Top Battlefields Near Washington DC: Explore American History

The Washington, DC, area is rich with history and a great place to explore the many battlefields that have been part of that history. These are the best battlefields near Washington, DC to visit.

From Civil War battles fought in Virginia, to Revolutionary War sites in Pennsylvania, there are plenty of places to visit for anyone interested in learning more about our nation’s past.

Whether you’re an avid history buff or just curious about what happened on these grounds, here are some of the best battlefields near Washington DC that you should check out.

angled wood fence in a field
Gettysburg is definitely one of the best battlefields near Washington, DC.

In addition to battlefields, this article also includes other Civil War and American Revolution heritage sites that might be of interest to you.

Please note that there are many battlefields around Washington, DC, although not all are well preserved. 

This is not an exhaustive list.  It focuses on significant sites under the jurisdiction and care of the National Park Service that are a reasonable driving distance from the U.S. capital.

Sites are arranged in a few groupings:

  • Civil War battlefields
  • Other sites preserving Civil War history
  • American Revolution battlefields and historical sites

In each group, the sites are arranged in order of distance from the nation’s capital. Distances are calculated using Google Maps and measured from the center of Capitol Hill.

Plan your perfect trip with this free printable travel planner.

Best Civil War battlefields to visit near Washington, DC

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Wooden bridge to a stone house

Location: Manassas, Virginia

Distance from Washington, DC: Approx. 30 miles

Manassas, Virginia, was the site of not just one, but two major Civil War battles…within about a year of each other. It was during the first battle here that everyone realized that the Civil War was going to be more than a little skirmish.

At nearly 5,100 acres, Manassas National Battlefield Park invites its visitors to explore and discover more than 40 miles of trails. Uncover the stories of soldiers and civilians who experienced both the First and Second Battles of Manassas (or Bull Run) by exploring the park’s different loop trails. You can get a trail map from the Visitor Center.

A visit to Manassas makes a great day trip from Washington, DC.

Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park

Chatham Manor, a Georgian-style home completed in 1771 on the Rappahannock River in Stafford County, Virginia, opposite Fredericksburg

Location: Fredericksburg, Virginia; Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia; Orange, Virginia; Woodford, Virginia

Distance from Washington, DC: 55 miles to Fredericksburg Battlefield

Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park manages four battlefields over several counties, the nearest to Washington, DC, being Fredericksburg. The other battlefields are Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Court House, and The Wilderness.

This area of Virginia saw a lot of the bloodiest fighting during the entire American Civil War over about the course of a year and a half.

Other important sites that are a part of the park include the site of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s death, Chatham Manor in Fredericksburg, Ellwood Manor at The Wilderness, and the historic Old Salem Church that played the role of a field hospital for wounded soldiers during the battle of Chancellorsville. Visitor Centers are located at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

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Monocacy National Battlefield

Location: Frederick, Maryland

Distance from Washington, DC: 58 miles

Although not as famous as the other battlefields on this list, Monocacy National Battlefield was incredibly important in preserving the Union and became known as the battle that saved Washington.

In the summer of 1864, Confederate General Robert E. Lee devised a bold plan to make a move on Washington, DC. Though the Union lost the battle at Monocacy, the Union soldiers were able to delay the Confederate army long enough to allow additional federal forces to reach Washington, DC.

Antietam National Battlefield

stone bridge
Burnside Bridge

Location: Sharpsburg, Maryland

Distance from Washington, DC: 72 miles

Antietam National Battlefield is arguably one of the best-maintained battle sites in America and a sober reminder of our nation’s bloodiest day. On Sept. 17, 1862, approximately 23,000 Americans were killed, wounded, or went missing.

Notable sites at the battlefield include Antietam National Cemetery, Bloody Lane, Dunker Church, Burnside Bridge, Philip Pry Farm, and Mumma Farm.

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Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park

Location: Middletown, Virginia

Distance from Washington, DC: 83 miles

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park preserves the site of the Civil War Battle of Cedar Creek which occurred in the Shenandoah Valley on Oct. 19, 1864. Visitors are invited to tour the battlefield with a self-guided audio tour.

Keep in mind that this park is in development. Not even half of its 3,700 acres and historic sites are open to visitors.

The park also includes Belle Grove Plantation, a National Historic Landmark with an 18th-century manor house that is open for guests to tour. Belle Grove served as U.S. General Sheridan’s camp during the battle of Cedar Creek.

Gettysburg National Military Park

angled wood fence in a field

Location: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Distance from Washington, DC: 86 miles

Visiting Gettysburg National Military Park is an unforgettable experience. I’ll never forget standing on Little Round Top and at the stone wall looking out over the area where General Pickett led his charge in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Over three bloody days in early July 1863, the fate of the Union was fought out over several acres of southern Pennsylvania farmland.

The first stop of your day should be at the Visitor Center before touring the Gettysburg battlefield. If you have the time, you can also visit David Willis House (where President Lincoln put the final touches on his famous Gettysburg Address), Jenny Wade House, and more.

Richmond National Battlefield Park

Location: Richmond, Virginia

Distance from Washington, DC: 111 miles

Richmond National Battlefield Park preserves and protects 13 separate Civil War battlefields and sites in Richmond as well as Henrico, Hanover, and Chesterfield counties. The National Park Service recommends taking a full day to explore the entire park’s 80-mile driving self-guided tour route.

