I recenty had occasion to make a return visit to Manassas National Battlefield Park. Manassas can be a somewhat daunting park for visitors, as not one, but two major Civil War battles were fought here. If you are the type of person who isn’t that in to military history, and who finds the descriptions of various troop movements blending together – those feelings can be compounded when there are two battles fought a little more than one year apart being described in the same national park.
Fortunately, it can be possible to keep the historical events straight, and develop an appreciation for why the fields of Manassas are some of America’s most hallowed ground.
The main visitor center for the park is the Henry Hill Visitor Center, and has the main passport stamp for the park. Henry Hill is located at the center of the First Battle of Manassas, fought in July 1861. The First Battle of Manassas was the first major engagement of the Civil War, coming just three months after South Carolina had fired on Fort Sumter (now Fort Sumter National Monument.)
The key things to know about the First Battle of Manassas are that both sides went into it thinking this would be a quick and glorious war. By the end of it, 900 young men were dead, the Union Army was beating a hasty retreat, and Confederate General Thomas Jackson had a new nickname: “Stonewall.”
Also worth noting about this battle is that you may also have heard it called the “First Battle of Bull Run.” Interestingly, the Confederates tended to name battles after towns, such as Manassas Junction, whereas the Union troops tended to name battles after bodies of water, such as Bull Run. The National Park Service’s convention is to use the name preferred by the side that prevailed in the battle itself. Thus, the National Park Service refers to these battles as the 1st and 2nd Battles of Manassas – the name preferred the Confederate forces that won each battle.
To get a good sense of the story of the 1st Battle of Manassas, from the Henry Hill Visitor Center you’ll want to take the one mile self-guided walking tour. Be forewarned that much of this trail is out in the open, so if you are visiting during a hot summer day, you’ll want to wear a hat and bring plenty of water. On a crisp fall-like day, like I had on my recent visit last month, however, the trail is absolutely delightful. The handfull of wayside exhibits along the trail will give you a good overview of the one-day battle of 1st Manassas, and take you past some of the Park’s historic structures.
The 2nd Battle of Manassas was a much larger, and longer (lasting three days this time), engagement – leaving 3,300 dead. In early 1862, Union General George McClellan boldly sailed his army down the Chesapeake Bay to Fort Monroe (present-day Fort Monroe National Monument) to launch a direct assault on the Confederate Capital of Richmond. The Union Army was defeated at the end of June in the Seven Days’ Battles (now part of present-day Richmond National Battlefield Park), and was withdrawn back to Washington, DC. This would set the stage for a second engagement at Manassas Junction at the end of August.
The best way to get an overview of 2nd Manassas is to visit the Brawner Farm interpretive center on the western edge of this park, which is also the third Passport location for the park. There is also a one-mile self-guided walking tour here. If you have more time, you can actually easily spend a whole day continuing the walking trails throughout the whole park, including Stuart’s Hill to the south and all the way to Matthew’s Hill and the Stone Bridge in the east. For shorter visits, however, the National Park Service has identied a 12-stop driving tour that hits some of the highlights of the 2nd Battle of Manassas.
If you don’t have time for the whole driving tour, I definitely recommend making it out to stop #5, for Sudley United Methodist Church, at the north end of the park. The tour stop is on the west side of Virginia-234, but follow the walking trail across the road to the east side where a wayside exhibit tells one of the more remarkable human-interest stories of the park.
Moreover, if you are the tip of person who prefers to learn about ecology and natural beauty in the national parks, rather than military history, then tour stop #12 for the iconic Stone Bridge on the east side of the park is well worth it. This tour stops includes a 1.5 mile loop hiking trail with cell phone interpretation on the ecology of Manassas National Battlefield Park. Each wayside on the loop contains two audio recordings (available by cell phone), one geared towards adults and one geared towards children. The trail starts be heading across the iconic stone bridge, and then heading in a counter-clockwise direction around the loop.
Since this is the Parkasaurus blog, I definitely encourage you to head to the first cell phone stop past the stone bridge and to the right. The audio recording here explains the history of dinosaurs at Manassas National Battlefield Park. True story!
Manassas National Battlefield Park has three Pasport cancellations to collect:
- Manassas, VA – for the Henry Hil Visitory Center (the main VC for the park)
- Brawner Farm – for the Brawner Farm Interpretive Center and the 2nd Battle of Manassas
- Stone House – at the historic stone house, which was an icon in both battles.
Additionally, all three of these locations also have a second Passport cancellation for the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.Share this Parkasaurus post: