All of the Civil War Battlefields listed below are within a two hour drive of Washington DC. Typically they can be visited as a day trip, or en route to another major city destination, and do not require an overnight stay. Browse below to see which sites fit your itinerary.
Gettysburg is the most visited Civil War Battlefield, not just by today’s tourists and history buffs, but by the veterans themselves, who recognized its significance as the turning point of the war, and while they were still living, came and placed their memorials where they fought, making it the most monumented battlefield on earth. On July 1, 2, & 3 of 1863, nearly 200,000 men clashed here, making it the bloodiest battle of the war and the high-water mark of the Southern fight to leave the Union.
The 2-hour driving tour on our own bus with a Licensed Battlefield Guide mixes on-bus and on-foot exploration and is a must for any visit. Also recommended is at least an hour in the new Visitor’s Center to see its multi-media film, cyclorama, museum, and gift shop. More time is needed still to visit the National Cemetery dedicated by Abraham Lincoln with his immortal Gettysburg Address. A stop in the town square permits opportunities for small town dining and access to some of the historic buildings and homes.
(Gettysburg is 1.5 hours from DC, 1.5 hours from Lancaster, PA / Amish Country, 4 hours from Philadelphia, 5-6 hours from NYC.)
Antietam, Maryland: (half day visit)
When the South made their first incursion into Northern territory, the two armies met at Antietam in a bloody all day battle on September 17, 1862, the single deadliest day of the entire Civil War. Considered a draw, the battle was a tactical victory for the North in that the South withdrew from their Northern invasion until their second attempt at Gettysburg. A visit can include a tour of the battlefield by bus and by foot, the Visitor’s Center, or a Ranger program.
(Antietam is in Sharpsburg, MD and is 1.5 hours from DC, 1 hour from Gettysburg, PA and 1 hour from Harper’s Ferry, WV)
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia: (half day visit)
While the Civil War battles that transpired in and around Harpers Ferry were not as significant as the larger battles involving larger armies, the controversial events that happened there before the war greatly intensified the coming divisions. On October 16, 1859, the extreme abolitionist John Brown led a raid of the arsenal here in an attempt to spark an armed slave uprising. He was captured and hung, but the opposing characterization of him as madman or martyr exposed the resentment between the North and the South. But more than a Civil War site, Harpers Ferry is a confluence of nature, culture and history. Situated where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet in a mountainous setting, it has been a hub for travel, trade, and recreation for centuries. Many of its historic buildings have been preserved by the Park Service to maintain its historic appearance.
(Harper’s Ferry is 1.5 hours from DC, 1 hour from Antietam, 1.5 hours from Gettysburg)
Manassas, Virginia / Bull Run: (2 hour visit)
Just outside of DC, Manassas is the site of the first battle of the Civil War in July 1861. At the time, both sides expected a quick victory and settlement of the question of secession from the Union. But this was not the case. The battle was deadly and sloppy and decided little. In fact, the two sides would meet here again in August 1862 with the same outcome, a Southern victory and a prolonged war. There is a visitor’s center and paths to tour the battlefield and its monuments.
(Manassas is 1 hour outside of DC)
Halfway between Washington DC and Richmond, the capitals of North and South, Fredericksburg was a logical place for confrontation during the Civil War, but little else was logical about the battle that took place there in December 1862. While the North had greatly superior numbers, their delays and miscalculations against strong positions over open fields resulted in repeated failed attacks. Southern General Lee upon witnessing the carnage from the fortified hills above said, “It is well war is such a terrible thing. Men should grow too fond of it.” Subsequent fighting at nearby Chancellorsville produced a similar result and another Southern victory. At both sites, monuments and footpaths reveal where the major action took place.
(Fredericksburg is directly on the route from DC to Williamsburg and can make for a great stop between the two if the trip is done during daylight hours)
Pamplin Park, Petersburg, Virginia (2 hour visit)
Pamplin Historical Park & National Museum of the Civil War Soldier is located on the actual battlefield of the Petersburg Campaign of 1865 just outside of Richmond, the Confederate Capital. As much an educational facility and museum as a battlefield, it contains demonstrators, re-enactors, exhibits, artifacts, and preserved homes to convey the life and times of the Civil War soldier on both sides.
(Pamplin Park two hours from DC and one hour from Williamsburg and can make for a great stop between the two if the trip is timed during daylight hours)