What makes an exceptional Battlefield ?

J C J Barefoot

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Sep 10, 2019
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I’ve been to over 30 ACW battlefields. There are several that I considered towering above the others. There were others where my grand expectations were unfulfilled. Why? What makes one place excellent -one that you want to return to and another merely interesting? Recently I sat down to come up with a list of determinates that make for a really excellent visit.


From my list I then developed a scoring system to my list, with explanations to rank the battlefields. Below is my list and explanations. Please provide your comments on either my list and/or your how you would evaluation the sites you have visited.





  • My list of 7:​
  • Preservation - Is the land is preserved close to the way it looked at the time of the conflict? It is free from modern encroachment and the land is well maintained. There is a sense of presence and honor. The dead are buried near by.​
  • Topography- The ground is something other than flat or heavily wooded, allowing good views. There are restored or original buildings. There are good hills and vistas, rivers, mountains, railroads that make the ground visually interesting​
  • Drama The battle itself has a dramatic story. It fathered famous quotes or events. The battle story has a tension and epic plots and sub plots. Included in the drama is the conduct of the ordinary solider​
  • Generals- Are there Generals on each side of historic importance in the total war and do their decisions and strategies play out to tell the story of the battle. ​
  • Outcome- Does the outcome of the Battle make it worth the time to visit? Did the bloodshed have strategic or political importance? ​
  • Visitor Center and Guides- Is there outstanding visitor support? Is the visitor center well done , attractive and does it provide a meaningful and embracing overview of the battle? Are there good films and lectures that leave the visitor excited to start on the tour? Are there well informed park staff or guides? If not is the battlefield known for outstanding private guides?​
  • Orientation- Can a visitor get oriented to the opening, middle and end of the battle by walking or driving the ground? Is it simple and easy to understand the charges and counter charges or is the flow of the battle choppy, disoriented and confusing?​
Cheers!
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Those are good criteria. For me, in the preservation category it's if there are original works or structures or witness trees. Also, if there are photographs from the war such that I can compare then to today.

Having a special interest in field artillery it's nice when some original pieces are present and if battery positions are preserved and the landscape is clear enough that one can see what they saw (i.e. can see the ground they were shooting at). At Cold Harbor and Spotsylvania I was able to stand in the trenches where my great grandfather's battery had been positioned. Now that was an experience.
 

J C J Barefoot

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Sep 10, 2019
Further to my ranking project I made an assumption that it would use it to advise someone that is interested in Civil War history, has more than a basic background on the war and is simply looking to visit a few battlefields that will provide a really positive experience.

For the really serious students of the ACW (like many here that are steeped in the history) there is likely no battlefield that would be considered uninteresting or not worth the visit.

Additionally, a visiting experience of a battlefield is totally different than opinion about the importance of the battle itself. Touring is an experience in the visual , historical , and material aspects of the conflict. For example, Chickamauga was of enormous significance and Perryville much less so. Yet to me, the topography and ground of Perryville are much easier to grasp.

Personal interest is not considered in my rankings. I personally had two great grandfathers that served. Combined they were at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Brices Crossroads, Andersonville, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Bermuda Hundred, Petersburg, Richmond. These places are meaningful to me and are all my personal favorites, but that should not influence my advise to novice visitor.

Final Score Calculation Method: I used a five point scale of 1 to 5 and a 100 point weighting for the seven criteria as follows:

Possible Points : Outstanding- 5 Excellent-4 Very Good-3 Acceptable-2 Poor-1

100 Point Weighting: Preservation 15 ; Topography 20; Drama 20; Generals 20; Outcome 10;Visitor Center/Guides 10 ; Orientation 15

My own results had some surprises:

Score
Appomattox
100​
Gettysburg
100​
Antietam
96​
1st Bull Run
92​
Fredericksburg
91​
Shiloh
89​
Vicksburg
88​
Malvern Hill
84​
Fort Sumter
83​
Perryville
82​
Spotsylvania
78​
Chickamauga
76​
Brice's Cross Roads
74​
Chancellorsville
71​
Sailors Creek
66​
Brandy Station
66​
Chattanooga
65​
Cold Harbor
64​
Drewry's Bluff
64​
The Wilderness
63​
Harpers Ferry
63​
Petersburg
60​
Kennesaw Mountain
57​
Gaines' Mill
54​
Atlanta
51​
Mill Springs
42​
South Mountain
32​
Five Forks
32​
Yellow Tavern
30​
Bermuda Hundread
20​
 

J C J Barefoot

Private
Joined
Sep 10, 2019
Those are good criteria. For me, in the preservation category it's if there are original works or structures or witness trees. Also, if there are photographs from the war such that I can compare then to today.

