Civil War Profiles — A Civil War trip of a lifetime: Part 1

Date Published: 
Jan. 12, 2018

My retirement in December 1994 was the end of a career in military and government service, and an opportunity to open new vistas — in particular, a desire to pursue an interest in the American Civil War.


This motivation fostered extensive reading, attending a course about the Civil War at Johns Hopkins University and visiting many Civil War sites. The course at Johns Hopkins included a tour of Monocacy Battlefield near Frederick, Md., and several places in Baltimore.

Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s forces confronted Union Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace’s defenders during a one-day battle along the Monocacy River on July 9, 1864. Wallace’s action was credited with helping to prevent Early’s planned attack on Washington, D.C.

One Baltimore location was Green Mount Cemetery, where a number of high-ranking Union and Confederate officers are buried. It is also the final resting place for President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

In the recent past, I had visited Gettysburg, Pa., Petersburg, Va., and Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va. At Gettysburg, Union and Confederate armies clashed for three days in July 1863, at a cost of nearly 50,000 casualties.

Ulysses S. Grant’s Union forces held Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia under siege at Petersburg and Richmond, Va., for nine months. A major breakthrough caused the Rebel troops to evacuate to Appomattox Court House, where Lee surrendered to Grant in April 1865.

Fort Monroe served as a Union army headquarters during the Civil War. It was there that Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned for two years at the war’s end, beginning in May 1865.

My Civil War travels continued in the spring of 1995, to sites in West Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Delaware. These visits provided the opportunity to collect pamphlets, books, maps, prints and audiotapes, and to take scads of photographs.

This immersion in Civil War history sparked a desire to travel to additional battlefields — primarily in the states that border the Mississippi River. Together with my wife and companion on the trip, we planned a month-long excursion in October 1995 — using “The Civil War Sourcebook: A Traveler’s Guide” by Chuck Lawliss as a resource.

The travel route we laid out took us from our home in Silver Spring, Md., west through West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; and, across the Mississippi River into Missouri. From there, the plan was to drive down to Arkansas and back across the Mississippi into Tennessee before continuing south to the state of Mississippi.

After visiting Vicksburg, Natchez and other places in Mississippi, the trip would move south to Louisiana, then west into Texas. Our travels would then go in reverse, to Louisiana, before visiting Alabama and Georgia — then heading north through the Carolinas and Virginia, and arriving back home in Maryland.

A visit to the local AAA office to obtain advice, maps and tour books was most helpful. The attendant provided the needed state and local maps; and, using a highlighter, traced the actual routes to our destinations on each map — a traveler’s godsend.

A newly acquired high-top conversion van served as our mode of travel. A Golden Eagle Passport provided no-fee access to federal park facilities.

The idea of traveling around the country for several weeks generated a lot of excitement. Once out on the road, experiencing the diverse geography of each state and even regions within states, meeting a never-ending variety of interesting, friendly and helpful people, and simply discovering America was a constant source of amazement and enjoyment.

Future installments of my column will narrate visits to the Civil War battlefields and sites in the states included on the tour. The next column will highlight Indianapolis and Crawfordsville in the state of Indiana.

Tom Ryan is the author of the multiple award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” and “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War.” Signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books, and at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.