It’s practically in the backyard…well, one county over, and it took me over a year to get out to the Stafford Civil War Park in Stafford County, Virginia. Although a bit embarrassed about that, I don’t regret the opportunity to learn and use the experience as a jumping-off point for some extended historical reading about winter camps. It’s a different experience than showing up at a historic site armed with months of reading and a list of things to find in or on the land. And actually refreshing to “play tourist” for a change!
So, here are a few things I learned as a “first time visitor” which might be helpful if you’re planning a trip out to the preserved winter camp sites and hilltop forts. (And a few photographs of the cold before the storm.)
There are five stops/parking areas along nice paved roads. Definitely start at Stop #1 (just drive until the road ends after you enter the park) because there are great interpretive panels and a good map of the sites in the preserved area to help decide what you’ll want to see and do. Stop #1 also has the replica cabin and the marked camp sites.
I really liked that the camp remnants are “labelled” and that was a really good way to start learning how to look at these type of historic sites. Looking at patterns in the ground depressions or a few rocks piled together might be the starting clues that some Civil War soldiers camped here once upon a time. With the marked interpretation, this is a great site to learn exactly what those clues look like.
Stop #2 was one of my favorites and is the first of three preserved artillery positions on the steep hills. Follow the signs and you’re allowed to walk through the outer trench and look up and into the fortified artillery position. (Just don’t climb on the trenches!) This was a really interesting perspective, especially to see the cannons “from the other side.”
It’s worth the walk down the remains of the old corduroy road to the historic Daniel Bridge site. Stone footings from the bridge remain, and there is a good trail to the west. The trails are clear and marked, but not always clear “how far” to the next points of interest.
I took the VERY steep climb up to Battery #2 and then walked back by the paved road to the parking lot for Stop #2 (Battery #1). There are several other trails and connectors that I did not have a chance to walk since daylight was fading.
I drove out to to Battery #3 and don’t miss this one! A solid artillery fortification with the dug remains of the ammunition storage “house” and the remains of a soldier-built road.
My favorite things about Stafford Civil War Park:
- Accessible and enjoyable by car or on foot. Most of the historic resources are relatively close to the parking areas, but for the more adventurous, the hiking trails are nicely marked and a great way to explore as well.
- The historic signage presents solid interpretation for “what we’re looking at” and Civil War winters and fortifications in general.
- There are benches along the trails! It was too cold, and I was racing the setting sun on this first visit, but it’s nice to see places to sit and relax along the trails.
A few things to know before you visit… (What I wished I’d known before-hand)
- Just keep driving! Definitely have written directions or plug the address into your GPS. I kept wondering when I was going to get there. It’s a little remote, but well-marked. Trust the signs.
- Take a photo of the map at Stop #1 to help you stay oriented on the trails. The connector trails are not marked on this map, but it will be helpful to match with the trail directions “this way to Battery 3.”
- There is a nice covered area at Stop 3 that would be enjoyable for a picnic or an afternoon of reading. (And there are restrooms.)
I definitely want to go back on a warmer winter day and finish the trail network! Stafford Civil War Park goes on my list of recommended sites when I’m touring visitors around because it’s accessible and enjoyable for all ages and has easy and informative historical interpretation. No, it’s not a battlefield…but what a great place to look at Civil War history etched into the ground and study artillery fortifications up close.
Oh, and it is a dog-friendly park (leashed) so if you have a four-legged buddy, they are welcome.
Have you visited? What would you recommend for my second visit to the sites? Or are you looking forward to touring in the future?
If you’re looking for more photos or detailed history, check out these other posts on ECW: