Published: May 11, 2014
There are more than 300 miles of trails to explore in the 24 national parks designated as significant battlegrounds of the Civil War, according to figures provided by the National Park Service. The Manassas National Battlefield in Virginia, for example, has more than 40 miles of trails; Pecos National Historical Park in New Mexico has only 2.
The 24 battlefields drew nearly 10 million visitors last year.
"Each one is unique, yet the vast majority share things in common," says Mike Litterst, a National Park Service spokesman. Most have a visitor center and a museum to help put the site in context. Many have park rangers or volunteers who give walking tours.
And these aren't the only preserved Civil War battlefields. Others are under state, local or private jurisdiction.
"Some 10,500 armed conflicts occurred during the Civil War, ranging from battles to minor skirmishes," the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission said in a report to Congress in 1993. Of those, 384 were determined to be "principal battles" that had a significant impact on the course of the war. Those battles occurred in 26 states.
"The war really did touch pretty much every corner of America," said Mary Koik, deputy director of communications for the Civil War Trust, an organization that works to preserve the battlefields. "You have battles fought from Pennsylvania all the way out through New Mexico."
Some people might use the battlefields for fitness or recreation, a place to walk the dog or take a stroll with the kids and be out in nature. The Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park near Atlanta is historic, but also "quality outdoor space," Koik said.
Surveys done by her group, however, indicate that most park visitors are interested in the history.
Before visiting a battlefield, it's a good idea to read up on it. You can get information about the battlefields on the Civil War Trust and National Park Service websites or pick up brochures and maps at the visitor center.
Markers along the way will point out historical spots on the battlefield and give you a snapshot of what occurred there.
"By visiting these in succession, in the right order, you'll see how the battle unfolded," Koik said.
The National Park Service and the Civil War Trust also have free, GPS-based smartphone apps that will act as tour guides for some of the parks.
"We think the most important thing is to get people out to see these places," Koik said.