Good 'first battlefields'

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littledoug

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All of these are good suggestions. But I would lean toward a couple of factors to make the decision. First, what is convenient and comfortable--if there is something nearby, then go take a look at it and maybe get excited to dig a little deeper or journey farther afield. Second, is there someplace that piques the interest or imagination. People tend to shy away from suggesting Gettysburg as a first visit because of its massiveness and complexity, but that grand scope and all of the stories can make that first visit rewarding and compel the visitor to keep returning and hunger for more. The important thing is to visit somewhere and start that itch so it needs to be scratched.
 

Robtweb1

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Shiloh. It has no encoachment by shopping malls or racetracks. No monument to a dead officer in the parking lot of a pizza place.
 
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GBG1863

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Gettysburg without a doubt. I think it allows visitors to understand the importance of the war.

GBG1863
 

BillO

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Shiloh was my first battlefield too. I rate it a toss-up with Antietam. The Hornet's Nest, Bloody Pond and the Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River at Shiloh still stand out in my mind many years later.
I really do need to get out there soon.
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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Shiloh came up in the discussion, not as a "first" battlefield, but one that's interesting for the signage, which is apparently well-done.
 

rickvox79

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Chickamauga is a great battlefield--rather pristine, well-preserved and interpreted--but the action was so confused at times that even Bragg and Rosecrans didn't know exactly what was going on. Probably a bit too confusing for the first timer, unless he/she read lots of books from the required reading list and spent some time on the Civil War Animated site. Stones River probably doesn't have enough of the battlefield preserved to make it a worthy first site (though what is preserved is nicely interpreted), and I can't evaluate Shiloh as I haven't been there yet.

Cold Harbor is a nice battlefield, but there's only a small chunk of it preserved so you only get to look at a correspondingly small chunk of the action. The other sites on the Peninsula are also kind of small or only partially preserved, and Petersburg is too unwieldy. [Haven't been to Malvern Hill yet. Guess I'd better fix that real soon.]

The site for the Battle of Hampton Roads today looks remarkably similar to how it looked in March 1862, aside from a couple of bridges and an expanded Craney Island. However, naval battle sites aren't amenable to interpretive signage or monuments, and "walking the field" is a nonstarter. I would love to see a reenactment of that battle with full-scale reproductions... I'd also love to see the "battlefield" for Kearsarge vs Alabama, cuz that'd mean I'm in France. Oo la la!

Oh well, I guess I'd go with Antietam. The three parts of the battle are easy to comprehend and the effects of terrain, especially at the Sunken Road and Burnside Bridge, readily grasped.
I just made my first major battlefield trip to Chickamauga two days ago and loved it. I'm still in the middle of my vacation but going home tomorrow so hopefully I can post more about my experience this weekend. I took over 300 pictures and made a few videos. Amazing experience for sure.
 

johan_steele

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If I had the money & the time... Shiloh to Corinth/Iuka to Vicksburg to Chickamauga to Chatanooga to Murfre... I mean Stones River to Franklin w/ a stop at Ft Donelson on the way home. Not quite in chronological order but enough evidence of where the war was won.
 
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Poor Private

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I think a good combo is Forts Henry/Donelson then the trip down to Shiloh. Thats what I did last year when I went to one of the 150th reenactments. Donelson is straight forward, and you can drive to the local cemetary, and then onto the dover house. It gives you a perspective and what comes next. I could imagine the ships in the river firing away at the fort (a baarge went by in midriver and gave me a chilly feeling). Also you might get a glimpse of the bald eagles. Shiloh was not crowded even on the 105th ann. and easy to get around in a car so that you can wlk into places like the hornets nest, the peach orchar, and bloody pond.
 
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Perry Cuskey

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Kind of a tough question actually, as others have noted, because it depends a lot on the person as well as where they live. If the criteria is simply someone just getting interested in the war and simply looking to visit a battlefield park, I'd probably vote for the one closest to them, if there is such a thing. Even if it's fairly small. A site like Honey Springs in Oklahoma, Prairie Grove in Arkansas, or Wilson's Creek in Missouri, are great little parks, for folks who live in this part of the country. Or if a particular battle/campaign has caught their interest, a site or sites involving that. But it depends somewhat on what they're looking to do, and what they're interested in, or so it seems to me.

