What? A Civil war museum in Harrisburg? There was no major battle fought in Harrisburg, what kind of museum would be located in Harrisburg? Those and many more questions filtered through my head as I was looking for places to visit while we spent an overnight trip in Harrisburg, PA. The museum had very good reviews so I put it on the list of possible places to visit while we were in the area. When it came time to choose our destinations, the National Civil War Museum was actually at the top of the list of places to visit, simply because we like history and the Civil war is always a fascinating subject. Admittedly, I was still a bit skeptical about how good this museum was actually going to be but it blew me out of the water! This place was incredible. From the grounds to the building to the displays, the National Civil War Museum is incredible!
The Park at the National Civil War Museum
The museum is located within the Reservoir Park in Harrisburg, PA. In fact, while the museum of course has an actual street address, the website actually advises that if you are using GPS that you type in Reservoir Park. That is exactly what we did and we had no problem! We entered the park through the gates and began to wind up a hill. The roads are well marked at each intersection and there was absolutely no confusion as to how to get to the Museum. This is in an active park with signs for various recreation facilities. We did not explore, we were single mindedly heading to the museum. Around and up we went. We could see the museum building looming above us. It was an impressive building sitting high on the hill. The parking lots are on a lower terrace from the museum proper, with only a short flight of steps to take you to the proper level. There was plenty of parking on the day that we arrived. It was quite hot outside, so we quickly made our way to the museum.
The building is quite impressive. The grounds are well maintained and there is an air of authority as you walk to the entrance way. We pushed open the doors and entered the building and the authority faded away to a feeling of grandeur. The atrium was quite impressive. A grand staircase curled gracefully in the center of the large open space.
To the right we could see a gift shop visible through a windowed wall. We made our way into the gift shop and awaited our turn. The clerk was helpful and in no time at all we had purchased our tickets and been given all the important information about the museum.
The National Civil War Museum Tour
The museum tours are self guided and begin on the second floor and will wind you around the upper level before bringing you to a set of stairs (there is elevator access) to allow you to traverse and explore the lower level of the museum. After a quick stop at the immaculately clean bathrooms, we headed up the stairs to officially begin our visit. The second floor of the building is divided into two parts. The right side of the building appeared to be offices, conference rooms and areas for administration needs. The left side of the building was the actual museum. We quickly pushed through the doors and into the museum rooms. Immediately we step back into time, a time immediately preceding the war and as we walk through the museum we traverse through the many months and years of the war and through to its culmination.
The museum is full of a variety of different things on display. You will encounter many showcases of artifacts from the time period. I was especially intrigued with the hat box that housed Abe Lincoln’s famous top hat. But there were artifacts that I had never seen the likes of before in this museum. There are television monitors scattered around the museum that filmed filmed segments with actors giving us a glimpse into the times before, during and after the war. There are life sized scenes showing aspects of the war. You will move from thing to another with amazement and awe.
My Perception of the National Civil War Museum
As I toured this museum I was particularly intrigued with the content of their artifacts and displays. The museum clearly outlines the war and the quest for freedom through battles. But it did not dwell on the large battles that we all know so well. It talked about some of the smaller battles for sure, but it also focused on the social aspect of the Civil War. By this, it was giving us a glimpse of life during that terrible time in the United States. The level of detail into these various aspects of the social history was amazing. One full room was dedicated to the clothing and accouterments of the soldiers, both North and South. You will see items such as playing cards and intricate bone carvings that are the remnants of the activities that helped the soldiers occupy their time in camp. There are displays that highlight every aspect of camp life for a Civil War Soldier, medicine, food, music, it’s all there for you to peruse.
This museum far exceeded my expectations in every way. The information is presented in a way that is pleasing and easy to understand. The displays are spread out and the area is well managed so that we were never made to feel overcrowded. The website for this museum indicates that a visitor usually spends between two and four hours at the museum. Their estimate was exactly correct as we spent about three to three and a half hours. The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg is top notch and if the opportunity presents itself, I wouldn’t be adverse to visiting again.
In February of this year we decided to get away for the weekend. We wanted to do something that was lighthearted but fun. We wanted to get away. We wanted to explore. It was cold and we felt our options were limited, so we decided to go into Virginia and visit two small towns. We went to Front Royal Virginia and Manassas, Virginia and explored and visited their quaint downtown areas.
Our first stop was actually in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We were heading down the road and decided to take a stroll through the shops in that unique town. Visiting the fun shops and stores in Harpers Ferry really set the tone for our whole small town weekend!
A stroll through Front Royal, Virginia
Front Royal sits just north of the Shenandoah National Park and the famed Skyline Drive. The town sits nestled in the shadow of the Appalachian mountains. The town received a lot of visitors who are seeking to embark upon the skyline trail, hike in the mountains surrounding the town or canoe in the plentiful rivers and streams.
We arrived in Front Royal, Virginia with enough time to stroll through the town and explore the shops. This little town was alive with activity as we strolled up and down the street. We were tickled to see an antique shop and a trail outfitter store. There was no question that we were going to go into those stores. But we also enjoyed looking at the architectural salvage in one storefront and we had a blast visiting all the stores on the street.
A trip to Front Royal is not complete without a stop in at the General Store. Whenever we are in town we always like to stop in this shop. This store has a bit of everything. We looked at the cast iron pans, shoes, coats, knives, candy and so many more things. We always take our time to amble and stroll through this jam packed store and almost always have to try on a cowboy hat! On this trip, I even bought a new nightgown!
