Herb Reisenfeld - checking inn

This month we celebrate Memorial Day, where we remember all the military men and women who served our great country. Numerous veterans came home wounded both in body and mind, with many giving the ultimate sacrifice. 

While most of our wars or battles were fought on foreign soil, our country’s early history has left us with battlefields, monuments and historic locations that we can visit here in our great country. These hallowed places help us realize the difficulty our early patriots and countrymen faced in creating the United States of America. There is so much history in our region of the country that is easily accessible and educational for anyone who wants to take a step back and explore our own story. 

In 2012, I teamed up with the University of Cincinnati’s History Department to offer a Civil War trip in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the events that tore our nation apart. Together with the head of the department, Dr. Christopher Phillips, we planned and presented our first of several trips.

I was a graduate from UC and my major was American history; so, on a personal note, it was really exciting to be part of this inaugural adventure. On our inaugural trip, 34 enthusiastic individuals embarked on what was to be four years of tours to fantastic destinations led by Dr. Phillips and myself.

Our first year’s trip was to Washington, D. C., visiting Lincoln’s Cottage, a little known place where he would retreat to escape the hot weather of Washington, and, historically, where he also drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery. We also visited Ford’s Theatre where President Lincoln was shot. Additional stops included the battlefields of Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg and Fredericksburg; as well as a visit to both Harpers Ferry, where John Brown mounted a rebellion, and the Booth Trail which followed the escape route of John Wilkes Booth and where he died holed up in a barn. 

Witnessing these historic locales was humbling. The Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia is where the first battle of the Civil War took place at Bull Run on July 21, 1861, followed by the second battle of Bull Run in September 1862. Antietam Battlefield Park in Sharpsburg, Maryland, is highlighted by the fact that five days after this battle, Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation.

Gettysburg Battlefield National Park in Pennsylvania was awe-inspiring. This battle, fought from July 1-3 in 1863, had the largest casualties of the war with 51,148 dead and wounded. It was a decisive Union victory and the turning point of the war for the North. Of course the dedication by Abraham Lincoln, delivering his famous address, is alone a major reason to visit this hallowed place. 

All U.S. National Park battlefields and museums have on-site rangers at their visitor centers and well-marked trails; as well as, audio and video programs, maps, books and information making these visits an educational experience for all age groups.  

The next season, we created Civil War Revisited II. We traveled south from Cincinnati to visit both Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and Jefferson Davis’s birthplace which are located in Kentucky, only 60 miles apart. Both birthplaces are Kentucky State Parks. Lincoln’s is located in Hodgenville and contains a replica of his log house and a beautiful monument. Jefferson Davis’s is in Fairview and features a 351 foot obelisk topped with an observation tower reached by elevator.

Our journey continued on to Shiloh Battlefield in Tennessee, Vicksburg in Mississippi, and Montgomery, Alabama (the first capital of the Confederacy); followed by Atlanta which has a wonderful diorama of the battle of Atlanta, Chattanooga for the Battle of Lookout Mountain, and back to Kentucky before arriving home. 

The third installment, Civil War Revisited III, was completely based in Virginia. Our first stop was in Lexington where we visited the Stonewall Jackson home, the Virginia Military Institute, plus Washington & Lee University. From there we travelled on to Richmond (the Confederate Capital), where we headquartered to visit all the many surrounding battlefields including Chancellorsville, Petersburg, The Wilderness and other important sites pertinent to the Civil War. 

Richmond also has the Tredegar Arsenal Iron Works. During the war, it was there that most of the cannons and munitions for the Confederate army were produced. Today, it is a wonderful museum with displays of armaments, uniforms and Civil War military artifacts. Richmond is a beautiful city and has a lovely boulevard filled with monuments pertaining to the war. 

Our historical trip culminated with a visit to Appomattox where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, ending the war.

Finally, our fourth trip focused on the American Revolution. We headed northeast through Pennsylvania visiting Valley Forge, where in 1777 George Washington wintered the Continental Army for six months and also where, unfortunately, over 1,700 died, mostly from malnutrition. In nearby Philadelphia we visited the Liberty Bell and had a very unique experience. After dinner at a historic tavern we were escorted by a character dressed in 18th century clothing to Independence Hall. Though it was closed for the night, after knocking on the door, our guide got us admitted inside. There, we were entertained by actors assuming the roles of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, debating who should write the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. It was a highlight of the trip to be in the sacred hall where the birth of our nation took place. It was just our group and the actors really made it feel as if we were part of history. If in Philadelphia, you should definitely experience going into Independence Hall. Also, there is a fabulous Jewish Museum located nearby.

We continued on to Boston to see where the first battles took place in both Lexington and Concord. This is the location where the “Shot Heard Round the World” took place. We relived the ride of Paul Revere and walked along the Freedom Trail. We also visited Old North Church, Bunker Hill, and the homes of Paul Revere and others before continuing to upstate New York to Fort Ticonderoga where, in May 1777, the first American victory of the Revolutionary War took place and allowed the Continental Army to capture a vast amount of artillery and munitions from the British. Later in July of 1777, the Battle of Saratoga, New York, also was an American victory, giving the army support from foreign countries. These are both beautiful towns to visit, especially Saratoga which is today also famous for its horse racing season.

These four trips were a labor of love for me. It was like being back in school researching routings, hotels, restaurants, special historical guides, and estimating our daily mileage. Since then, I hosted a trip to Hawaii in commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the raid on Pearl Harbor, and this July I have a arranged a tour to visit France to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy which marked the invasion of Europe by the Allied Forces, eventually bringing the end of the war in Europe.

These trips will go down in my memory as a creation of historical events revisited, which were, and will continue to be, enjoyed by so many. If you love history or just enjoy learning, there are so many amazing places to visit – plenty right here in America. Please remember our veterans this Memorial Day who served to make and maintain America as the greatest country in the world!

If you have any travel questions for Herb Reisenfeld, The American Israelite’s travel columnist, please send them to travel@americanisraelite.com


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