Civil War: Places of Interest

Places of Interest |  People| Trivia & Other Stories

 

Located all around the Historic Triangle are buildings and sites that are dedicated to the memories of the battles that took place along the peninsula. While some sites can be visited publicly or through a tour, some are not accessible and can only be seen from the outside. We offer maps that show the general area of the site. Some streets cannot be publicly accessed.

Williamsburg  |  Yorktown  |  Jamestown and Others
 

Williamsburg


Williamsburg was the site of a major battle in 1862. The town was a central hub during the Peninsula Campaign and Federal control after the battle, although Confederate troops did try to retake the town several times. Today, the town resembles its colonial era appearance and offers tours and shops for visitors.  As you pass by some of these buildings, take the time to find these places.

Confederate Monument  |  Cedar Grove Cemetery  |  Binn's Fashion Shop  |  Public Hospital  |  Kimball Theatre
Wren Building  |  Redoubt Park  |  Bruton Parish Church

The Confederate Monument
Once located on Palace Green, this monument was donated by the Daughters of the Confederacy and the City of Williamsburg to remember those who fell during the war. During the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, the monument was moved next to the Williamsburg-James City Courthouse to preserve the Colonial look of the area, then moved again to Bicentennial Park, where the Galt Family is now buried. The park is between the National Center for State Courts and the De Witt Wallace Decorative Art Museum. This is one of two confederate monuments in the city, the other residing in Cedar Grove Cemetery.
South Henry Street, Williamsburg, VA |
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Cedar Grove Cemetery
Established in 1859, the Cedar Grove Cemetery was established in 1859. After the Battle of Williamsburg, the citizens were unsure where to bury those Confederates who fell during the fight. More than 250 Confederates were buried. Most of the soldiers names where known and recorded.  In 1935, a monument was erected to mark the site. Union soldiers were buried in Yorktown.
809 South Henry Street, Williamsburg, VA | View Map

Binn's Fashion Shop
In 1861, this building was originally a home owned by Edward Lively, who put out a newspaper called the Weekly Gazette and Eastern Virginia Advertiser. It was also the building over which the first confederate flag was raised. During the war, Union officers took over the presses and started printing their own newspaper, the Cavalier. After the war, Lively and his brother relocated the presses to Yorktown, then returned to Williamsburg, where they started printing the local paper known as the Virginia Gazette, which is still in production today and keeps the locals informed. However, the building became Binn's Fashion Shop in 1925 and offers designer clothes.
435 West Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, VA
I View Map

Public Hospital (Eastern Lunatic Asylum)
Now the De Witt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, this was once the main hospital during the Civil War. It was also the first insane asylum in the country. When the Union army invaded, Dr. John Galt was stripped of his responsibilities as head of the hospital and died soon after. Some believe that he died from the grief that he felt from losing his place. After the war, the board of directors took control again. The original building burned down in 1885, but was restored to its colonial look in 1985. The museum can be entered through the Public Hospital building. 
325 West Francis Street, Williamsburg, VA |
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Kimball Theatre
The Kimball Theatre site was originally the location of the Ware House, owned by Mrs. Elizabeth Ware. Towards the end of the battle, a wounded Confederate soldier was taken in and cared for here. He died shortly after. The owners covered the body out of respect. A short time later, a band of Union soldiers came in. One entered the theatre, hearing there was a wounded soldier on the premises. The owner took him down to the basement, where the body was. When the soldier pulled back the blanket, he discovered that the dead soldier was his own brother. 
428 West Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, VA |
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Wren Building
Completed in 1700, the Wren Building is the oldest academic building that is still in use.  The building has burned down several times through history. During the Federal occupation of the Civil War, the building was used as a barracks. In September of 1862, after a small Confederate band kidnapped a Union General, a group of Federal soldiers retaliated by burning the Wren Building. The soldiers made sure that no one could stop the fire.  After the war, the site was considered to be on the border of the Union and Confederacy.
Intersection of Richmond Rd, Jamestown Rd, and Boundary St. | View Map

Redoubt Park
Located along Quarterpath Road, Redoubt Park is home to redoubts one and two. These redoubts were the idea of the President of William & Mary at the time, Benjamin Ewell. These are two of fourteen redoubts that were built by Gen. John Magruder between College and Queens Creeks. The redoubts were defensive lines meant to guard the Confederate right flanks during the battle. During the Battle of Williamsburg, this particular area was the scene of a very bloody skirmish, hence the name "Bloody Ravine." Redoubt Park has several markers along its trail as part of the Civil War Trails Program and is open to the public.
506 Quarterpath Road, Williamsburg, VA |
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Bruton Parish Church
Located on Duke of Gloucester Street next to Palace Green, Bruton Parish is one of the original Colonial buildings. The church was used for services during the Battle of Williamsburg and after, like so many other buildings, was used as a hospital. Over forty Confederate soldiers are buried in the churchyard. Services were held again after the wounded soldiers were removed and the Union occupied the city. However, in 1863, the Provost Marshall halted services because the rector had neglected to add a prayer for the President of the United States in his sermon. The church is still in use today and is open to the public.
331 W. Duke of Gloucester St., Williamsburg, VA | View Map

Yorktown


During the Civil War, Yorktown was considered a strategic point. Whichever side controlled the town, controlled the travel up and down the peninsula. While no major fight took place in the area, some of the homes in the town acted as hospitals while others took some damage for non-militaristic reasons.

Waterfront  |  Nelson House  |  Cornwallis' Cave  |  Confederate Cemetery  |  Grace Church 
Dudley Digges' House  |  Moore House

Yorktown Waterfront
Another brief but important area during the Civil War between April 5 and May 4, 1862, Yorktown was the first stop for McClellan's Army after landing at Fort Monroe. Although the Federals outnumbered Confederates, McClellan wanted to play it safe and brought his heavy artillery to the front lines. At the same time, Gen. Joseph Johnston brought reinforcements to Yorktown. McClellan sent out a small team that discovered a weakness in the Yorktown lines. McClellan failed to act on this weakness and waited while his navy focused on moving up the peninsula. Before they could take action, the Confederates retreated to Williamsburg. McClellan took this to be a great victory for the Union.
425 Water Street, Yorktown, VA |
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Nelson House
The Nelson House was constructed in 1730 and was once the home of Thomas Nelson, Jr., the most famous name from Yorktown and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. During the Civil War, like many other buildings, the Nelson House was used as a hospital for the Confederate troops and then the Union Troops. The house remained in the Nelson family until 1908, when they put it on the market in need of renovations. It was then purchased 1914 by George P. Blow, fixed up. It was again purchased by the National Park Service in 1968 and refurbished to resemble the Colonial look. It is open to the public as part of a tour.
301 Main St. in Yorktown, VA | View Map

Cornwallis' Cave
Known from the Revolutionary War as the cave in which Gen. Cornwallis hid and eventually surrendered in 1781, Cornwallis' Cave was also used during the Civil War by the Confederacy in 1862. It was used mostly as a powder magazine for the armies and, when necessary, it was also used as a hospital. However, Yorktown saw no real fighting during the Civil War as McClellan did not take advantage of a weakness that a small team discovered at the end of April, 1862. Unfortunately, Cornwallis' Cave is not open to public access, although it can be seen along a tour offered by the National Park Service.
636 Water Street, Yorktown, VA | View Map

Confederate Cemetery
The Yorktown National Cemetery, as it is known today, is the final resting place of over two thousand people, with most of them being soldiers from the war. The cemetery is located next to the same battlefield where the British soldiers surrendered to General George Washington in 1781, making it one of the few sites that is known for two major battles. Of the 2,024 burials, 1,596 are marked and of those, only 747 are known. An alphabetical list of the known burials can be found here. The cemetery was inspected in 1868 and revealed that 734 soldiers are known and 1,429 are unknown.
Colonial National Historic Parkway, Yorktown, VA | View Map

Grace Church
Grace Church is one of the oldest churches in the country. The church was gutted by a fire in 1848 and was restored quickly. During the war, Grace Church was used as a hospital, first for the Confederates and then the Federals. In 1863, after the Peninsula Campaign, an explosion caused the bell in the tower to crack. The bell had to be recast in 1886. The church still offers services today as the Grace Episcopal Church. Many notable figures are buried in the cemetery next to the church, including six generations of the Nelson Family, including Thomas Nelson.
111 Church Street, Yorktown, VA | View Map

 

Dudley Digges House
Built by Dudley Digges, a lawyer from Yorktown, this house is the only wood-frame building to survive the Siege of Yorktown and the Great Fire. The Dudley Digges House is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Yorktown. The house is privately owned and not open to the public. However, it can be seen from Main Street in Yorktown. After the siege of Yorktown, the house was used as the headquarters of General George McClellan. After moving through Yorktown, the Union forces used the house as a post headquarters for Fort Yorktown in Yorktown Village.
605 Main St., Yorktown, VA | View Map

