National Wildlife Refuge System

Civil War History on Refuges

An interpretive panel at the new Underground Railroad pavilion at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA, tells the history of the swamp’s fugitive slave colony. The refuge is part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom because the swamp offered some a refuge, however treacherous, from slavery.
An interpretive panel at the new Underground Railroad pavilion at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA, tells the history of the swamp’s fugitive slave colony. The refuge is part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom because the swamp offered some a refuge, however treacherous, from slavery.
Credit: USFWS

 Mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the U.S. Civil War with a visit to a national wildlife refuge that preserves remains of the nation’s bitter four-year struggle and the period leading up to it. Each of these interpreted sites sheds light on a distinct facet of the war. And, of course, visitors can also enjoy seeing wildlife — from black bear to spoonbills — while they're there.

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge , Suffolk, VA:   Deep inside the swamp, archeologists are excavating important sites of “maroon” settlements of escaped slaves and their descendents who hid out there for two centuries up to the start of the Civil War. While visitors can’t reach the remote and inhospitable dig sites, they will soon be able to view refuge exhibits detailing how swamp dwellers survived. They can also see Jericho Ditch and Washington Ditch, where 18 th and 19 th -century slave crews felled trees for lumber mills in sweltering heat amid venomous snakes. In 2004 the refuge was named part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom because the swamp offered some a refuge, however treacherous, from slavery.

Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge , Hollywood, SC: The refuge’s Grove Plantation House (1828) is one of only three antebellum mansions in the area to survive the Civil War. Occupied by Confederate troops, the house changed hands several times after the war until it became refuge property in the 1990s. Visitors can tour the first and second floors of the high-ceilinged National Register property, now used as office space. Outside the house, the refuge uses old rice fields as impoundments for waterfowl, controlling water levels with handmade, wooden rice-field trunks and flap gates, just as 19 th -century landowners did. A new visitor contact station, expected to be finished in 2012, will offer more historic interpretation.

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge , St. Marks, FL:  The historic lighthouse tower on this scenic migratory bird refuge once stood at the center of a Southern military base. From the 1842 lighthouse, Confederate soldiers watched for Union ships along the Gulf Coast. Badly damaged during the war, the tower was later rebuilt. Soldiers here boiled salt water to extract salt, valued for preserving meat.

  White River National Wildlife Refuge , St. Charles, AR:  The pitted 10-foot Civil War cannon displayed at this migratory bird refuge fired shells in the July 17, 1862 battle of St. Charles. A museum and Civil War monument in the small river town commemorate the battle. The battle site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The cannon at White River Refuge was recovered from the White River by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Last updated: October 18, 2011