War History, Wildlife Refuges and a Sesquicentennial

Civil War by the numbers (statistics taken from the Civil War Preservation Trust):

  • 1861: year of the first battle fought during the Civil War on April 12 at Fort Sumter, South Carolina
  • 2: number of presidential candidates running under the Democratic Party during the 1860 election
  • 51,000: deaths at the Battle of Gettysburg, making it the bloodiest battle of the Civil War
  • 620,000: total number of deaths during the four-year war, the highest loss of American lives during wartime
  • $13 and $11: monthly salary for a Union private and Confederate private, respectively
  • 10: percentage of the Union Army that was comprised of African-Americans by the end of the war
  • 4: interpreted national wildlife refuges that today preserve a part of history of the Civil War

If you are looking for another way to commemorate the sesquicentennial--the 150th anniversary--of the start of the Civil War, read below for more information on the four wildlife refuges that offer visitors the unique opportunity of engaging in a part of the nation's history.

The following refuge information is provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Suffolk, VA
Deep inside the swamp, archeologists are excavating important sites of “maroon” settlements of escaped slaves and their descendents who hid out  there for two centuries up to the start of the Civil War. While visitors can’t reach the remote and inhospitable dig sites, they will soon be able to view refuge exhibits detailing how swamp dwellers survived. Visitors can also see Jericho Ditch and Washington Ditch, where 18th and 19th-century slave crews felled trees for lumber mills in sweltering heat amid venomous snakes. In 2004 the refuge was named part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom because the swamp offered some a refuge, however treacherous, from slavery.

Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge, Hollywood, SC
The refuge’s Grove Plantation House (1828) is one of only three antebellum mansions in the area to survive the Civil War. Occupied by Confederate troops, the house changed hands several times after the war until it became refuge property in the 1990s. Visitors can tour the first and second floors of the high-ceilinged National Register property, now used as office space. Outside the house, the refuge uses old rice fields as impoundments for waterfowl, controlling water levels with handmade, wooden rice-field trunks and flap gates, just as 19th-century landowners did. A new visitor contact station, expected to be finished in 2012, will offer more historic interpretation.

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, St. Marks, FL
The historic lighthouse tower on this scenic migratory bird refuge once stood at the center of a Southern military base. From the 1842 lighthouse, Confederate soldiers watched for Union ships along the Gulf Coast. Badly damaged during the war, the tower was later rebuilt. Soldiers here boiled salt water to extract salt, valued for preserving meat.

White River National Wildlife Refuge, St. Charles, AR
The pitted 10-foot Civil War cannon displayed at this migratory bird refuge fired shells in the July 17, 1862 battle of St. Charles. A museum and Civil War monument in the small river town commemorate the battle. The battle site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The cannon at White River Refuge was recovered from the White River by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Image: The Great Dismal Swamp NWR, part of the NPS's Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Source: Rebecca Wynn/USFWS