Visit Pennsylvania’s capital to discover fascinating American Civil War history, some of the state’s best museums and glorious Victorian and neoclassical architecture
Harrisburg is full of attractions for American history buffs and features one of the world’s largest museums dedicated to the American Civil War. While the American Civil War never quite reached Harrisburg, it still changed the city forever. Located within 40 miles (64 kilometers) of the Mason-Dixon Line, Pennsylvania’s state capital was a major point of deployment for Union troops. Learn about the local history and discover some of Pennsylvania’s most prized buildings and cultural institutions.
Harrisburg became Pennsylvania’s state capital in 1812 due to its location in the heart of the state. Don’t miss the stunning neoclassical Pennsylvania State Capitol building, completed in 1906. Take a half-hour guided tour of the capitol to see the frescoes painted throughout the grand interior.
Explore one of Harrisburg’s most famous attractions, the National Civil War Museum. See 25,000 American Civil War artifacts in this museum’s collection, including rifles, uniforms and many Civil War-era documents. While some of the objects were possessions of Civil War leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, others belonged to average soldiers. Both Union and Confederate soldiers are buried in the Harrisburg Cemetery, located just east of the city center.
Harrisburg’s other museums provide information on the city’s earlier history. Visit the Fort Hunter Mansion on the site of an old British military fort built in 1756 to prepare for the French and Indian War. Take a guided tour of the colonial mansion or explore the 40-acre (16-hectare) grounds, which lie along the Susquehanna River. Visit the State Museum of Pennsylvania to see some of the state’s most interesting findings in archaeology and paleontology, including a mastodon skeleton unearthed in nearby Marshalls Creek.
To reach Harrisburg, take a bus or a train from Philadelphia, which is located about 110 miles (177 kilometers) southeast. After your visit, find more Civil War history in Gettysburg, a 45-minute drive south from Harrisburg.