In case you’ve missed it, the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War – or War Between the States for those south of the Mason-Dixon line – is upon us. And there’s a lot going on to commemorate the more than 2,900 skirmishes fought on Tennessee soil alone.  But you don’t have to live in Tennessee to combine a family road trip with teaching your kids history through once-in-a-lifetime Civil War re-enactment experiences. In fact, if you live east of the Mississippi, there’s probably a few memorable events within driving distance. Road Trip!

You can check out links to reenactments and commemorative events for the National Park Service Sesquicentennial Commemoration here. Here are a few that our family has visited so far:

Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina

You can learn more here about the 150th Civil War commemorative ceremonies that took place in 2011. Fair warning: the fort can only be reached by boat so easily sea-sick travellers should plan accordingly. If you are in Charleston, don’t miss the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier at Patriot’s Point. Every boy with an ounce of imagination won’t need many reasons to love exploring this historic World War II craft. 

First Battle of Manasses (Bull Run) in Virginia.

Talk about the 150th reason to engage learning! History couldn’t have come much more alive than hearing the cannons booming, walking among the gently wafting tents in the Virginia summer heat, tugging on bits of jerky, hearing horses nervously neighing, and meeting the people who led the war effort (well, the re-enactors, I hope). My son can now tell me the significance of the position of a general’s horse on a statue. Nope. Not telling. Go find out for yourself. And for them. More here.

Fort Donelson, Tennessee

Near Dover, Tennessee, it was the site of the first major victory for the North. On the 150th anniversary, it’s hard to believe that the South was winning for the first year.

Local Civil War Events

Not all events are far away. Here in Northeast Ohio we found a more intimate re-enactment at President James A. Garfield’s home in Mentor, Ohio.

Our children have LOVED these Civil War experiences. To date, my kids have met President Lincoln, General Grant, scores of regular infantry men, and the women who served in support. They can’t do that on an X-Box! Plus their collection of Civil War gear continues to grow as they learn more about issues like states’ rights, slavery, and the value of every human life.

In addition to the hundreds of local commemorations that may be near you over the next three years, a few key events are coming soon that you won’t want to miss:

Battle of Shiloh

The bloodiest battle of the War at that time, it served notice that this conflict would be more devastating than anyone previously thought. One the most memorable events of the 150th at Shiloh promises to be the Grand Illumination on April 7, 2012, during which luminaries will be placed on the battlefield representing the  23,746 casualties of the terrible fight. That should make quite the impression on the kids – and you. You can check out other unofficial reenactment efforts here and here.

Battle of Antietam

Similar events are planned for the bloodiest one-day battle of the War that occurred on September 17 in Maryland. Tours, hikes, lectures, and re-enactments promise to make this a memorable learning event. Follow more details as they develop here.


July of 2013. Plan now to be part of the big one — the reenactment that will draw historians and families from across the country to that pivotal and hallowed ground. Check in here for more details.

There’s plenty more Civil War reenactment history where those came from. See this site for a general calendar of events throughout the National Park System. The NPS also offers Junior Ranger status for the children who engage to learn by completing various assignments that are surprisingly challenging though not excessively so. I have a degree in History and yet I actually learned a lot helping my son complete his. I am now proud to say that my son has arrived at Junior Ranger Historian status for visiting three Civil War 150th reenactment sites.

Start planning now to make the next few years come alive with memories — and lessons — from the past.



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