Resource Roundup: Civil War Sesquicentennial Tools

By Jamie Royce Premium

Excited about the opportunities to relive history during the Civil War’s 150th anniversary? We are, too — so we mustered the best sesquicentennial offerings from around the web to celebrate. You no longer need a tour guide to lead you through a battlefield, and you don’t have to take a trip to the library to bone up on Civil War history. Use these 21st-century tools to party like it’s 1861. 

Virtual visits

The National Park Service offers digital versions of museum exhibits from historic sites and battlefields on its website, including several Civil War collections. From the Vicksburg, Miss., battlefield to Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield, Ill., home, you can explore key Civil War locations without leaving your living room:

  • Take an up-close look at letters, paintings and artifacts from Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee memorial. The collection features an interactive Lee family tree and family biographies.
  • The Clara Barton House exhibit details the life of the Civil War nurse who founded the American Red Cross.
  • Peek into a soldier’s day-to-day life in the Gettysburg Civil War Collection by examining artifacts from a typical Civil War military camp, from canteens to clothing to card games.
  • Flags served an integral role in the war, as they were used to identify regiments and mark locations in camp. Symbols of Battle displays flags from Appomattox, Gettysburg and other historic sites.
  • Discover the importance of river warfare at the Battle of Vicksburg exhibit and tour the recently raised U.S.S. Cairo, an ironclad gunboat sunk during the siege.
  • Poke around Lincoln’s Springfield, Ill., house or peruse Lincoln memorabilia in the Lincoln Home exhibit. It even features Mary Lincoln’s white cake recipe.
  • The Frederick Douglass House web exhibit chronicles the life of the slave-turned-statesman.

Battle app

Ever wonder if you were standing exactly where the 1st Texas Regiment fought? Or who commanded the brigade that occupied Devil’s Den? Now there’s an app for that.

The Civil War Trust created the Gettysburg: Devil’s Den & Little Round Top Battle iPhone app to serve as users’ lieutenant in battlefield tours. The app touts a GPS feature that leads users to the great historical sites in this most popular region of the Gettysburg battlefield. Virtual signs embedded in the app offer up historical information, expert videos and firsthand recordings from the participants who fought there in July 1863.

Look for the Civil War Trust to release more apps for other GPS-enabled smart phones and different battles.

State sites

Many states are commemorating the sesquicentennial through events and educational programming. Among our favorite state-centric resources:

  • The Pennsylvania sesquicentennial committee’s website features an interactive Civil War timeline, including state-specific events. An accompanying interactive map of Pennsylvania displays key battles, places and people; visit the digital artifact showcase to see items ranging from field surgical kits to a soldier’s portable chess set. The site also has a section linking to original historical documents that provide context for the war, including sections of the Constitution, the Missouri Compromise and the ruling in the Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court case.
  • University of Richmond students interviewed historians to gather their views on the events leading up to the Civil War, misunderstood aspects of the conflict and surprising or little-known insights. You can peruse those interviews on the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the American Civil War website.

Podcast picks

Learn about the war that divided the nation by listening to these pre-recorded online radio shows:

  • The Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission created a serial podcast of short lectures by historians on different aspects of the war in the state. Topics range from the Little Rock Arsenal Crisis to warfare on the Mississippi River.
  • National Park Service historians serve as your personal audio tour guides in’s podcasts. Downloadable maps complement the audio tours recorded on the battlefield.
  • Faculty and staff at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., are producing a weekly podcast reviewing key Civil War events that took place exactly 150 years before. Download episodes here.
  • The American Civil War Center offers digital dispatches as a supplement to its exhibits. Listen to readings of historic documents with commentaries by center staff, and delve deeper into the stories of the artifacts on display. Many offerings are available as podcasts or videos.

From the May 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine

More great genealogy resources from Family Tree Magazine: