While the world focuses on Gettysburg, Pa., this week to mark the 150th anniversary of the battle
, it's worth noting that Civil War sites can be found across a huge swath of the country, says Jeff Shaara
, author of the guidebook Jeff Shaara's Civil War Battlefields: Discovering America's Hallowed Ground
(Ballantine, $20). "You don't have to be a fanatic history buff to go to these places. You can get something out of it just by taking the time to visit." He shares some noteworthy sites with Larry Bleiberg
for USA TODAY.
The single bloodiest day in American history occurred on rolling Maryland farm fields near Gettysburg. "This was the first time Lee tried to invade the North," Shaara says. The cost was 23,000 casualities, and it's said that day creeks ran red with blood. "Antietam was a tactical draw, but Lee couldn't afford to fight draws." 301-432-5124; nps.gov/ancm
The day after the Confederacy lost at Gettysburg, the South suffered another blow when the Union took control of this Mississippi River port. Shaara says local citizens didn't leave the city when the siege began in May. "They ended up suffering the same privations as their army." When the Union triumphed after nearly two months, the Confederacy was effectively split in two. The park is one of the few where visitors can hire licensed guides. 601-636-0583; nps.gov/vick
The Confederacy's last gasp came at this Virginia settlement where Ulysses Grant outmaneuvered the rebel army and cut off its rail lines, leading to the fall of Richmond and the end of the war. Shaara says Lee knew he was beaten but couldn't quit because his troops still believed in the cause. "It's an anachronistic thing today, but it was a sense of honor and camaraderie." Along with the battlefield, the city is home to Pamplin Historical Park and The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. 804-732-3531; nps.gov/pete
The first major battle of the war took place at Bull Run in the summer of 1861, attracting spectators from the nearby nation's capital. "Social Washington packed picnic lunches and followed the army, expecting to see a glorious spectacle," Shaara says. "They set up literally on hillsides overlooking a battlefield, and what they saw was a disaster for the Union." 703-361-1339; nps.gov/mana
Bloody Shiloh, as it's known, was the site of one of the deadliest battles of the war. But because of its remote location, north of Corinth, Miss., it took days for word to get out. It's also where the South lost a top commander. "The death of Albert Sidney Johnston changes the whole history of the war," Shaara says. "He is about to crush Grant's army, and then all of that falls apart." 731-689-5696; nps.gov/shil
Because of poor communication, neither side was at its best in this 1862 conflict, but it's important because it stopped the Confederacy's move to recapture lost territory, Shaara says. "It's probably the best example in the entire war of utter incompetence on both sides." After the battle, the Union kept control of Kentucky for the rest of the war. 800-255-7275; parks.ky.gov/parks/historicsites/perryville-battlefield
Mobile Bay, Ala.
This Southern seaport was one of the last to fall. The 1864 battle was fought on both land and sea, and it can be understood with visits to Forts Morgan and Gaines. "It's one more example of sealing the fate for the Confederacy; without the ports, they can't win," Shaara says. 251-540-7127; fortmorgan.org or 251-861-3607; dauphinisland.org/fort.htm
Glorieta Pass, N.M.
Though most the Civil War took place in a few key states, the conflict did spread far and wide. This clash along the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico is the farthest western battle of the war. "They were so far removed from everything else. The fact that the battle was fought was kind of a mystery," Shaara says. 505-757-7241; nps.gov/peco
This north Georgia battle, the second-deadliest of the war after Gettysburg, stopped the North's progress in 1863, pushing the Federal army back toward Chattanooga, Tenn. "This is the first attempt the Union Army makes of attacking Atlanta, and it's a disaster. It's another one of those toe-to-toe fights," Shaara says. 706-866-9241; nps.gov/chch
Tallahassee was the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi that didn't fall into Union hands. Federal troops tried, but were stopped on this battlefield. "The geography is sand and swamps. There are no good roads. It's a horrible place to march an army," Shaara says. 386-758-0400; floridastateparks.org/olusteebattlefield