Discover the Civil War Era: Educational and Student Travel Tours in Washington D.C.

by Howard Clemens

In 1861, when the year the Civil War began, approximately 60,000 people lived in Washington DC. It was a time of great turmoil and great change; a time that defined and shaped the United States. Within 90 miles of Washington DC, visitors can explore a myriad of Civil War battlefields, memorial statues, historic buildings and period homes, all of which tell stories of the Civil war era. The Museum of American History, the National Archives and the Library of Congress are all home to Civil War exhibits displaying a wide array of Civil War artifacts. If you are planning a student tour or field trip in Washington DC or you are simply a history buff looking for an intriguing, educational vacation there are many Civil War sites to choose from.

No Student Travel Tour Should Miss Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site and the Peterson Boarding House
According to the National Park Service web site,, the Civil War began five weeks after Lincoln’s Inauguration in March, 1861. Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered 4 years later on April 9, 1865. On April 14, 1865 Lincoln declared a day of gratitude for the end of the war and made plans to attend a comedy at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln was greeted with a standing ovation from theater attendees, but less than two hours later he would receive a fatal gunshot wound. When doctors reached the presidential box of the theater they decided to bring him to the nearest bed, which was across the street in the Peterson Boarding House. It was here that Lincoln died the next morning. Today both Ford’s Theater and the Peterson Boarding House offer tours and house a number of artifacts related to Lincoln’s assassination. The Peterson House is currently open and Ford’s Theater, which has been closed for renovations this season, will reopen in the Spring of 2009.

Learn About the Civil War and American History: Educational Travel Tours of the Lincoln Cottage
In the summer of 1862 Abraham Lincoln and his family made the first of many trips to what would later be called President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home. In order to escape the heat and pressures of life in Washington DC Lincoln made this cottage his retreat. The Lincoln Cottage Visitor Center is where student tours begin at Lincoln Cottage. The center offers interactive displays and exhibits of Lincoln memorabilia.

Be Creative: Plan a Specialty Student Tour in Washington DC

The National Museum of Health & Medicine
The National Museum of Health and Medicine offers a truly unique look at the Civil War experience. The exhibit, “To Bind up the Nation’s Wounds: Medicine During the Civil War,” includes Civil War photographs and rare artifacts. Students can view some unusual things in this museum such as General Daniel Sickle’s leg bones, which were lost at Gettysburg, and the bullet that killed Lincoln.

The African American Civil War Museum
Students, teachers, classrooms and schools interested in studying and exploring Black History must make a stop at the African American Civil War Museum. Here visitors will find artifacts, photographs and documents describing the stories of the African American soldiers that served in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) during the Civil War. An interactive program even allows students to trace the descendants of USCT soldiers. A memorial lists the more than 200,000 USCT soldiers that served.

Soil Soaked in History: Visit National Civil War Battlefields Near Washington, DC
Approximately one hour to an hour and a half from DC, student tours will find a number of Civil War battlefields to visit and explore. The Antietam National Battlefield was site of the first invasion by the Confederate Army in the North. Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park is home to 203 unmarked Civil War gravesites. Gettysburg National Military Park is one of the most visited historic sites in the country. Visitors enjoy walking tours, driving tours, special programs and living history presentations. Student tours can also include the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and the Manassas National Battlefield Park, also known as the place where The Battle of Bull Run was fought. Nearby Alexandria and Arlington are also home to many historic Civil War sites.

For the history or social studies student, studying the civil war is made easier by visits to sites that were historically important during that period. Social studies and history teachers will want to partner with a qualified student tour company to ensure their students have a learning experience that meets their educational expectations.

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