, with its more than 260 buried soldiers; and memorials to New York regiments. The Visitor Center has a small museum, orientation film and battle map. The park, which is free, is open during daylight hours.
Check the Washington, D.C., Visitors site for deals on accommodations.