American Civil War
The American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 was the most destructive armed conflict in the history of North America, with more than 600,000 deaths in total. The United States still bears scars from this conflict, where the southern states formed the Confederate States of America, attempting to secede from the Union.
- I tell you, war is Hell! – William Tecumseh Sherman, Union Army general who led the March to the Sea
The Civil War was the deadliest war in terms of American death toll (though by no means the deadliest war with US involvement), and the most destructive single conflict in the Western Hemisphere. From a travel standpoint, the number of preserved battlefields (that look almost like they did in the 1860s) is among the highest for any war or location. If you want to "get" how a soldier on either side must have felt during a particular war, the various re-enactment groups and state entities associated with the memory of the US Civil War explain the concepts well.
The war saw a horrific death toll when measured against the numbers of soldiers fighting. In many battles more than 30% of the combatants died. This was due in part to the bad medical situation, but also due to advances in military technology that the tactics of that era did not account for, an error that was repeated in World War I. Both the range and the accuracy of all types of weapons but particularly artillery, and especially their rate of fire had increased a lot, making open charges especially bloody for both sides and leading to heavy fortification and early World War I style trenches in some battles. As photography had become feasible shortly before the war, there are a lot of images of the war, showing its dead and the havoc it wrought on man and nature alike. If you look at enough of them, you will understand what led William Tecumseh Sherman, a high-ranking general of the Union, to his statement that "war is hell".
The war had an enormous long-term impact on the United States, and the rest of the world. Already during the war, the Union made policies that had been blocked by Southern politicians, such as opening the Western territories for colonization, and building a transcontinental railroad. The policies, together with government investments for war, fueled the Industrial Revolution, and usage of telegraphy and railroads. The war ended slavery, and the devastation of the war as well as the post-war "Reconstruction" policy left the South an economic and cultural backwater for decades to come. The end of the 19th century was called "The Gilded Age", with the rise of a wealthy capitalist class, while most of the population remained poor.
During a short period after the war (male) African Americans actually enjoyed most if not all of the political rights nominally granted to them by the constitution and several advances were made, because the former (white) Southern elites were pushed out of power and federal troops ensured that African Americans couldn't be harassed or denied their rights. However this period of so-called "Reconstruction" came to an end in 1876 when in a close election (with popular vote and electoral vote going different ways) the Republican candidate agreed to withdraw the federal troops from the South in exchange for the presidency. Consequently almost all of the Southern blacks were denied civil rights for almost a century to come and the antebellum elites or their descendants often returned to their former positions of power.
- Antietam National Battlefield and Cemetery (Sharpsburg, Maryland). site of the battle which became the bloodiest day in American military history.
- Gettysburg National Military Park (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania). the site of North America's biggest battle and a turning point in the American Civil War.
- Manassas National Battlefield Park (Manassas, Virginia). site of the First and Second Battles of Manassas, also known as the First and Second Battles of Bull Run.
- Monocacy National Battlefield (Frederick, Maryland). site of a summer 1864 battle between General Jubal Early of the Confederacy and General Lew Wallace of the Union.
- Pamplin Park, National Museum of the Civil War Soldier (Petersburg, Virginia). commemorating the siege and fall of Petersburg which led to the Lee's final surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
- Richmond, Virginia. capital city of the Confederacy, is home to Richmond National Battlefield, the White House of the Confederacy, the Museum of the Confederacy, and other historic points.
- Harpers Ferry (West Virginia). This town which until 1863 was part of Virginia (the split off the two states being a result of the war) was the site of John Brown's famous raid that can be seen as a precursor to the war.
- Batteries F and Robinett and the Beauregard Line (Corinth, Mississippi).
- Fort Donelson National Battlefield and Cemetery (Dover, Tennessee). Site of an early battle which pushed the Confederates out of central Tennessee
- Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Kennesaw, Georgia). A preserved battleground featuring 11 miles of Union and Confederate earthworks.
- Stones River National Battlefield (Murfreesboro, Tennessee).
- Tupelo National Battlefield (Tupelo, Mississippi).
- Vicksburg National Military Park (Vicksburg, Mississippi). site of a 47-day siege in mid-1863.