Junior ROTC students: Major Battlefields Near Washington D.C. Student Tour

The Battle of Antietam was fought in Maryland during the Civil War.
The Battle of Antietam was fought in Maryland during the Civil War.

by Howard Clemens

For students who are studying to become soldiers and officers in the U.S. Armed Forces, reflecting on some of the largest (and bloodiest) land battles fought in our history can be insightful. Contemporary armies have far more technology on their side with faster transportation and communication, while their predecessors had much less. Despite obvious differences in eras studying the preparation and enfolding of significant Revolutionary and Civil War battles – and visiting these sites, can prove to be quite a lesson in strategy and execution in the theater of war.

Combat is a last resort for any country. Once initiated war has casualties. Troops and their families have to bear the brunt of war, with the threat of death, dismemberment and injury. With limited medical knowledge about infection and its cure, troops in the Revolutionary and Civil War had to suffer illnesses and infections that would be curable today. In addition, movement of deceased and injured bodies was a hardship, so the historical battlefields are often grave sites for those who have fallen.

This is all the more reason why ROTC students should visit these battlefield sites in person. Students will stay at a hotel in Northern Virginia so Washington D.C. is easily accessible. Bus service will be provided to each destination with maximum time estimates to be two to two and one half hours to reach the furthest battlefields.

Yorktown National Battlefield, Virginia (Revolutionary War)
Virginia is the site of many famous battlefields. Yorktown National Battlefield is the place where General George Cornwalis surrendered to General George Washington and French forces in the fall of 1781. This famous battlefield marked the end of the Revolutionary War. The victorious union of 13 states celebrated the culmination of a struggle to free themselves from British rule. Yorktown Battlefield is not only the jewel of all battlefields – it is vast. The tour is 16 miles and can be seen on a trolley. Earthworks have been preserved and areas where skirmishes were fought are marked and described. Learn how artillery and strategy as well as the placement of Yorktown on the York River helped to win the victory in the Revolutionary War.

Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland (Civil War)
Called the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, the battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862 . Over 23,000 soldiers who were killed, wounded or missing. In this battle, General Robert E. Lee shows his prowess by attacking the North in Western Maryland, in a 12-hour siege that devastated the city of Sharpsburg, Maryland. Because this battlefield is so close to Washington D.C., Lee was threatening the seat of power in the North. But Lee had other plans. He instructed Stonewall Jackson to secure Harper’s Ferry, the armory and supply line for Confederate soldiers in Virginia and further south. After securing Harper’s Ferry, Stonewall Jackson returned to Antietam to defend the battle line. The Confederate forces held their ground but buried their dead and retreated across the Potomac River, back to Virginia. President Lincoln responded by issuing a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the first step towards making slavery obsolete.

Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia (Civil War)
There were two battles in Manassas, Virginia and both strengthened the positions of the Confederate army. Taking the battle to Virginia was seen as a way for the Union to end the war quickly. General Irvin McDowell set out to Richmond, the South’s capital, with 35,000 soldiers. He was stopped by approximately 22,000 Confederate soldiers, waiting for the advance. With the assistance of 10,000 troops stationed in Shenandoah Valley, the First Battle of Manassas began. Also called the Battle of Bull Run, so named for the river, this decisive battle is an example of military strategy and communication converging to bring about victory on the Confederate side. The second Battle of Manassas was another example of General Robert E. Lee’s exceptional battle strategies. After chasing the Union army away from Richmond and North, across the Rappahannock River, the Confederates engaged in another bloody battle near Manassas and held their position as the Union Army retreated to Washington D.C. to defend the capital. ROTC students will learn a great deal by considering the First and Second Battle(s) of Bull Run.

Gettysburg National Battlefield Park, Pennsylvania (Civil War)
Historic Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania is the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Here, President Lincoln delivered the “Gettysburg Address.” Gettysburg recently celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2013 to mark the battles of July 1863 that brought the Civil War to Northern territory. The National Park Service published several retrospective books on the “contributions of diverse ethnic groups to the Civil War” such as Asians and Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Hispanics. To celebrate the 150th anniversary, there was a re-enactment of the Iron Brigade Charging McPherson’s Ridge –a decisive move for Union troops. The collections, relics of war and stories as well as photos and multimedia presentations and educational tours make the experience come alive for the young ROTC student.

ROTC instructors will consider this tour geared towards the future officer a solid learning experience. It will be especially helpful for the study of strategy. Even more notable will be the price of victory – through death, injury and loss of property for many. Students will come away from the Great Battlefields Tour with a greater body of knowledge about the United States early military history than before.
Learn more about creating a Great Battlefields Tour of Washington D.C. Email: info@educationaltravelconsultants.com.

Helpful Resources for Teachers
http://www.nps.gov/anti/learn/historyculture/upload/Battle%20history.pdf (Antietam)
http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/books.htm (Gettysburg)
http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/books.htm (Yorktown)

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