A friend of mine, a seasoned traveller and a generally bluff and cynical man, recently visited Gettysburg and was moved to tears at hearing the uplifting words of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address in the place where he delivered it. The speech, little more than two minutes, was read at the dedication ceremony of what is now the Gettysburg National Cemetery, surrounded by the thousands of graves of those slaughtered in the Civil War. It spoke of the dead not having died in vain, and of a new birth of freedom, and has been compared for its poetry and power to Martin Luther King Jnr's 'I Have a Dream' speech.
In a year that brings together the UK premier of Steven Spielberg's much-lauded movie, Lincoln, and the second term of office for the USA's first black President, American politics and Lincoln's legacy are thrust before the British public. Where British politics leans towards the farce of Yes, Minister, American politics has always been the high drama of The West Wing.
With 12 nominations for the 2013 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln has been a phenomenal public and critical success in the United States. British travellers this summer are likely to be following the example of their US counterparts and taking the movie trail to Virginia, where filming took place in Petersburg, Fredericksburg and the State Capital, Richmond. Gettysburg is a short drive north, over the border in Pennsylvania.
Petersburg (right) was the main location, chosen partly because there are places where the cameras could pan around and still have a background filled with historic buildings. Abraham Lincoln visited here on 3rd April, 1865, the day after the town fell to the Union Army in the Civil War. On that same day Richmond, 25 miles away, was also taken by the Union Army, and Lincoln headed straight there.
In Petersburg filming took place at locations including the Centre Hill Museum, built in 1823 and which Lincoln visited on that April day in 1865, the Union Train Station, the South Side Rail Depot (which served as the Confederate Headquarters) and the Farmer's Market - no, Lincoln didn't do a little shopping as he left town.
In Richmond, a major location was the Virginia State Capitol building, which dates back to 1788 and is where the Confederate Congress met during the Civil War. For those who think America doesn't do history, it's worth remembering that the Virginia General Assembly was first established in 1619. You'll also want to make your way to the 1824 Bell Tower, which Lincoln also visited but that was some time before it became the state's Visitor Center.
Richmond's attractions also include The American Civil War Center, an essential stop before you head out on any Lincoln or Civil War tour, and The Museum of the Confederacy. This has the largest collection of Confederate artefacts in the world, and is also the location of the White House of the Confederacy, whose members, safe to say, would have been astonished and aghast if they could see Barack Obama in today's White House. In fact it would probably have reduced them to tears, although not the emotional kind my friend shed at Gettysburg.
For more information on the official Lincoln Movie Trail at www.Virginia.org/LINCOLN, and the Civil War Trail on the CivilWarTraveler website. 2012/13 also marks the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, and many special events are planned: http://www.virginia.org/CivilWar150SpecialEvents.