A Civil War Cannon
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Civil War cannon located at Manassas National Battlefield (Virginia)

The American Civil War was a divisive war that would change U.S. history forever and have long repercussions in its aftermath. The majority of the battles fought during the war, which lasted from 1861 and 1865, occurred in the mid-Atlantic and southern U.S. states. While the official start of the Civil War began in South Carolina on April 12, 1861 as Fort Sumter was fired upon, it was not long before the fighting moved north into Virginia.

According to the National Park Service (NPS), a total of 122 battles were fought in the State of Virginia during the Civil War. Some of the bloodiest battles occurred in Old Dominion, and ultimately, on April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, which ended the war in Virginia and led to surrenders throughout the other states. The following is an overview of some of the prominent ones fought in this mid-Atlantic state:

Battle of Sewells Point

The first skirmish in Virginia during the war occurred at Sewells Point. The battle took place in southern Virginia from May 18-19, 1861. No casualties were reported, however, this battle is the first one which occurred within Virginia's borders and proved to be a key area both armies were interested in controlling. Today, the Norfolk Naval Station resides on this land.

First Battle of Manassas

The First Battle of Manassas, also known as First Bull Run, occurred in Northern Virginia in Fairfax and Prince William Counties. This was the first major fighting that had occurred in Virginia, and engagement between the two armies commenced on July 21, 1861. The principal commanders were  Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell (Union) and Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard (Confederate).

Manassas National Battlefield Park
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights Reserved

The land that is now part of the National Park System where the First Battle of Manassas took place. In July 1861 it wasn't quite this peaceful looking.

This battle occurred in the early part of the Civil War, it has been described that spectators arrived with picnic baskets and watched the battle unfold on the field below from nearby Centreville (about 5 miles away). A total of approximately 4,700 casualties were lost that day, and the Confederate Army emerged as the victor.

Seven Days Battles

This series of battles, which occurred from June 26, 1862 – July 1, 1862, was critical because it meant the war was not going to see quick resolution like both armies originally thought. According to CivilWar.org:

"[General] Lee would usher in a new era of offensive combat that would not only completely unnerve George McClellan, but would force the evacuation of the Union army from the region.  Lee's victory in the Seven Days would mean that the savage fighting of the Civil War would continue for 3 more hard years." [3]

 These battles were fought in and around Richmond, Virginia.

Battle of Thoroughfare Gap

This battle took place on the border of Prince William and Fauquier counties near a business known as Chapman's Mill on Aug. 28, 1862. The mill had previously been taken over by the Confederate Army just prior to the First Battle of Manassas and used as a meat curing warehouse and a distribution center. A skirmish took place at the mill and, subsequently, several miles away James Ricketts'  Union division was flanked by James Longstreet's Confederate division, allowing the Confederates to take the high ground at nearby Thoroughfare Gap. The mill was subsequently burned by the Confederate Army so the Union Army could not benefit from anything left behind. One hundred casualties were lost during the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap; this was a battle the Confederates won just as the Second Manassas Battle was commencing.

Chapman's Mill (Beverley Mill)
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Chapman's Mill and the Beverley Store

Second Battle of Manassas

The two armies clashed again in Manassas and has become known as the "Second Battle of Manassas" (also known as Second Bull Run), and occurred from August 28-30, 1862. The Commanders in this pivotal battle were Maj. Gen. John Pope (Union) and Gen. Robert E. Lee and Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson (Confederate).  In this battle, both armies lost a staggering total of 22,180 soldiers, the Union lost 13,830, the Confederates, 8,350.

Battles at Fredericksburg

The battle has been listed as one of the most devastating to the Union Army. The first of two major engagements at this location, the First Battle of Fredericksburg occurred from December 11-15, 1862. The leading commanders were Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside (Union) and Gen. Robert E. Lee (Confederate). Ultimately 17,929 casualties were suffered by both armies, Union 13,353 men lost, and Confederacy lost 4,576 men. The two armies would meet again at this location on May 3, 1863, with a Union win for the second Fredericksburg battle.


This location where the two opposing armies met for battle in Virginia led to another major Union loss of 24,000 total, however the Confederate Army also lost a substantial amount of men with 10,000 losses in this bloody battle.


In 1865, Lee would ultimately end up abandoning the Confederate Capital of Richmond, Va. Subsequently, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House after being surrounded on three sides by the Union Army.

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Virginia was a very integral and central piece of the Civil War. According to maps, most of the Civil War battles were fought within Virginia's borders, although many significant battles occurred in other states, such as Pennsylvania (Gettysburg) and Maryland (Antietam). Today, many of these hallowed grounds are owned by the National Park Service and preserved by this agency. In my visits to a number of these places, I've found NPS has done a good job of maintaining and preserving the history associated with these locations.

[ Related Reading: Dunker Church at Antietam Battlefield - Then and Now ]

Antietam Battlefield - Bloody Lane
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

"Bloody Lane" at the Antietam National Battlefield, located in Sharpsburg, Maryland

Map of Civil War Battles in the Region

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Sewells Point, Norfolk, VA 23511, USA
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Battlefield Dr, Manassas, VA 20110, USA
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Thoroughfare Gap, Scott, VA 20137, USA
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Fredericksburg, VA 22401, USA
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Chancellorsville, VA 22553, USA
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Appomattox, VA 24522, USA
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Sharpsburg, MD 21782, USA