In recognition of this year’s 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, I wanted to share the pivotal role Kansas played in its history. Most Americans don’t realize that Kansas’ decision to enter the Union as a “free” state on January 29, 1861, ignited the passion and fury of a country divided over slavery. Just a few months later, on April 12, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C.

Long before the war began, “Bleeding Kansas” had etched its struggles into the souls of a nation. Today, the battlefields, massacres, burnings and all-out border wars in 29 counties in eastern Kansas and 12 counties in western Missouri are designated the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. From the Underground Railroad to the Lecompton Constitution, the FFNHA showcases the region’s contributions to the struggle for equality and provides a rich learning experience for people of all ages.

This year is a great one for families to visit Kansas and tour a number of Civil War era landmarks and memorials, including at the Frontier Army Museum and other sites at Fort Leavenworth, the oldest operational military post west of the Missouri River. Many of the buildings and enlisted officers’ quarters on the sprawling post date from the 1850s, when the fort briefly served as the seat of the first territorial governor. Throughout the year, we will profile additional Kansas sites that commemorate the struggles of the Civil War, such as Black Jack Battlefield and Fort Scott.

Becky Blake is the Director of the Kansas Department of Commerce, Travel & Tourism Division, and has been involved in the Kansas tourism industry for the past 30 years. TravelKS Blog provides a brief update from Becky each week, featuring communities, events and attractions throughout the state.