Tag Archives: Richmond

Petersburg: The Penultimate Act of the Civil War

 

Petersburg National Battlefield was the penultimate act for Robert E. Lee's Army of Norther Virginia before surrendiering at Appomattox Court House.
Petersburg National Battlefield was the ultimate siege campaign of the Civil War and the penultimate act for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia before surrendering at Appomattox Court House.

I recent had occasion to visit Petersburg National Battlefield, the national park that commemorates the penultimate engagement of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and therefore, of the Civil War itself.  The siege here lasted for more than nine long months.   When Lee was finally defeated on April 2, 1865, he would retreat west towards the small village of Appomattox Court House, the place where he would surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War.

The City of Petersburg, located 26 miles to the south of the Confederate capitol of Richmond, was a strategic transportation hub, crucial for sustaining the Confederate defenses around their capitol.   In many ways, Richmond was the great white whale of the Union war efforts.  Early in the war, in 1862, Union General George McClellan had sailed his army down the Chesapeake Bay to the Virginia Tidewater area.  From there, he marched inland to make a direct assault on Richmond, and hopefully bring an early end to the war in what has become known as the Peninsula Campaign.  As it so happened, he was defeated in the Seven Day’s Battles on the outskirts of Richmond.  This forced him to retreat back north to Washington, setting up  the Second Battle of Manassas later that summer, which I covered in a previous Parkasaurus post.   In December of 1862 and again in May of 1863, the Union Amry of the Potomac towards Richmond under the commands of General Ambrose Burnside and General Joseph Hooker, respectively.  They would in turn both be defeated 60 miles of the north of Richmond, trying to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

Finally, in 1864, Union General Ulysses S. Grant would again approach Richmond from the north, having succeeded in crossing the Rappahannock River by defeating Robert E. Lee in the Battle of the Wilderness (near Chancellorsville) and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, to the south of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, in May 1865.  (Today, all four battlefields, Fredericskburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House are preservered as part of the cumbersomely named Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park – the longest park name in the U.S. National Park System!)  Even the great General Grant, however, would at first be defeated in his attempt to directly take Richmond.   As he continued what is now known as the Overland Campaign south from Fredericksburg, he would commit the blunder of making a direct frontal assault on Robert E. Lee’s troops at Cold Harbor, just 12 miles outside of Richmond, which is now part of Richmond National Battlefield Park, along with several sites from McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign two years earlier..

Having failed to take Richmond by direct assault, Grant circled his troops around Richmond to the city of Petersburg to the south.  Petersburg was a key transportation hub with five railroad lines meeting there, crucial for resupplying the Confederate forces in Richmond.   If Grant could capture Petersburg, the Confederates would be unable to resupply Richmond, and thus would be forced to abandon their capitol.   Grant’s forces arrived in the vicinity of Petersburg in June 1864, and began to settle in for a long siege.

Appomattox Plantation served as the Quartermaster's Offices at Grant's Headquarters. Grant himself stayed in the same temporary cabins as his soldiers.
Appomattox Plantation was already 100 years old by the tim of the Civil War and it served as the Quartermaster’s Offices at Grant’s Headquarters.

Although the main visitor center for Petersburg is closer to town, the first stop on our visit was, appropriately enough, Grant’s Headqauraters at City Point.   City Point was a small village located where the Appomattox River meets the James River, and is roughly where the James River becomes significantly wider as it flows towards the Atlantic Ocean.  Richmond is located approximately 17 miles upstream on the James River to the northwest, and Petersburg is located approximately 8 miles upsteam on the Appomattox River to the southwest.  This strategic location would be the base from which Grant would conduct the siege of Petersburg for the next nine months.

The most-imposing remaining historic structure here is an old plantation house, the ironically named Appomattox Plantation.  Grant, however, opted not to use the large house for himself.  Instead, he actually stayed in the same tents as his soldiers, at least until a primitive cabin was built for him several months later as winter was approaching.   This left the Plantation House to be used by the quartermasters, who were responsible for coordinating the continual massive daily influx of all sorts of food and supplies to sustain the Union siege forces.

Grant's Cabin was built in November 1864 as preparations were made for the siege to continue through the winter.
Grant’s Cabin was built in November 1864 as preparations were made for the siege to continue through the winter.

Today the Plantation House serves as a mini Visitor Center for the Park.  There is a short movie about the Park and a few exhibits inside the building.  There are also a handful of wayside exhibits scattered around the property, which attempt to give some perspective to the absolutely massive logistical operations that occurred here during the siege.   In addition to serving as the Union’s logistics hub and the headquarters for its senior leadership, the City Point area also supported the primary hospital caring for the sick and wounded soldiers being brought in almost daily from the front lines of the siege.

From City Point, the next stop was the Eastern Front Visitor Center, which is really the main visitor center for the Park, and is located seven miles to the southwest on the outskirts of town.   This Visitor Center has the main Park movie, as well as some more extensive exhibits.  From here, a short loop trail of less than a mile takes you  to a replica of the cannon known as “The Dictator.”   The Dictator was a 13-inch mortar that was used by the Union in the siege of Petersburg, and was one of the largest of its kind.   Its not known what happened to the original, but it may not have survived.  Contemporary accounts indicate that The Dictator was a truly terrifying and powerful weapon.  The unusual profile of this cannon has since become one of the iconic images of Petersburg, and appears frequently in Petersburg National Battlefield’s promotional materials and merchandise.

