Re-enactors portraying Union and Confederate cavalry battle on a field during a recreation of the Battle of Antietam. (The Associated Press)
It's hard to imagine, 150 years later, the carnage that occurred in just 12 hours of fighting.
But as you walk along the infamous Sunken Road of Antietam National Battlefield, where thousands upon thousands fought and died during the single bloodiest day in American combat history, it is not so hard to imagine the sights, sounds and smells the soldiers may have experienced that day.
The National Park Service certainly does its best to pull the battle's rich history out of the dusty textbooks and transform the battlefield into a living classroom.
No wonder people are flocking to sites such as Antietam, as the nation remembers the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in both major and obscure places in the war's history.
In the last year alone, a record 328,000 visitors took the tour boat to Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C., to see where the Civil War began.
As commemorations of the war's second year kick into gear, OFFduty asked Civil War buff and National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst for his top 10 Civil War destinations:
1. Fort Monroe National Monument, Va.
One of America's newest national parks, Fort Monroe National Monument spans the American military story from the 17th to the 21st centuries. During the Civil War, it was a bastion of defense for the Chesapeake Bay and a haven of freedom for the enslaved. It also held Confederate President Jefferson Davis for two years after the end of the war. http://www.nps.gov/fomr">www.nps.gov/fomr
2. Fredericksburg National Military Park, Va.
The Dec. 13, 1862, Battle of Fredericksburg is noted for its 12,600 Union casualties, almost two-thirds of whom fell in futile attacks against Confederates strongly positioned behind a stone wall on Marye's Heights. The 150th anniversary commemoration is set for Dec. 8-9. http://www.nps.gov/frsp">www.nps.gov/frsp
3. Antietam National Battlefield, Md.
Sept. 17 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day of the Civil War, when more than 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after 12 hours of savage combat. The anniversary observance takes place Sept. 15-17 and includes tours, hikes, music, children's activities, living history, guest lecturers and memorial ceremonies. http://www.nps.gov/anti">www.nps.gov/anti
4. Richmond National Battlefield Park, Va.
Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, endured four years of Union campaigns to capture it. In the spring of 1862, the Union army's Peninsula Campaign came within seven miles of its objective before an offensive by newly appointed Confederate commander Robert E. Lee pushed the federal forces back in a weeklong series of clashes known as the Seven Days Battles (June 26-July 1, 1862). The park will observe the 150th anniversary of the campaign with 60 days of commemorative programs from May through July. http://www.nps.gov/rich">www.nps.gov/rich
5. Fort Pulaski National Monument, Ga.
For much of the 19th century, masonry fortifications were the U.S.'s main defense against overseas enemies. But the Union army's new technology of rifled cannon compelled the Confederate garrison inside Fort Pulaski to surrender. The April 10-11, 1862, siege was a landmark experiment in the history of military science and invention. Only 10 minutes east are the beaches of Tybee Island, a three-mile-long barrier island popular for dolphin-watching. http://www.nps.gov/fopu">www.nps.gov/fopu
6. Shiloh National Military Park, Tenn.
Thanks to its remote location, Shiloh is one of the best preserved battlefields in the U.S. The battle was the bloodiest in U.S. history at the time it was fought and marked the first time casualties were measured in the tens of thousands. Join ranger-led programs on the battlefield sites from Memorial Day through Labor Day. http://www.nps.gov/shil">www.nps.gov/shil
7. Pea Ridge National Military Park, Ark.
One of the few Civil War battles in which Confederate forces outnumbered their Union opponents, the battle fought March 7-8, 1862, was nonetheless a Union victory and prevented the Confederacy from recapturing northern Arkansas and Missouri. Check out the park's Eastern National Bookstore, with one of the finest Civil War-related selections in the national park system. http://www.nps.gov/peri">www.nps.gov/peri
8. Fort Davis National Historic Site, Texas
Named for Secretary of War (and future president of the Confederacy) Jefferson Davis, Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches and freight wagons heading west through Texas. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the post was abandoned by federal troops and occupied by the Confederacy, which used it as a supply depot for the New Mexico Campaign. Union forces regained control in August 1862 but did not occupy the fort, and it remained abandoned until after the war. The site is home to five furnished buildings restored to the 1880s period and another 20 buildings and 100 ruins. http://www.nps.gov/foda">www.nps.gov/foda
9. Pecos National Historical Park (Battle of Glorieta Pass), N.M.
In February 1862, the Confederacy marched up the Rio Grande Valley with the intention of capturing military supplies and Union forts in New Mexico and ultimately using the mineral wealth of Colorado and California to fund the Confederacy. Fought March 26-28, 1862, the Battle of Glorieta Pass, known as the "Gettysburg of the West," ended the Confederate invasion of New Mexico that threatened to seize a large part of the Southwest. Grab a self-guided interpretive map and hit the 2.3-mile Civil War Battlefield Trail. http://www.nps.gov/peco">www.nps.gov/peco
10. Alcatraz Island, Calif.
Completed in December 1859, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, a fort on Alcatraz helped defend the Union state of California from possible capture by the Confederacy. The fort served as a training ground for Union troops as well as a prison for Confederates during the war. The National Park service strongly recommends buying Alcatraz Cruises ferry tickets to the island ahead of time because they often sell out up to a week in advance at peak times. http://www.nps.gov/alca">www.nps.gov/alca