More than 150 years after it ended, there is still plenty of contention concerning the Civil War, but one fact remains – the history of West Virginia is woven from the history of the Civil War.
To share and better understand the facts surrounding the individual battles and the people involved, The Civil War Trails organization – founded in 1994 – set out to create educational trail markers to place in areas significant to the Civil War.
On August 13, a Civil War Trails sign was installed in Marlinton, joining six other signs installed in Pocahontas County by that organization. The latest sign, located at the intersection of First Avenue and Eighth Street, gives a history of the Greenbrier Covered Bridge.
“It essentially positions Marlinton in the crossing over the Greenbrier there at the covered bridge as sort of being at the intersection of multiple Civil War campaigns,” Civil War Trails Executive Director Drew Gruber said. “There wasn’t much of a town there during the war, so the sign positions that crossing in the hamlet as being caught in between the lines throughout the duration of the war.”
There are approximately 148 signs in West Virginia, with several more pending. The program is also found in six other states with more than 1,200 signs.
“The Civil War Trails program connects visitors with the lesser-known stories of the era and encourages them to follow in the footsteps of the great campaigns,” Gruber said. “[It] began as a way to allow visitors to follow General Lee’s retreat from Petersburg to his ultimate surrender at Appomattox. Those twelve initial sites along that one route and surrounding that one story have exploded into the program you see today.”
Although many of the locations are nothing more than a whisper of what they were during the war, Gruber said he has seen an increase in interest in the sign program in the past few years, from both visitors and towns wanting to participate.
“Our program is growing within its own footprint and with travelers,” he said. “We are expanding into Pennsylvania, and we are also adding signs in the five states we currently reside in. We’re seeing an immense interest in the program – post Sesquicentennial – and it’s specifically from younger, more diverse travelers. We’re growing in all aspects and it’s quite exciting.
“The stories of the Civil Ware are as diverse as our audience,” he added. “You can follow Civil War Trails to find the secret and clandestine ‘stations’ along the Underground Railroad, recreate the great infantry charges of the war or hike up mountains in pursuit of long forgotten artillery positions. It is a full immersive experience that you cannot download from home.”
The possibilities are endless when it comes to planning a trip around the signs. Visitors can choose to follow a certain battle path, an individual General’s charge, or simply make their own path.
“That’s a really cool way of approaching public history or education,” Gruber said. “When you follow these routes, our tourism partners love it because you will take the historic routes, which will, of course, take you past live music and places to hike or camp, local beer and food, so it’s all tied in together. I think that’s why we’ve also seen this resurgence in the interest in the program, specifically with the younger audience, because it is an authentic thing to stand there. You can’t consume it elsewhere.”
The organization has printed map guides and a downloadable map of all the signs in the program. The paper maps are available at visitors centers in the participating states and the digital map may be found at civilwartrails.org
West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby echoes Gruber’s sentiment, stating that the signs help enhance the visitors’ and locals’ experiences of the historic part of West Virginia.
“West Virginia’s statehood is a direct result of the Civil War, which makes our many trails, battlefields and reenactments an important part of our tourism industry,” Ruby said. “We continue to see an interest from visitors looking to experience our rich history, and thanks to the support of the Civil War Trails organization, we’re able to mark and promote these stops to new travelers every day.”