Civil War Travel Destination: Manassas Battlefield

Manassas battle field, or Bull Run, is the site of the first major battle of America's Civil War. So in July of 1861 union and confederate forces fought.

Manassas - or Bull Run - is the site of the first major battle of America's Civil War. Here young men, on a warm summer day in July of 1861 fought that first battle. Two great armies - the Union and the Confederacy - clashed and over 900 men lost their lives to settle the disputes dividing the nation. Manassas National Battlefield is 20 miles out of Washington DC and should not be missed.

Manassas or Bull Run is also remembered because there was an audience watching the battle that day. The hills were scattered with ladies and Congressmen in their carriages fresh from Washington, viewing what they assumed would be a grand spectacle. Once the battle began there were cries of anguish when boys became men, or lost their lives. The picnicking Congressmen and their ladies realized that war was not magnificent - but slaughter.

The battlefield looks just like it did back then; the hay bales are stacked, the fences remain, and the cannons are lined up for battle. You can walk the battlefield and imagine the enemy approaching you, ready for battle. As you see the officers who trained you falling in front of you and see some of the country's best and brightest men die harshly, you will know the sacrifices that were made for the freedom of all people in this grand country. Imagine that 600,000 more of your countrymen will perish in the next four years before the Union is restored, and the States truly become United.

The Visitor's Center is small, but well-designed and informative. The main attraction is by far the battlefield itself. For a $2 contribution, you can follow the well marked path as it takes you back to history. You can walk the same path and find the very spot where Thomas Jackson became the famous Stonewall Jackson for the south. There now stands a statue of General "Stonewall" Jackson astride his horse, as Bull Run was where he got his nickname.

An informal loop of about a mile winds around the outer limits of the battlefield with signs and historic structures scattered along the way. The Park Service has done an excellent job at keeping the battlefield in an undeveloped state. The display of artillery pieces are arranged roughly where the opposing lines were. Standing behind the artillery pieces of either side, the range they were firing at may have been artillery range in the 1860's, but in today's terms is no farther than rifle range.

The headquarters at both Henry Hill, which was a farmhouse ownned by the Henry family, and Stuart's Hill are well maintained, and knowledgeable park rangers are there to help and answer questions. There is a video at Henry Hill about the history of the site and frequent ranger-led talks leave from there for a 30 minute or so tour.

This is a park more for learning by hearing, reading and using your imagination to match the events of over a hundred years ago with the sweeping fields that we look at today. At certain times there are live reenactments of musket demonstrations of Stuart's Hill that are exciting to watch.

Bull Run is close enough to Washington, D.C. to visit in an afternoon. You can bring a picnic lunch and watch the battle at the same time, while it was happening in 1861. Presently its in the middle of some of the hottest commercial real estate in the country; much construction is going on around the outskirts.

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