Everyone has their own idea of the perfect vacation. Some people like the mountains, others the beaches; some people prefer a big city, and some would rather be out in the country, far away from everyone. At first glance, a vacation to a historic battlefield might sound a little dull — if not insensitive. However, as someone who has visited several battlefields in the United States, I can say that traveling and exploring a battlefield is a great way to connect with our past, to learn something new, and appreciate the sacrifices our ancestors made so we can enjoy all the things we do today. Below is a list of five battlefields you might consider visiting in 2019.
Battle of Trenton, American Revolution — Trenton, New Jersey
The battle of Trenton is remembered as the battle where General George Washington crossed the Delaware River and slaughtered several sleeping Hessian mercenaries who were working for the British on the day after Christmas. The battle is often referred to as “the turning point” of the American Revolution as the victory gave Washington’s forces the morale boost it needed to defeat the Red Coats. According to the National Park Service, the battlefield is part of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor and is open Tuesday-Sunday. This one is probably best visited in the Summertime, but for the Authentic experience you’ll have to visit during the Winter — but that’s okay, the visitor center is open on Christmas!
Battle of Cold Harbor, American Civil War — Mechanicsville, Virginia
The battle of Cold Harbor, fought in the Spring of 1864 is one of the lesser-known battles of the American Civil War, but was also one of the bloodiest. According to the National Park Service, the battle was the scene of one of the last Confederate victories in the war, and it also ushered in the era of earthwork defense, which would go on to define the first World War. Cold Harbor is near Richmond, Virginia, and visitors are permitted to tour the battlefield — which includes the remains of the fortifications (called ‘breastworks’ at the time), as well as a Union Army cemetery.
Battle of the Belleau Wood, World War One — France
The United States Marine Corps fought against the Germans at Belleau Wood in 1918, and were so brutal to the enemy that a German army commander nicknamed his Marine adversaries “Devil Dogs,” which is a moniker the Corps still proudly uses today. The battlefield is located east of Paris, and several companies offer tours and transportation to and from the American monument in Belleau Wood — which is also the site of a visitor center where you can tour a part of the actual battlefield. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission, visitors who travel to Belleau Wood can view original trenchworks, shell holes, and even weapons that were recovered after the battle.
Battle of Normandy Beach, World War Two — France
Perhaps no other battle in the history of the United States Army was so horrifying as the battle of Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944. Commonly known as “D-Day” or by its codename ‘Operation Overlord,” the fight was the turning point in the European Theater of the Second World War — when Allied forces finally returned to the continent to defeat Hitler and the Nazis. As with Belleau Wood, several companies offer day trips to Normandy Beach from Paris, which also include a visit to the American cemetery.
Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam War — Vietnam
Located in the central highlands of Vietnam, the Ia Drang valley was the scene of one of the first major battles between the United States and the North Vietnamese Army during the war. It took place in November 1965, and was made famous by the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by LTG (Ret.) Hal Moore and journalist Joseph L. Galloway. The book was brought to life in the movie We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson. 499 Americans and more than a thousand Vietnamese lost their lives during the battle. Unfortunately, the Peoples Army of Vietnam (PAVN) controls the actual battlefield, and foreign visitors are not permitted; however, tours are available to nearby Pleime Hill, which overlooks the valley. The best time to visit is during the dry season, which runs from December to April.