We had a great time exploring this small town. It has a charm that just draws us in. The people are welcoming and the stores are unique and fun! But the evening went way too fast. We enjoyed a good nights sleep at a locally owned hotel and a nice hearty breakfast at a local diner and we were ready for our next day of exploring!
Our next stop was Manassas, Virginia
For our next adventure, we decided to head east about an hour and explore the town of Manassas, Virginia. Manassas is probably best known for it's role in the Civil War, where not one but two instrumental battles were fought. But many people visiting the area never take the time to explore the actual town.
We had been there before and knew that it had a neat historic downtown area that would interest us. OK let me be honest, we also knew that there was a candle shop in that downtown that just might hold some interest for us! So we headed off!
Manassas, Virginia lived up to our expectations that day! We enjoyed our leisurely stroll through the historic downtown. We popped in and out of the stores and explored the side streets. We did find that candle shop and we did purchase a lot of candles! The stores were so fun and many of them were in old buildings that still held many of the vintage aspects of the architecture. My favorite store was the Used book shop. Sadly, the pandemic hit just a short month after our visit and the bookstore closed it's doors for good.
We ambled down a side street to the site of the Manassas Museum. This museum offers free admission and has a small gift shop in the lobby. The museum is dedicated to the history of the area. It won't take long to visit but it is absolutely fascinating to see how the area surrounding Manassas was developed and how it has changed over the years!
We were impressed with the town of Manassas. We Spent time watching the ice skaters on the outdoor rink under the pavilion in the center park. Upon reading up on the area, I discovered that in the summers when the ice rink is closed the town of Manassas will utilize the are for farmers markets and community events and festivals. I loved to see the community spending time building a place of recreation and activity for their residents!
We had an absolutely fantastic time exploring both of these small towns in Virginia. Both Front Royal and Manassas made us feel welcome and afforded us the opportunity to experience life in a small town. The shops and products in these locally owned shops were top notch and sorely tempted us to spend money! (Which we did). Visiting small town America is definitely a great day of exploration!
In June of 2020, we visited the area near Summersville, West Virginia and Fayetteville, West Virginia to see the New River Gorge Bridge. The three days in the area were not enough, we saw a lot of the sites, but there were so many more places to explore. I had lists of places that I wanted to see but we ran out of time. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield was one of those places. In less than four months, we were back to see some of what we missed on our first visit.
The civil war battle in 1861 that took place near the Carnifex Ferry was a mystery to me. I had never heard of this battle and I wanted to learn more. Nestled in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia, this battleground is often overlooked as people chose to visit the larger more well known Civil War historical locations. However, this battlefield is a great historical stop for the person that is in the area enjoying the kayaking, hiking and gorgeous mountain top views that the New River and Gauley River areas offer.
The West Virginia State Park: Carnifex Ferry Battlefield
The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield is a small State Park near Summersville, West Virginia. The area draws tourists who vacation on the Summersville Reservoir, boat the Gauley and nearby New Rivers, come to see the mighty New River Gorge Bridge or visit the multiple parks (national and state) in this area. An area that is a playground for the nature lover and outdoorsman.
The grounds of this park have been preserved in memory of a civil war battle that took place in September of 1861. To fully understand the battle however, we need to back track a few days in time before the battle.
The Battle of Carnifex Ferry
In August of 1861, a contingent of the Confederate Army encamped in the area near the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield. The roughly 1,800 men settled onto the land near the Patterson Farmhouse. In early September, the union army arrived with nearly 7,000 troops. In the afternoon of September 10th, the Union army advanced upon the heavily entrenched confederate army. Both sides fought valiantly and it was the Union army that retreated at the end of the day.
When the union general was pushed back he must have realized his error. You see, he had only advanced a small portion of his available men to attack this confederate camp. When he retreated, he knew it was only for the night and that in the morning that he would be attacking with his full force of me.
Riding high on his troops ability to push back the Union army on the first day of fighting, the confederate general knew that he was seriously outnumbered. He assessed the risks and the benefits and that night in the cover of darkness he withdrew his troops and retreated.
The Union army claimed victory for this battle. They held the ground that they had fought for and the Confederate Army had retreated. However, the Confederate Army did not see it that way. They claimed that they rightfully held the victory due to the fact that they sustained far fewer casualties and absolutely no fatalities during this battle. A claim that could not be made by the Union Army.
Near the Patterson House on the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield is a single grave. This grave is a stark reminders that risk of being a troop in the Civil War was not confined to times of battle. Sickness in the encampments was a very real problem and this grave is testament to that. On September 7th, only three days before the battle a young soldier died of sickness within that encampment. Granville Blevins had been in the army for less than 3 months when he passed away. His brother and friends gave him a proper burial on the Patterson land. While many men died of sickness while encamped here, this is the only known gravesite.
Other activities at the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield
This state park also offers a few other neat tidbits of interest. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield can boast of a fabulous overlook that gives visitors a breathtaking view of the river far below. This battlefield offers a 2 mile trail that circles that battlefield and will take a visitor near all points of interest within the battlefield. The multiple picnic shelters and the softball field round out the variety of activities that this park offers.
A trip to the Gauley River and the New River would not be complete without at least a quick stop to see the hallowed ground of this battlefield. During the summer months, the gift shop and museum is open for visitors (weekends and holidays). If you enjoy watching reenactments, you can visit in early September during an even numbered year and take in the thunder of guns as this battle for control of the valley takes place. During our visit we split our day at Carnifex Ferry Battlefield with a trip to the Babcock State Park to see the gorgeous Glade Creek Grist mill! Thanks for the great visit West Virginia State Parks!
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!