In The Great Tours: Civil War Battlefields, noted Civil War historians Caroline E. Janney and Peter S. Carmichael invite you to join them on the battlefield for an on-the-ground examination of how the Civil War was fought. In 15 lectures, you’ll visit 11 different sites that take you inside many of the war’s renowned campaigns, including Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Petersburg.
The Great Tours: Civil War Battlefields
Caroline Janney is the John L. Nau III Professor in History of the American Civil War and director of the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia, where she received a PhD in History. She won the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize for her book Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee’s Army after Appomattox.
Peter Carmichael is the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. He received a PhD in History from the Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of three books, including The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies.
01: The Power of Place: The Civil War in Context
Start your journey with a closer look at why battlefields matter. Turn next to how soldiers fought. How did the rifled musket limit tactical choices on the battlefield? What was the purpose of artillery? Why did Civil War officers persist in launching frontal attacks?
02: Manassas: The First Battle of Bull Run
Examine the first Union advance from Washington under General Irvin McDowell, whose troops were stopped short by Confederate forces under P. G. T. Beauregard at a small stream in Virginia called Bull Run. Take a tour of Henry House Hill, where the Union line collapsed, then follow the Union retreat across the Stone Bridge.
03: The Seven Days’ Battles
On June 25, 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s newly christened Army of Northern Virginia launched a series of battles that sent General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac reeling away from Richmond. Go inside this campaign, known as the Seven Days’ Battles, and discover how the bloodiest week in American history changed the course of the Civil War.
04: A Return to Manassas: The Second Battle of Bull Run
Go back to Bull Run for a second battle that saw the dazzling movements of Lee’s lieutenants, James Longstreet and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. On the field, you’ll stop at Brawner Farm, where fighting first erupted. Then, you’ll go to Deep Cut, a critical portion of railroad bed, and Chinn Ridge, where Union army officer Fletcher Webster met his end.
05: Antietam: America’s Bloodiest Day
Go inside the bloodiest day of the Civil War at the battlefield at Antietam. Here, you’ll learn how the terrain—cornfields, woods, farm lanes, and creeks—obscured troop formation and left soldiers vulnerable to assault. Look back and consider the ferocity of the fighting, including the wounding of Oliver Wendell Holmes, and more.
06: After Antietam: Photography and Medicine
Examine the aftermath of Antietam, by following in the footsteps of the war’s first photographers. You’ll explore the physical and emotional trauma the battle inflicted on the men who fought there, as well as how surgeons and nurses, including Clara Barton, cared for the wounded.
07: The Battle of Fredericksburg
Discover how the fiasco at Fredericksburg proved what many soldiers feared when President Lincoln replaced George B. McClellan with Ambrose Burnside: They would have to pay in blood for a purely political decision. Also, consider why General Robert E. Lee was frustrated in the wake of his lopsided victory.
08: The Battle of Chancellorsville
Explore the Battle of Chancellorsville, where an audacious Lee divided his army three times against a more numerous Army of the Potomac. Despite the Army of Northern Virginia’s victory, Lee’s losses at Chancellorsville were staggering: nearly 13,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing—and among the dead, the irreplaceable Stonewall Jackson.
09: Gettysburg: Day One
Turn now to Lee’s second raid into the North, which resulted in the Battle of Gettysburg—perhaps the most well-known battle and battlefield of the Civil War. On the field, you will stop at McPherson’s Woods and Willoughby Run; Barlow’s Knoll; and Cemetery Hill, where the first day’s fighting ended with the arrival of more troops.
10: Gettysburg: Days Two and Three
Continue your look at the Battle of Gettysburg with the significant moments of July 2nd and 3rd in 1863, including the battle’s most famous attack, Pickett’s Charge. You’ll spend time exploring locations like Peach Orchard; Little Round Top, and Chamberlain’s memories of its defense; and Culp’s Hill.
11: Remembering Gettysburg
How does a killing ground become a healing ground? Close out your time at Gettysburg with a focus on the aftermath of the battle. You’ll learn how the Union victory became a moment of redemption for the Army of the Potomac. You’ll learn about how burials were conducted and about the creation of a national cemetery to commemorate such sacrifice of life lost.
12: The Wilderness
After the Battle of Gettysburg, there would be no major military action in Virginia until the following spring, when Ulysses S. Grant joined the Army of the Potomac in the campaign that began in an area of Spotsylvania County and resulted in the Battle of the Wilderness. Explore Saunders Field and witness the disintegration of the Confederate line at Widow Tapp’s Field.
13: Spotsylvania Court House
First, stop at Laurel Hill, where a Union charge dissolved into a rout and the death of Union commander John Sedgewick. Then, explore the Mule Shoe, where federal troops fought to capture a formidable series of earthworks. Lastly, visit a bend in those earthworks that came to be known as the “Bloody Angle.”
14: Petersburg: The Crater
Plunge into one of the most shocking events of the entire Civil War. To break a stalemate during the siege of Petersburg, some Union soldiers dug a tunnel under Confederate lines and detonated four tons of powder. The explosion created a giant crater in Lee’s lines, but a bungled Union attack meant the siege would continue for months to come.
15: Lee’s Surrender: Appomattox Court House
Conclude the series with a discussion of Lee’s surrender to Grant at the Appomattox Court House. Consider why the way the war ended was impactful then and now, and continues to resonate with Americans.