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From First Shot to Last

Oct 17, 2011 04:08PM ● By Anonymous
It was not yet dawn on April 12, 1861, when a single-shell shot landed at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. This shot signaled the beginning of the bloody and destructive American Civil War, and now, 150 years later, the nation is commemorating the warfare between the Southern Confederacy and the Northern Union. Straddling the North and South, Maryland served as a border state, though significantly more Maryland men fought for the Union. The “single bloodiest day in American military history” occurred at the Battle of Antietam, located in Sharpsburg, Maryland. There are 50 battlegrounds located between Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, and with such poignant and relevant Civil War history, this area’s commemoration of the Civil War sesquicentennial is sure to be exceptional.

This fall is rich with history, and with temperatures lowering and leaves changing, it is the perfect time of year to take a look back and experience some of that history. “There are a lot of great books and documentaries out there, but actually standing on the ground of the battlefields and walking that land is a different experience entirely,” says Mary Koik, the deputy director of communications at the Civil War Trust in D.C.

“I think the anniversary is really something that
will help a lot of people make this personal
connection to the past."

— Mary Koik of the Civil War Trust, D.C.

The Battle of Bull Run is known as the first great land battle and the true beginning of the war, despite the opening shots at Fort Sumter. The Bull Run battlefield is located just minutes away from Washington, D.C., in Fairfax County. Sharpsburg, the location of the famous Battle of Antietam, is located less than two hours west of Annapolis. At these battlefields, and each of the other 48 located in our region, visitors can take both self-guided and guided tours of the battlegrounds, view documentaries, visit museums, have a picnic, and visit several bookstores and souvenir shops. Most battlegrounds also have specific child and family-friendly activities.

As the 150th anniversary of the one of America’s most significant and influential conflicts continues, there will be several organized commemorating events. The Battle of Balls Bluff will observe the anniversary by holding it’s first-ever reenactment of the battle on October 22nd. One-thousand re-enactors will perform for a crowd of up to 3,000 spectators, who will be given the chance to “follow in the footsteps of heroes” in Leesburg, Virginia—about an hour and a half from Annapolis.

Additionally, there are several ongoing exhibits and displays that continue through the end of the 150th anniversary in 2014. The Virginia Historical Society will present its exhibit An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia, through December 30th in Richmond, then tour seven other Virginia museums through August 15th. The exhibit features more than 200 objects and 17 state-of-the-art audiovisual programs and encourages participants to consider the monumental impact that the war has had on this country. American citizens and the government alike are taking this opportunity to remember the Civil War and celebrate its anniversary—the U.S. Postal Service has issued both Bull Run and Fort Sumter commemorative stamps.

Whether you are in a group or flying solo, taking part in the nation’s commemorative events of The Civil War’s 150th anniversary will likely prove to be both educational and exhilarating. Looking back, learning about, and remembering this region and this country as it was150 years ago will provide insight into how it became our nation, as it stands today. And the best part: it’s all right in your backyard.

“I think the anniversary is really something that will help a lot of people make this personal connection to the past,” Koik says. “It makes you feel small to know how many tens of thousands of men were there and were wounded and killed, sometimes on that very day that you’re standing there… that’s what was happening here, today.”

For more information and a complete listing of commemorating events, visit or These websites provide direct links to websites unique to each battleground, where you can find directions, events, attractions, and more.