The American Civil War was a monumental time in American history that transformed the nation. At the end of the war, more Americans lay dead than from all the other American wars before or since combined. The most famous (or infamous) battle of the war was Gettysburg - it was the bloodiest battle of the world and remains a site of deep soul searching.

The war raged for years and was fought in many places of the country - including along the Mississippi River. If one is interested in the military history of the United States, there are many battlefields and other attractions to visit.


The Great Battlefields of The Civil War Are Managed By The NPS

Gettysburg was marked by Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address - a tradition that has continued with presidents since then. But Gettysburg was not the only major battle - it didn't even have the deadliest day of the war. Learn more about the Gettyburg address at the Lincoln Memorial in DC.

Many extremely costly battles were fought, the largest battles were Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Chickamauga/Chattanooga, and Vicksburg - all of which are managed by the National Park Service today.

Between 1890 and 1899 Congress decided to go beyond the concept of monuments to mark the major battlefield sites. Instead, they decided to mark the major battlefields as national military parks.

The first four major military parks to be established were Chickamauga and Chattanooga authorized in 1890, Shiloh in 1894, Gettysburg in 1895, and Vicksburg in 1899. Later on Antietam became a fully-fledged national military park and the fifth one, but in 1890 it was marked but not full-fledged.

  • Major Battle Sites Of the Civil War: Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Chickamauga/Chattanooga, and Vicksburg
  • Gettysburg: The Deadliest Battle of the War (Took Place Over 3 Days)
  • Antietam: The Deadliest Day Of The War

Related: Lest We Forget: Gallipoli - The Most Important Site To The ANZACs

Timeline of The Major Battles of The Civil War

The Battle of Big Bethel on June 10, 1861, was the first land battle of the war in Virginia and set the tone for what was to come.

Battle of Shiloh:

The following year on April 6-7, 1862 the armies of the North and South clashed in the Battle of Shiloh. It was the first major battle in Tennessee. It pitted Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston (a veteran of the Texas War of Independence and the War with Mexico) against General Ulysses S. Grant. Johnston was considered one of the finest officers of the South, but he was killed on the first day of fighting.

This battle alone incurred more casualties than all of America's previous wars combined.

  • Number of Troops: Nearly 110,000 Total
  • Casualties: 23,746

Battle of Antietam: 

Also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg occurred months after Shiloh in Maryland on September 17, 1862. It was the bloodiest single day (just 12 hours) of the war and ended General Lee's first invasion of the North.

The strategic victory emboldened Lincoln to introduce the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order that freed every slave in the Confederate States (but not the slave states of the north like Maryland).

If visiting Antietam, visit the Dunker Church, Pry House Field Hospital, and other sites of one of the great battles before Gettysburg.

  • Casualties: 23,000 Killed, Wounded, or Missing

Siege of Vicksburg:

Led by General Ulysses S. Grant the Union forces besieged Vicksburg in Mississippi. Eventually, the city fell and the Union gained control of the Mississippi River. It was the last major Confederate stronghold on the river. It eventually fell on July 4.

Battle of Gettysburg:

The Battle of Gettysburg was the most deadly engagement of the war and dashed Robert E. Lee's hopes for a successful invasion of the North. Learn more about it by visiting the Battle of Gettysburg Military Park.

  • Date: July 1-3, 1863

The Battle of Chickamauga:

The Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia resulted in the defeat of the Union Army in September 1863. The Union Army retreated to its supply base at Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Eventually, the Union forces broke the Confederate siege after the Battle for Chattanooga.

There are many more battles and many more memorials to those battles across the country.

Related: The American Civil War Museum Is Home To What Was Almost Known As A Second Capitol White House

The Battle of Fredericksburg

Another big battle occurred in Virginia and resulted in the Army of the Potomac under General Ambrose Burnside being soundly defeated by the South led by General Lee. The battle on December 13, 1862, vividly depicted the tragic brutality of the war in all its forms.

Visit the battlefields at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania and see how the towns were bombarded and looted, farms were destroyed, civilians were made refugees, and thousands were killed.

  • Number of Troops: 85,000 Total
  • Casualties: 15,000 (Killed)

Fredericksburg is also managed by the National Park Service and is one of the most informative sites of the war.

Next: Fort McHenry: The Site of The Star Spangled Banner