 

Moore House
The Moore House is known mostly as the house in which General Cornwallis offered his surrender to General Washington. The house was chosen because it was out of firing range and had sustained minimal damage. That was not the case during the Civil War. The house sat in the middle of the fighting and took heavy damage. After the siege, Union troops used the house as a signal station for gunships on the river. Troops also stripped the house's siding to use for fuel for fires. The house was considered unlivable until its restoration in 1881. The house can be accessed as part of a tour.
210 Nelson Road, Yorktown, VA | View Map

Jamestown & Other Places


Jamestown, much like Yorktown, was considered a strategic point because it overlooked the James River, allowing the Confederate troops to keep track of who came up the river. Also, similarly to Yorktown, Jamestown Island never saw any major battles. In addition to Jamestown Island, many other sites exist throughout the peninsula. Most of these sites are open to the public and welcome visitors.

Jamestown Island  |  Berkeley House  |  Lee Hall Mansion | Sherwood Forest | Slabtown

Jamestown Island
Jamestown Island is well known as the beginning of the country. At the time of the Civil War, Jamestown Island was owned by William Allen. At the beginning of the war, Allen used his own money to raise an army on the island. Officials in Richmond realized that Jamestown could control the James River, protecting them. General Robert E. Lee himself came down to oversee the building of the earthworks. Two were built up, but were never fully manned. After troops cleared out of Williamsburg in 1862, the island was abandoned and became a hideout for refugee contraband slaves.
1368 Colonial Parkway, Jamestown, VA | View Map

The Berkeley Plantation House
Part of Berkeley Plantation, the Berkeley House was the supply house of General George McClellan and his 140,000 Union troops. The house is also the birthplace of one of the most famous military songs, Taps. It was composed by General Daniel Butterfield in gardens in 1862. The song was used originally as a "lights out" call for the soldiers. Today, it is used at a soldier's passing as well as different flag ceremonies. The house is home to a Civil War museum as well, which takes people around the gardens and grounds to experience what it was like as a soldier during the War.
12602 Harrison Landing Road, Charles City, VA |
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Lee Hall Mansion
Built between 1851 and 1859, Lee Hall Mansion was home to affluent planter Richard Decauter Lee, his wife Martha and their children.  One of the last remaining antebellum homes on the Virginia Peninsula, Lee Hall offers visitors a step back to the mid-Victorian period with its authentically furnished rooms, including an elegant ladies parlor.  During April and May of 1862, the home was used as a headquarters by Confederate generals Joseph E. Johnson and John B. Magruder.  Hundreds of artifacts including a tablecloth from the USS Monitor, are on display in the Museum's 1862 Peninsula Campaign Gallery.  Special events and evening programs are held year-round.  Parking is free and there is a gift shop.  Lee Hall is partially wheelchair accessible. 
163 Yorktown Road, Newport News, VA | View Map
 

Sherwood Forest
From his home at Sherwood Forest, John Tyler, 10th President of the United States (1841 - 1844), saw the approaching storms of war that would divide his beloved United Sates.  Having retired from politics, he reentered public life in February 1861, to chair the ill-fated Virginia Peace Convention held in Washington D.C.  An advocate of states' rights, where war did break out Tyler sided with the Confederacy and was elected to the House of Representatives of the Confederate Congress.  However, he died before taking office.  Because of his allegiance to the Confederacy, Tylers' death was the only one in presidential history not to be officially mourned in Washington.  Union troops threatened to burn his Sherwood Forest home but were prevented from doing so by their commanding officers.  President Lincoln had ordered that the homes of all past U.S. Presidents would be spared.  Sherwood Forest grounds are open year round.  Mansion tours can be made by appointment. 
14501 John Tyler Memorial Highway, Charles City, VA | View Map

Slabtown
Originally called the "Grand Contraband Camp," Slabtown is located in Elizabeth City County, near Fort Monroe. During the Civil War, slaves were considered the property of their owners. In this way, the Federals could hold escaped slaves as "contraband" of the war. However, this did not count them as free. As the war progressed, more slaves made their way north. They decided to build a small town from debris found in Hampton. Eventually, about 10,000 slaves applied for "contraband" status. The slaves were taught (against Virginia law) by a woman named Mary S. Peake. In addition, many slaves voluntarily formed the first U.S. Colored Troops.

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