Having a special interest in field artillery it's nice when some original pieces are present and if battery positions are preserved and the landscape is clear enough that one can see what they saw (i.e. can see the ground they were shooting at). At Cold Harbor and Spotsylvania I was able to stand in the trenches where my great grandfather's battery had been positioned. Now that was an experience.
That's a great suggestion! I did not consider the placement of the guns, but you nailed that. I't maybe put that in Topography or Preservation. The Guns at Gettysburg and 1st Bull run illustrate your point.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
That's a great suggestion! I did not consider the placement of the guns, but you nailed that. I't maybe put that in Topography or Preservation. The Guns at Gettysburg and 1st Bull run illustrate your point.
Thanks; glad you agree.

As many have noted, one can't fully understand a battle just by looking at maps. One has to see the actual terrain. At Spotsylvania there are two batteries with original pieces that had engaged in counter-battery fire and you can stand at each and see the other. Gettysburg allows one to stand where the Confederate batteries were when they bombarded the angle and you can see the angle. I found it most instructive to see what they saw.
 

Jamieva

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Feb 7, 2006
Location
Midlothian, VA
Thanks; glad you agree.

As many have noted, one can't fully understand a battle just by looking at maps. One has to see the actual terrain. At Spotsylvania there are two batteries with original pieces that had engaged in counter-battery fire and you can stand at each and see the other. Gettysburg allows one to stand where the Confederate batteries were when they bombarded the angle and you can see the angle. I found it most instructive to see what they saw.

Agree with a map versus seeing it in person. I went to New Market on Monday and when you see it in person you have different interpretations of what you see in a book.
 

J C J Barefoot

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Joined
Sep 10, 2019
That's a great suggestion! I did not consider the placement of the guns, but you nailed that. I't maybe put that in Topography or Preservation. The Guns at Gettysburg and 1st Bull run illustrate your point.
See new post above on the ranking. I'm heading back to Spotsy in May 2021. I'll look for those guns. Whats the best single source to learn about the Guns? Including Heavies.
 

J C J Barefoot

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Sep 10, 2019
To me it's a battle field where you get that inadvertent chill up your spine when you realize that "gosh, this is where it actually happened!"
Yes sir. You and I both have our personal favorite places. Would you think that would fall under DRAMA? Or maybe there is another element you are pointing to---the emotional insight that
"I was here" ?
 

Buckeye Bill

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Annual Winner
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Jul 29, 2013
One of my main factors = Notoriety.

I love visiting the battlefields which most individuals don't have a clue about regarding the American Civil War.

Top Ten....

1) Honey Springs Battlefield
2) Mine Creek Battlefield
3) Camp Wildcat Battlefield
4) Lexington Missouri Battlefield
5) Buffington Island Battlefield
6) Picacho Pass Battlefield
7) Pickett's Mill Battlefield
8) Davis Bridge Battlefield
9) Corydon Battlefield
10) Munfordville Battlefield

Bill
 

John Hartwell

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Aug 27, 2011
Location
Central Massachusetts
If you are ranking for novice or casual interest visitors, Visitor Centers, signage, and quality of interpretation are very important considerations. To the committed ACW enthusiast who has done his homework, and knows what happened, they might be less so.
 

Lubliner

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Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
For a bit of long shot here, I would have to say the age of discovery for battlefield buffs. Yorktown, Virginia was nearby where I was raised, and the entrenchments and pilings were a joy of recreation back in the 60's. We could climb all over the place and nobody there to say 'Don't!'. That impression has a lot of impact on youth, and the idea of soldiering takes hold from there. (Criteria for judgement).
Lubliner.
 

J C J Barefoot

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Joined
Sep 10, 2019
If you are ranking for novice or casual interest visitors, Visitor Centers, signage, and quality of interpretation are very important considerations. To the committed ACW enthusiast who has done his homework, and knows what happened, they might be less so.
Totally agree. Ideas on what's most important to the veteran ACW student?
 

J C J Barefoot

Private
Joined
Sep 10, 2019
If you are ranking for novice or casual interest visitors, Visitor Centers, signage, and quality of interpretation are very important considerations. To the committed ACW enthusiast who has done his homework, and knows what happened, they might be less so.
Link is amazing!
 

Jamieva

Captain
Forum Host
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Feb 7, 2006
Location
Midlothian, VA
Am I the only one that usually skips the visitor centers? I tended to find they are geared towards the person that knows nothing to very little about the battlefield. I do usually step in and talk to the ranger at the desk and get a map and then i'm out the door.
 

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