American Civil War Tour 20 Day RV Caravan
More than 150 years have passed since our Civil War, the largest conflict on American soil. An estimated three million Americans were engaged and more than 650,000 of them lost their lives in order to prohibit slavery, develop a free labor system and provide full rights of citizenship regardless of color of skin. This War was one of the most destructive and divisive times in our country’s history – and it ultimately determined what kind of nation we would become.
The Civil War began because of many differences between ‘free’ and ‘slave-owning’ states and the power of the national government to prohibit the then constitutionally recognized and protected right to own African slaves. When Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election, eleven ‘slave-owning’ states in the Deep South ultimately seceded from the Union (United States of America) and formed a new nation, the Confederate States of America. President Lincoln and many Northern American States refused to recognize the legitimacy of Southern secession and considered it an unconstitutional act of rebellion. And so the war started with the primary aim of reuniting the Union.
Today, Fantasy guests can better understand the sources and ramifications of this devastating war by participating in our American Civil War Caravan, starting in Charleston, South Carolina, and following the path of the Confederate Army as it traveled north as far as Gettysburg. Along the way, we visit famous battle sites, memorials and museums – all of which teach us more about this sad but crucial period in American history.
In Charleston after our Get-Acquainted Party, Orientation and Welcome Dinner, we are introduced to the beginnings of the War by a guest speaker. We visit the remains of the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to ever sink an enemy warship. Powered by a hand cranked propeller, it crept into Charleston’s Harbor and torpedoed the USS Houstatonic. We visit the Old Slave Mart Museum, where African slaves were sold and is now a tribute to African-American art and culture. On our second day, we head to Ft. Sumter. It was here, on April 12, 1861, that Confederate forces fired the first shots of the Civil War. We top off our Charleston stay with a horse-drawn carriage tour of the Old Town’s Historic District.
We spend the next night in South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, where we enjoy a guided tour of the South Carolina State House, home to many works of art commemorating the state’s history. There are even six stars on the building that identify the spots where six Union cannonballs hit the building during the Civil War. We also visit the Military Museum and Relic Room, which chronicle South Carolina’s martial traditions since the Revolutionary War in 1670.
We stay three nights in Atlanta, and we couldn’t be in a better location – our campground is nestled in the woods, right in the middle of Stone Mountain Park. The 3,200 acre park is built around Stone Mountain, the world’s largest piece of exposed granite – and containing the carved portraits of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis. We enjoy a lakeside gourmet dinner right in the park. The following day, we travel to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, nearly 3,000 acres of land preserving the history of the War’s Atlanta Campaign and where the Confederate Army defeated General Sherman’s Union soldiers who outnumbered them two to one. We visit the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, which shows us the important role railroads played during the War. Next stop, the Atlanta History Center, 33 acres of historic homes, beautiful gardens and interactive displays depicting the history of the area. Then there’s a full day for exploring Stone Mountain Park itself, including an antebellum plantation, the Summit Skyride, a scenic railroad. Or we can just stay and chill at the campground.
We move on to Chattanooga, Tennessee, tucked between the mountains and on the banks of the Tennessee River. Due to its strategic location and river and rail transportation, Chattanooga was considered the ‘Gateway to the South’ and the scene of some of the most hard-fought battles of the War. We board the Incline Railway, climbing a mile up to the top of Lookout Mountain and experiencing a 3-D presentation of the ‘Battle Above the Clouds.’ The following day, we drive through the Chicamauga Chattanooga National Military Park – the oldest and largest military park in the nation established by Civil War veterans from both sides in 1889.
We follow the trail north to Virginia, stopping in Bristol and enjoying a campground cookout. Then it’s on to Lexington, home of the Virginia Military Institute, which played a very important role in the Civil War – 22 men who had taught or attended VMI became Confederate Army generals and nearly 800 cadets became officers. Both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are buried here and we visit memorials to them both. This charming town, located in the Shenandoah Valley, was one of the most hotly contested areas for both the north and the south and was conquered and re-conquered several times.
Our next stop, Appomattox, is where the Army of Northern Virginia, aka ‘Lee’s Army,’ surrendered to Union troops on April 9, 1865. Stripped of food and supplies, the Confederates were surrounded with no possibility of escape. We visit the Museum of the Confederacy, which contains more than 100,000 artifacts from the Civil War, before we move on to the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Confederate troops were retreating, and it is here that General Lee finally surrendered to General Ulysses Grant. Trying to find a location for this historic meeting, local businessman Wilmer McLean offered his home to the Generals. We tour McClean House today.
Apparently, General Lee wore his full dress uniform for the occasion, while Grant arrived muddy and in a disheveled field uniform. Grant hurriedly wrote out the terms of the surrender – all Confederate officers and men were to be pardoned, and they could keep their personal possessions, including (most importantly) their horses and mules. The Union Army provided food rations for the starving southern troops.
We travel on to New Market, where in 1864 and prior to the surrender, 10,000 Union soldiers moved up the Shenandoah Valley to destroy the railroad and canal complex in Lynchburg. They got as far as New Market, where they were attacked by a makeshift Confederate army of about 4,100 men. At a crucial point in the battle, key Union soldiers were withdrawn from the line to replenish ammunition. The Confederate army moved forward and the Union forces withdrew, burning the North Fork Bridge behind them. We spend two nights in New Market to learn more about this battle. For those who choose, there’s time for an optional guided tour of Endless Caverns, six miles of cave with countless side tunnels and channels located at the base of the Massanutten Mountain Range.
Our next night is spent at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the easternmost town in the state and located where Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland meet. This small town played an important role in the Civil War in 1859 when abolitionist John Brown led a nighttime raid on the town, capturing prominent citizens and taking over the local Armory. Brown had thought that local slaves would join him in his efforts, but that did not happen, and he was quickly defeated by Robert E. Lee. Once the War began, Harpers Ferry changed hands fourteen times. In 1862, Stonewall Jackson led Confederate troops to victory in the Battle of Harpers Ferry, followed by the largest surrender of U.S. soldiers during the War. Nearly 12,400 Union troops became prisoners, later to be paroled and exchanged for Confederate prisoners. Union forces permanently reoccupied the town in 1864.
During our visit to this tiny enclave, we’ll see the Civil War Living History Museum, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and have time for an optional visit to Antietam National Battlefield.
We continue into northern territory to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. The Union Victory here resulted in Lee’s retreat and subsequent surrender in Appomattox, thus ending the hopes of an independent Confederate States of America. As we will see on our guided tour of the battle, it was a devastating fight with an estimated 20,000 injured soldiers from both sides. We visit the Gettysburg National Park Service Museum and watch the film A New Birth of Freedom that tells the story of the Battle and how it affected the outcome of the War. We then move on to view the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama painting, created in the 1880s by French artist Paul Philippoteaux. The oil painting, (longer than a football field and four stories tall), along with light and sound effects, totally engages us in the wrath of this Battle and the War itself.
It is here that we end our journey of the bloody battlefields and sad story of our nation divided. At our Fantasy Farewell Dinner, we look back on the sobering history and experiences we’ve shared during the past 20 days. Our country emerged as one nation undivided, but the sacrifices to reach that point were countless.
Four months after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln visited the site. It was here that he gave his brief (two minute) Gettysburg Address, which began: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . .testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.”
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