Good 'first battlefields'

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jay gale

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I would say Antietam. It's a small field, and can be done in a day.....and like others have said the monuments are good and the visitors center is first rate. It's also less crowded than Gettysburg and has a more spiritual sense about it, really easy to feel the battle there.

Someone else said that if you have multiple days, then Gettysburg is good. I agree with that one too, but take at least 3 days to really traverse it and get the feel of the place.

Another suggestion, read up on what happened on the field that you are visiting, the more you can self guide yourself around the more valuable the experience. I would recommend Bill Frassanito's books on Gettysburg and Antietam as books to take with you as tour books....they are golden
 

James N.

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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.
Mansfield might've been a good "first", depending on when your visit was. Around 1980 or so the visitor center had on display the private collection of a nationally-known but local relic hunter whose name I can't right now recall, but whose trove of artifacts was truly impressive. However, sometime around 1990, the State largely went bankrupt, shuttering Mansfield along with many other State Parks, and at that time the collection was removed by its owner, and hasn't returned since! Also, the park at Mansfield is relatively dinky by comparison with the area the battle occuppied, and poorly marked and interpreted. It's probably OK for kids who don't know any better, though.

Vicksburg is a bit daunting due to its size and sprawl, and due to its overgrown, park-like nature bears little resemblance to the raw earth scarring the landscape that existed there during the siege. For such a wonderful park, the visitor center was especially tiny and unimpressive, having only a very few life-size "diorama" settings and very little in the way of artifacts or interpretation. The film I remember, filmed by some yahoos with a hand-held camera running through woods somewhere, intercut with repeated ( poor ) DRAWINGS of Grant, Pemberton, and company, seemed truly amatuerish. The Cairo and its museum, however, are WONDERFUL and if anything, seem out-of-place compared with the rest!
 
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Buckeye Bill

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I would say the Gettysburg National Military Park. An outstanding visitor center and an outstanding battlefield tour of key spots. This venue is a gold mine for the ACW buff and the novice. The town of Gettysburg has a ton to offer the visitor.

Just my .02......
Bill
 

Wallyfish

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If the definition of a visit is a "single day" itinerary, then I would recommend Antietam and Harper's Ferry. Historic, scenic, and close to each other making them easily done in a day.

Now if the visit is a multi day visit, I would go to Gettysburg. On the first day, I would hire a battlefield guide for a general tour of the battlefield. Then I would revisit the battle on the subsequent days to areas that interest you the most. The combination of military strategy, topography/geology, number of markers and monuments, witness trees, named rocks, rock carvings, an interesting battle damaged private cemetery (Evergreen) and the National Cemetery make for a compelling visit. Sure the town is touristy, but there are several museums that are well worth the visit.
 

James N.

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I would say the Gettysburg National Military Park. An outstanding visitor center and an outstanding battlefield tour of key spots. This venue is a gold mine for the ACW buff and the novice. The town of Gettysburg has a ton to offer the visitor.

Just my .02......
Bill
Gettysburg can easily be summed up in one word: overkill. There's simply too much for a novice to see and fathom - the Visitor Center alone can easily take an entire day. Add in all the carnival-like tourist attractions and it's overwhelming and possibly intimidating, even for a veteran battlefield tramper. Something smaller and more compact, retaining much of its wartime appearance might be better - Shiloh instantly comes to mind!
 
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luinrina

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My first battlefield was Manassas. I tried cramping both First and Second Bull Run into one day but spent more time on the first battle, mainly Henry Hill and Matthews Hill. I got a good feel for the how, when, why, etc. just from these two locations.

Antietam might be nicely preserved and well interpreted, but I personally found it's too big for one day. And I had an LBG with me who could point me in directions and explain the action taking place at certain spots. I was quickly getting overwhelmed with information, although I already knew quite a bit of how the battle developed.
 

James N.

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My first battlefield was Manassas. I tried cramping both First and Second Bull Run into one day but spent more time on the first battle, mainly Henry Hill and Matthews Hill. I got a good feel for the how, when, why, etc. just from these two locations.

Antietam might be nicely preserved and well interpreted, but I personally found it's too big for one day. And I had an LBG with me who could point me in directions and explain the action taking place at certain spots. I was quickly getting overwhelmed with information, although I already knew quite a bit of how the battle developed.
I now love Manassas, but like you find it's too easy to get hung up on the relatively compact First Battle, in contrast with the sprawling Second Battle, which can make for confusion. Add to that its now-execrable location: to the west and south. it's not too bad - but traveling east, once past Bull Run it immediately becomes the urban sprawl of D. C. with jetliners going to and from Dulles creating their own distraction!
 

Buckeye Bill

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Gettysburg can easily be summed up in one word: overkill. There's simply too much for a novice to see and fathom - the Visitor Center alone can easily take an entire day. Add in all the carnival-like tourist attractions and it's overwhelming and possibly intimidating, even for a veteran battlefield tramper. Something smaller and more compact, retaining much of its wartime appearance might be better - Shiloh instantly comes to mind!
I get your mindset, James. But I think the novice would get more out of a tour of Gettysburg than Antietam. They can get a great overview of the war at the visitor center, tour Hallowed Ground and do other things not to blow up their novice craniums.

Just my .02, Texan!
Bill
 
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BillH

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My sweet wife has said we can go see battlefields next year for my 70th. Many thanks for all the info in this thread, it's a great addition to all the reading and planning I've been doing. We will have a couple weeks I think. Idaho is a long way away, so I'd better get it while the getting is good. The itinerary hasn't been formalized yet, as I'm still researching where ancestors may have fought. The general focus will be VA to PA.

So, let me ask for some opinions... any time of the year we should aim for? I'm thinking May to June or September to October, trying to avoid at least some of the crowds. And strategy. I know Gettysburg would ideally be 3-5 days. But in a 12-18 day trip would it make sense to try to see many-quickly or a few-longer? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated!
 

James N.

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I always like to avoid the times when school is out and weekends where possible because it restricts the number of visitors.
 
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