Admission to all 393 national parks is free this Thursday in honor of Veterans Day, and there’s no better way to observe the day than to discover something you didn’t know about America’s military history.
In addition to all of the most famous national battlefields like Gettysburg, Antietam and Manassas, here are some great places to visit that may offer some unusual perspective about our nation at war.
- Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana: The life of the U. S. Cavalry often involved battles with Native Americans, and few were more devastating than this ambush of the Nez Perce tribe on August 9, 1877. The Cavalry had orders to relocate all western Indians to reservations, but the Nez Perce resisted this removal from their tribal lands. This early morning attack resulted in nearly 90 deaths among the Nez Perce, as well as 31 Cavalry deaths. Bear Paw Battlefield, a nearby unit of this park, commemorates the final conflict in this war on October 5, 1877.
- Chalmette Battlefield at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Louisiana: Just outside of New Orleans, the American army led by General Andrew Jackson held this ground against superior British forces on January 8, 1815, in the last battle of the War of 1812. The Battle of New Orleans, actually fought after the Treaty of Ghent was signed in Washington in December 1814, became a symbol of the new nation’s might over old-world British imperialism.
- Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina: Get the real story of the battle at the Cow Pens, instead of the supercharged, ax-wielding dramatization in the movie The Patriot. Not many military leaders have pulled off a double envelopment, a complex maneuver in which forces attack the enemy’s army from the front and sides, essentially leaving them no choice but to retreat. This pivotal Revolutionary War battle on January 17, 1781, turned the war’s Southern Campaign in the Patriots’ favor, signaling the beginning of the end for the British Loyalists.
- Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Pennsylvania: Long before World War I, a world war broke out here in the summer of 1754, pitting the British, French, and American Indians against one another in a battle for land and domain. History calls this the French and Indian War, but the world knows it as the Seven Years’ War—and it launched the military career of a young leader, George Washington, whose destiny had yet to unfold. Washington actually surrendered his fort at the end of this summer, making this the only military surrender in his entire career.