Add a Tour of Virginia Battlefields to a Washington D.C. Student Trip

Student trips headed to Washington D.C. to tour may want to consider adding a visit to some Civil War battlefields in nearby Virginia to their itinerary. Many of the critical battles of the Civil War were fought in Virginia, with the ultimate goal being the capture of Richmond by Union forces, since it was the Confederate Capitol.

The furthest of the battlefields I suggest is Petersburg — a three-hour bus ride away. Appomattox, Shenandoah, Fredericksburg and Richmond are approximately two hours or less from Washington D.C.

A student trip can also be built solely around the Civil War. Or, it may include a more comprehensive look at history, beginning with the settlement of Jamestown and Williamsburg as Colonial capitals, and the early days of the Revolutionary War.

Shenandoah: New Market Battlefield and State Historical Park
The site of one of the Confederate victories, New Market Battlefield was the place where early in the war, young cadets from Virginia Military Institute fought and won a victory for the South. Student trips may visit a 19th Century farm, tour the Hall of Valor Civil War Museum, and learn about the actual cadets who made a difference that day.

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Civil War Battlefields
These sites are within a forty-five minute drive from Williamsburg, so student trip organizers may want to consider a visit to Colonial Williamsburg and/or Jamestown and Yorktown while visiting the area. The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and the Manassas National Battlefield Park are important components to any study of the Civil War. Manassas is the Virginia town where The Battle of Bull Run was fought. One of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Fredericksburg, was fought there and was considered a great victory for General Robert E. Lee. Chatham Manor is located at Fredericksburg and was at one time a hospital and Union headquarters. Three other battles fought between 1862-64 include: Battle of Chancellorsville, Battle of Wilderness, and Battle of Spotsylvania.

Petersburg: the Siege Ending the Civil War
The historic battle where General Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant’s armies faced off for the final battle of the Civil War was the Siege of Petersburg, a strategic supply point for the Confederate Army. During this battle, which lasted nearly a year, Confederate troops dug in while the Union army seized railroad supply lines surrounding Petersburg with the ultimate goal of taking Richmond. Grant’s army was successful at routing Lee and his army from Petersburg, and this decisive battle helped to end the Civil War in 1865. Teachers may easily prepare a curriculum for the student trip by consulting the website at http://www.nps.gov/pete/forteachers/index.htm.

Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier
Pamplin was the place near Richmond where the decisive Breakthrough Battle occurred April 2, 1865. After the Confederate Army suffered a loss at Pamplin, Richmond was evacuated. Pamplin encompasses 422 acres. Student groups will be engaged in interactive living history programs, and have access to four different museums at this location. Student groups may visit four antebellum homes and shopping facilities.

Richmond: Confederate Capital
As the site of the White House of the Confederacy and the present day Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond is a must see on a Civil War tour of Virginia. Richmond is significant because the siege of Richmond signified the war’s end. There were also numerous battles fought there from the beginning of the Civil War in 1862, mostly in the farm and plantation land surrounding the city. Richmond National Battlefield Park spans 1900 acres and is divided into 13 units. Numerous battles were fought throughout the war in the Richmond area. Richmond’s inhabitants saw a steady stream of wounded and were subject to rationing on a regular basis. Learn about the lives of United States Coloured Troops (USCT) who fought for the Union at the Battle of New Market and were one of the first regiments to reach Richmond. Tour the battlefield by bus and stop at some of the earthworks to view them up close. Teachers may prepare an advance lesson plan by visiting: http://www.nps.gov/rich/forteachers/curriculum-based-programs.htm.

Appomattox Courthouse: Where the Civil War Ended

Grant and Lee at Appomattox Courthouse signed the final treaty sanctioning the end of the Civil War. On April 9, 1865 Lee requested a private meeting with Grant. They convened at the McLean residence in Appomattox Courthouse, where they conversed like gentlemen for 25 minutes before Lee mentioned a surrender of his troops. Grant put his terms in writing and Lee reviewed them there. Lee requested his men be allowed to keep their horses, since in the Confederate Army the men owned them. He also mentioned his troops were hungry. As an act of good will, Grant dispatched 25,000 rations that day. The war between the states ended quite calmly in this historic town in Virginia. A visit to Appomattox Courthouse is an excellent educational experience for any group. Learning materials for curriculum development are available at http://www.nps.gov/apco/forteachers/curriculummaterials.htm.

It is obvious that Virginia is a pivotal state in the study of the Civil War. Consider a statewide tour focused on the subject of the Civil War completely, or develop a combination tour with a visit to Washington D.C. or Williamsburg for even greater coverage of American history. Whatever the itinerary or learning objective for a student group, a visit to historic Civil War sites in Virginia can be integrated into just about any type of educational tour.

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