Create quality family time by exploring these Civil War treasures

Karen Graham

With the sesquicentennial observance of the Civil War winding down, there are still many ways to blend family time with local Civil War history.

Beautiful and historic Leesylvania State Park is located on the Potomac River in Woodbridge, Va. For history buffs, the park is the former home of the Lee and Fairfax families, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. 

Open year round, Leesylvania offers camping, canoeing and kayaking rentals, hiking trails, a visitor center museum, and playgrounds. On weekends, there are frequent children’s programs, including Junior Ranger day camps, children’s fishing tournaments, and guided historic and nature walks. 

Washington District of Columbia. House near Fort Stevens showing effect of shot during Earlys attack on Washington Date: c. 1864. Civil War photographs 1861-1865 (Library of Congress)
Washington District of Columbia. House near Fort Stevens showing effect of shot during Earlys attack on Washington Date: c. 1864. Civil War photographs 1861-1865 (Library of Congress)

A park spokesperson recommends the Lee Woods Trail for families. It’s a 2-mile trail that passes by a Civil War site and a cannon on Freestone Point.

Another Civil War treasure is Fort Ward in Alexandria, known as one of the best preserved Union forts, and one of a string of 28 forts and 21 batteries built to protect Washington, D.C., as the largest engineering project of the war.

The Fort Ward Museum provides exhibits, educational programs, and tours, all of which help teach an understanding of the role Alexandria played during the war. (alexandriava.gov/fortward)

Aside from Fort Ward, there are remnants of 10 forts and 10 gun battery emplacements visible today around Washington, D.C. Perhaps best known is Fort Stevens, located at 13th and Quackenbos streets NW and the site of the only Civil War battle fought within the District of Columbia. President Abraham Lincoln became the only sitting president to come under enemy fire when he observed the battle in July 1864. The fort was partially restored in 1937.

Prior to the Civil War, Alexandria was a distinctly Southern town and hosted a flourishing slave trade. Today, you can visit Freedom House, once home to Franklin and Armfield, which was among the largest domestic slave dealers. The site interprets the local slave trade history. 159695969_c89a9ee009_b

South to Fredericksburg

In Fredericksburg, Va., check out the children’s walking tour starting at the visitor center. The self-guided tour was designed for and written by kids, with a variety of destinations. 

The first stop on the tour is the Fredericksburg Area Museum, which provides information on the Civil War battles in and around the area, as well as the stories of slaves who crossed the Rappahanock River to freedom in 1862.

The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought in December 1862 and was the first urban street fighting for Americans. The Fredericksburg Museum has a permanent exhibit focusing on this battle, which includes personal stories and experiences from civilians and a selection of Civil War weapons from the Johnson Gun Collection.

The Trail to Freedom is another self-guided walking tour. It tells the story of 10,000 slaves who walked to freedom across the Union lines. Some slaves found work with the Union army and others moved further north. Follow the tour to read words and hear stories of the slaves who crossed into freedom. 

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