Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 23, 2017
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Visiting The Ghosts of Dixie


A guide to touring the Civil War in the south

The Civil War shaped the south that we know today. Literally. Just as no trip to Dixie would be complete without some jambalaya and a little bluegrass, there's something to be said about visiting the hallowed grounds of an old battle site to understand a little bit more about southern culture, its people and its history.

The breakdown of Civil War travel goes like this: sites and parks, tours, living history and reenactments. The big sites are protected by the National Park Service, but there many smaller ones threatened by encroaching urban development, like car lots, fried chicken drive-thrus and sterilizing radio towers. You can visit most of these places on your own, but nothing beats having a bona-fide Civil War buff lead you through a battle site. They have a way of making an expanse of grass transform into a pitched battle between Confederates and Yankees -- something that just can't be improvised on your own. Unless you're Ken Burns or Shelby Foote, we recommend that you hire a guide or accompany the tours that most parks provide.

A step up from a visit to a commemorative site is a look inside the life and times of those who lived the war. Many parks and sites have living history weekends, where actors simulate camp and town life during the 1860s. This adds a little drama (and kitsch) to the proceedings and goes over pretty well with children who may have a tough time understanding why they're at, say, the Battle of Second Manassas and not at Disneyworld.

Finally, the holy grail of Civil War travel is the reenactment, where military history addicts congregate from all over the US to act out a specific battle at the exact spot it took place 150 years ago. Some people find this a little weird, the equivalent of a Star Trek convention with cannons and lots of yelling. But a trip to a local reenactment is just about the most entertaining (and often most historically accurate) way to take a Civil War vacation. It is a uniquely American phenomena, like baseball and lite beer.

What follows is a short list of the south's great Civil War destinations.

Pamplin Historical Park, Virginia
This park at Petersburg, VA, has been called the best all-round Civil War site in the country and not just by the people who run it. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson calls it "the new crown jewel of the Civil War sites." Why? Because it appeals to the casual tourist and the die-hard enthusiast at the same time. Where some sites are now just fallow fields leaving everything up to the imagination, Pamplin hammers it all home in the great American theme park tradition. There are interactive exhibits, living history events and recreated encampments and fortifications. Having the acclaimed National Museum of the Civil War Soldier on the same grounds doesn't hurt, either.

Not convinced yet? How about some Civil War baseball. On July 21 and 22, Pamplin plays homage to the national pastime's roots in the war. Watch "The Muffins," a costumed vintage baseball team from Ohio, take on a team of "Central Virginia All-Stars," using rules of the mid-1800s. That's right, The Muffins.

For more information call (877) PAMPLIN, email generalmailbox@pamplinpark.org or visit www.pamplinpark.org.

Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia
Richmond was the Confederate capital during the war, the heart of the drive for secession. The city and its surrounding area is one of the great bounties of Civil War sites and the Museum of the Confederacy (1201 East Clay Street; tel: 804-649-1861; www.moc.org) is its centre. The museum houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of military, political and domestic artifacts associated with the Confederacy and is a great starting point and information source for exploring other sites in the area. The museum's grounds also hold the restored White House of the Confederacy, which is a smaller replica of the one in DC and is one of the great historical buildings in America.

Chattanooga and Chickamauga, Georgia/Tennessee
This is the official grandaddy of American Civil War parks. It was the very first park set up after the war and served as a model for all that followed. Although there is reference to two places, the park commemorates a single battle, the kind that makes historians drool. With both sides combining over 100,000 men, the Union army outsmarted the Confederates at Chattanooga in a huge chess-like battle over the fall of 1863. This opened up the south to Northern invasion and Sherman's infamous march to the Georgia coast. Added perk: the park also just happens to be in one of the most beautiful corners of southern Appalachia.

For more information on guided tours, living history (meet "Johnny Reb" and "Billy Yank") and other special programmes, call (706) 866-9241 or check out www.nps.gov/chch.

 

 

 

Vicksburg, Mississippi
The battle of Gettysburg is remembered as the turning point of the war. What most people don't know is that this was dependent on the seige and fall of Vicksburg one day later and that it was the combination of these two major Union victories that turned the tide.

Vicksburg lies on the bank of the Mississippi River. The park, like the battle itself, is a big one -- and well preserved. It includes more than 1300 monuments and markers, 32 kilometres of reconstructed trenches and earthworks, more than 125 cannons, the restored Union gunboat USS Cairo and the Vicksburg National Cemetery. There's also plenty to see and do along the river itself, including visits to historic homes and the gambling boats downstream.

For more information call (601) 636-0583, email vick_interpretation@nps.gov or visit www.nps.gov/vick/home.htm.

Appomattox Court House, Virginia
Virginia is for lovers. It's also for Civil War buffs. The bulk of the war's fighting happened here and the state has the greatest concentration of historical landmarks, annual reenactments and tourist facilities. It is also home to the most famous site outside of Gettysburg, PA -- Appomattox Court House. This is the town (not a courthouse, as usually believed) where Generals Lee and Grant met on April 9, 1865 and negotiated the terms of the surrender of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The met in a small, unassuming house and over the course of an hour and a half drew up a gentleman's agreement that would end up outlining the course of reconstruction and American history thereafter. For the historian in you.

For more information dial (804) 352-8987 or visit www.nps.gov/apco/index1.htm.

Andersonville, Georgia
Andersonville holds a dubious place in the annals of American history. It was the largest Confederate military prison during the war and held over 45,000 Union POWs. Almost 13,000 prisoners died here from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding or exposure. Today, Andersonville serves as a memorial to all American prisoners of war in all conflicts. Its most memorable and most affecting feature is the National Cemetery, which holds row upon row of gravestones. A few years ago a museum was created to add an informative and sobering explanation of the prisoner-of-war experience through the ages.

For more information call (229) 924-0343 or visit www.nps.gov/ande.

Fort Sumter, South Carolina
Fort Sumter was the first major engagement of the Civil War. Confederate troops attacked the Union-held fort on April 12 and quickly took it on the 13th. Needless to say, this was embarrassing to the Union army, which thought the Confederates were nothing more than a ragtag collection of disgruntled hillbillies. So they spent the better part of the next 22 months bombing the dickens out of the beachside refuge, eventually regaining the fort by war's end. A visit here will definitely conjure up the final scenes of Glory (which recounted the siege of nearby Fort Wagner, not Sumter). The remains of the fort make up the biggest sand castle on the east coast.

For more information call (843) 883-3123 or visit www.nps.gov/fosu/fosu.htm.

Shiloh, Tennessee
Shiloh is proof that mass carnage was not exclusive to the 20th century. The armies of north and south fought here on Apil 6 and 7, 1862. A total of 100,000 troops saw action here and in the two days of fighting nearly 24,000 of them were killed, wounded or missing. This was one of the bloodiest battles of the war and a decisive victory for the Union. The quiet stillness of the 1600-hectare battlefield is a haunting memorial. It is in stark contrast to the bells and whistles of Pamplin Park, and proves that when commemorating events of such magnitude, sometimes less is more.

For more information call (731) 689-5696 or hit www.nps.gov/shil.

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