Probably any of the larger parks could be a bit overwhelming to someone who's coming into it cold as far as knowledge is concerned. Some would probably be a little easier in that respect in others. Shiloh's been mentioned, and while it's probably my favorite park, I'm not sure it lends itself to easy understanding of the battle. If you just want to appreciate a beautiful park, it's an excellent choice. And at its most basic, the battle's pretty simple. The Confederates pushed the Union army back on the first day, the Union forces returned the favor on the second day. The end. :smile: Of course, the details are a little more involved, especially since it's really two battles fought over the same ground on two different days.

And other battles can be like that as well, when you get into the details some. But that's not necessarily bad. A visit to a park, even if it creates a little confusion, can also inspire someone to learn more about the subject, and try to understand it better. So they get more out of it on the next visit.

All that said, I have kind of a Will Rogers take on things, in that I honestly don't think I've ever visited a Civil War park that I didn't like. Some more so than others perhaps, but they all have things worth seeing, things worth learning about, and very often an experience that can touch us in ways that we may not have expected.

Perry
 

Yankeedave

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1st Bull Run. Most of the action can be seen from just one part of the field. Some of the old brick forts etc are easy stops.
 

Blockaderunner

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My suggestion would be Wilderness and Spotsylvannia. Parts of Wilderness have been lost, but many key points remain. Spotsylvannia is very well preserved, being a National Battlefield Park. My second choice would be Antietam, and third choice Lookout Mountain.
 
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Oxkern

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Most of the suggestions and reasons I was thinking of have already been given, but might as well add that I started with 1st Bull Run - the trail was very well laid out.
Follow that up with Harper's Ferry (historically important, and also extremely beautiful) then onto Antietam. That place just sucked me in, and I need to return.

With hindsight I tried to be clever and just trek the fields with a couple of books, but I've since learned the value of both NPS programmes and private guides. It's handy to have someone telling the story of the battle or the location who knows the site.

I'd say that Gettysburg is possible for a first one, or even for someone who's just in the area. Much depends on what they want to get out of the trip. I know some friends who aren't into the war but did the driving tour and enjoyed it. You can do the key points in a day I think - if they like it, they will always come back for me.
 

James N.

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I would suggest Antietam because there are no tourist traps to take away from the experience. The battlefield is easily done and the visitor center is good.
Shiloh. It has no encoachment by shopping malls or racetracks. No monument to a dead officer in the parking lot of a pizza place.
Antietam. Huge battle over relatively small area which can be seen from the visitor center.
...as others have noted, because it depends a lot on the person as well as where they live. If the criteria is simply someone just getting interested in the war and simply looking to visit a battlefield park, I'd probably vote for the one closest to them, if there is such a thing. Even if it's fairly small. A site like Honey Springs in Oklahoma, Prairie Grove in Arkansas, or Wilson's Creek in Missouri, are great little parks, for folks who live in this part of the country.

With these various considerations in mind, and since except for the last there has been no mention of the Trans-Mississippi, I'd like to put in a recommendation for Pea Ridge, Ark. The battle was fairly small, but involved some maneuvering of forces possible "to get your mind around." There were several colorful individuals involved, from Wild Bill Hickock to the Cherokees, plus it had a lot of the brother-against-brother aspect of the war on the border. As a unit of the National Park System, there is a good visitor center with fairly recently redone displays, including a fiber-optic map and good film.

The battlefield itself was purchased in its entirety and presented to the National Parks by the state of Arkansas for the Centennial of the battle in 1962. The land looks remarkably the same as it did during the battle, making it easy to imagine the action. A sheltered exhibit kiosk atop Pea Ridge lets you overlook most of the battlefield. Though there are only a couple of small monuments at Elkhorn Tavern on the Old Wire Road, there is good NPS signage at critical points along the tour road. The field's small enough to easily take in in a morning or afternoon, longer if desired; as usual for a NPS site, the area is laced with walking trails.

Spring Vacation 2010 062.jpg

Artillery exhibit in Pea Ridge visitor center.

Spring Vacation 2010 057.jpg

Position of Good's Texas Battery in the center of the field.



Spring Vacation 2010 052.jpg

Federal artillery position near the reconstructed/restored Elkhorn Tavern.
 

Nathanb1

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Now that I'm obsessed with McCulloch....I'd give my eyeteeth to go there. And Wilson's Creek. :smile: Thanks for the superb photos. I guess it's the next best thing....
 
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Perry Cuskey

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Oversight on my part not to include Pea Ridge when mentioning those other Trans-Miss parks. Good post, and good pictures.

Perry
 

TinCan

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My first was Mansfield Louisiana, then I went to Vicksburg. Enjoyed em both very much. Vicksburg was just overwhelming for me, I walked all over the place.
 
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