Stops on the tour include Beaver Dam Creek, Chickahominy Bluff, Cold Harbor, Drewry’s Bluff, Fort Harrison, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, and Tredegar Iron Works.

split rail fence with field guns in grassy field surrounded by trees

Petersburg National Battlefield

Location: Petersburg, Virginia

Distance from Washington, DC: 137 miles

Petersburg National Battlefield is an incredibly important battlefield site near Washington, DC. The site was the location of America’s longest civil war military event, lasting from June 1864 to April 1865.

Over nine and half months, the Union army held a siege against Petersburg, an essential supply line for the Confederate capital city of Richmond. Finally, in April 1865, Robert E. Lee fled Petersburg. The Civil War ended only days later.

Get started at the Eastern Front Visitor Center. The 16-stop driving tour at this park takes guests through all four units of the park: the Eastern and Western Fronts, Five Forks Battlefield, and Grant’s Headquarters at City Grove.

And if you just want to get out and explore on foot, you can try out the trails in the Eastern Front Unit and the Five Forks Battlefield Unit.

Other Civil War heritage sites in and near Washington, DC

African American Civil War Museum

Location: Washington, DC

Distance from Washington, DC: 2.5 miles from Capitol Hill

The African American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC, tells the stories of African-American soldiers who fought during the Civil War. Admission to the museum is free, and they are completing a major expansion and renovation.

The African American Civil War Memorial (managed by the National Park Service) is across the street from the museum. It honors the 200,000 African-American soldiers and sailors who served.

Civil War Defenses of Washington

Location: Washington, DC

Distance from Washington, DC: 6 miles from Capitol

Civil War Defenses of Washington preserves 18 sites of the original 68 fortifications and 93 batteries built to protect the capital during the Civil War. By the height of the war, the U.S. capital was one of the most heavily fortified cities in the entire world.

You can see Fort Stevens, where President Abraham Lincoln was nearly shot by enemy fire, as well as old field guns at Fort Foote. Some of the other locations aren’t much more than National Park Service markers that may not interest anyone but the most serious Civil War buffs.

Arlington House

large house with pillars at Arlington National Cemetery

Location: Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington, Virginia)

Distance from Washington, DC: 6 miles

Arlington House, located in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, was the home of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate commander during the American Civil War. The house serves as a memorial to Lee.

Clara Barton National Historic Site

Location: Glen Echo, Maryland

Distance from Washington, DC: 17 miles

Clara Barton National Historic Site is located in Glen Echo, Maryland, where Barton lived for the last decade and a half of her life. The site includes her former home, part of which you can visit by guided tour.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

old brick fort with windows and three doors
John Brown’s Fort in Harpers Ferry

Location: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Distance from Washington, DC: 70 miles

Explore Harpers Ferry’s role in American history at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Check out Lower Town, including John Brown’s Fort, and the Bolivar Heights battlefield as well as Schoolhouse Ridge North.

Hike Loudoun Heights or Maryland Heights, or stake an excursion off to explore part of the C&O Canal Towpath

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park and Harriet Tubman Scenic Byway

Location: Church Creek, Maryland (visitor center)

Distance from Washington, DC: 98 miles

Stop at the NPS-managed Visitor Center and museum before embarking on a journey on the Harriet Tubman Scenic Byway.

This self-guided driving tour includes more than 30 sites. Many of them have outdoor markers telling more about the spot. The byway covers 125 miles of Dorchester and Caroline Counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It continues into Delaware and ends in Philadelphia.

Revolutionary War Sites near Washington, DC

Thomas Stone National Historic Site

Location: Port Tobacco, Maryland

Distance from Washington, DC: 32 miles

Four of the homes of Declaration of Independence signers are protected by the National Park Service. Thomas Stone’s home is one of them.

At Thomas Stone National Historic Site visitors can tour inside the house and explore the grounds. The site is closed in the winter.

Valley Forge National Historical Park

Location: King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

Distance from Washington, DC: 147 miles

Valley Forge National Historical Park is a must-see for anyone interested in exploring American Revolution history. The park offers visitors the chance to step back in time and explore the site where General George Washington and his troops camped during the winter of 1777 – 1778.

You can tour the encampment by car. It’s a 10-mile driving route with several major stops that help paint the picture of what the Continental Army experienced during that hard winter.

Yorktown Battlefield

Open field surrounded by trees and old split-rail fences.
Surrender Field at Yorktown

Location: Yorktown, Virginia

Distance from Washington, DC: 165 miles

Yorktown Battlefield is a must-see for anyone interested in exploring early American history. It was the site of the last major battle of the American Revolution where General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington’s Continental Army.

Part of the Colonial National Historical Park (along with Historic Jamestowne), visitors can explore its preserved grounds and monuments, such as Redoubt 9 and Surrender Field. Definitely do the self-guided driving tour.

If you have time while you’re visiting Yorktown, make sure to visit the American Revolution Museum.

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Final thoughts on battlefields near Washington, DC

Exploring the battlefields and historical sites near Washington, DC is an incredible way to learn more about our nation’s history.

From Antietam and Gettysburg in the Civil War era to Yorktown during the Revolutionary War, each site offers a unique glimpse into America’s past. Visiting these historic places will leave you with a greater appreciation for United States history.

What’s your favorite battlefield to visit near Washington, DC? Let me know in the comments!

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