 

The Dictator has become an iconic image of Petersburg National Battlefield. This replica has been placed at roughly the spot where the original was stationed to fire upon Petersburg during the siege.
The Dictator has become an iconic image of Petersburg National Battlefield. This replica has been placed at roughly the spot where the original was stationed to fire upon Petersburg during the siege.

From the Eastern Front Visitor Center a short driving tour takes you through seven additional stops in the main section of the Park.  The stops variously take you to the locations of additional preserved earthworks from the siege lines, and the sites of various engagements that occurred as part of the siege.   This area contains several miles of hiking trails, which connect to each of the stops, but these trails seem to primarily cater to locals from the city of Petersburg and from the nearby Fort Lee U.S. Army Base, rather than to national tourists.

In any event, the moral of the story from this driving tour is that from his headquarters and supply depot at City Point to the northwest, Grant was seeking to use his army to extend his siege lines and surround Petersburg to the south, and ultimately to the west.   By surrounding Petersburg to the south and west, Grant hoped to sever the railroads that were supplying Petersburg, and ultimately Richmond. This would be a long, methodical effort, which would consume the more than nine months that the siege lasted.

Proceeding through Eastern Front Driving Tour, its worth making particular note of Stop #5, Fort Stedman.   While much of the action on the Eastern Front takes place in June and July of 1864 while the siege is just beginning, Fort Stedman would rise to prominence in late March of  1865 as the siege was nearing its conclusion.  Here is the place where Lee would make one last attempt to break the Union’s siege lines, and in so doing, set into motion the closing act of the Civil War – but more on that at the end of this post.

The last stop of the Eastern Front driving tour takes you to the place for which the siege of Petersburg is the most famous – the site of the Battle of the Crater.  On July 30, 1864 the Union hatched a creative plan for breaking through the Confederate siegeworks, and hopefully bringing an early end to the siege.   In the early morning hours before dawn on July 30, 1864 a massive mine was detonated below the Confederate earthworks, instantly killing nearly 300 Confederates.   Left behind was a massive crater measuring nearly 170 feet long by 80 feet wide, and at least 30 feet deep.  Two Confederate cannons, each weighing more than 1,700 pounds, had been hurled completely into the air and out of the earthworks.

Despite that early success, and the sheer ingenuity of the plan, almost everything after that moment was a disaster for the Union Army.  The force of the explosion was so massive,  and so unprecedented, that forces on both sides were slow to react.  Contemporary accounts indicate that it took nearly 15 minutes both for the Confederates to return fire and for the Union forces to press their advantage.  At that point, whether due to poor planning by the immediate commanding Generals, or poor training, or both, thousands of Union forces rushed into the resulting crater.   However, instead of the crater being a defensive position from which to press their advantage against the Confederate forces on the surrounding remaining earthworks, the crater instead became a death trap.  Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone would call it a “turkey shoot,” and Grant would later write that “it was the saddest affair that I have witnessed in this war.”   At the end of the day, nearly 4,000 Union soldiers had been killed, wounded or captured against fewer than 1,500 Confederates.

150 years later, the remains of The Crater are still visible at Petersburg.
150 years later, the remains of The Crater are still visible at Petersburg.

After the war, the site of The Crater was naturally one of the first tourist attractions at the Petersburg Battlefield.   After 150 years of erosion, weathering, visitation, and growth in vegetation, it is admittedly no longer the site that left soldiers on both sides gawking in amazement.   Visiting the site today, however, one can still capture the sense of what truly close quarters these Civil War engagements were fought in.  In an era before aircraft, and before mechanized warfare, battles were truly intimate affairs, with soldiers in close quarters seeing those who would kill and be killed.  80 feet wide was surely a significant crater for those soldiers fighting on foot, but with thousands of Union soldiers pouring into that space, only to meet whithering Confederate fire from above the rim, it must have felt like very tight quarters indeed.

The Crater marks the end of the Eastern Front driving tour.   From there, a tour of the park takes you to the four-stop Western Front Driving Tour.  Unlike the Eastern Front, where the National Park Service manages a large contiguous parcel of land, the National Park Service only manages a few, small, disconnected parcels on the Western Front.  Nevertheless, the story here remains largely the same.  Grant is continuing to extend his siege lines around Petersburg to the south and to the west to encricle Petersburg and cut the supply routes into the city.  The Western Front driving tour takes you to several areas of preserved historic earthworks from the siege, and the sites of engagements that occurred during the siege.   These range from engagements fought in August 1864 in the aftermath of the Crater to the final push that occurred on April 2, 1865 which finally broke the siege – but again, more on that in a moment.

Poplar Grove National Cemetery is the centerpiece of the Western Front Driving Tour at Petersburg National Battlefield.Poplar Grove National Cemetery is the centerpiece of the Western Front Driving Tour at Petersburg National Battlefield.

The Western Front Driving Tour also includes Poplar Grove National Cemetery.  Poplar Grove was established in 1866 to provide a final resting place for around 5,000 of the Union soldiers that had been buried around Petersburg during the siege.  The National Park Service operates a small Visitor Contact Station here during the summer.  The grave stones here are all flat to the ground, but are clearly marked.

The National Park Service also encourages travelers to visit historic downtown Petersburg.  Although none of the historic properties in downtown Petersburg are actually managed as part of the national battlefield, there is apparently a whopping 64-stop auto tour available.  We were only making a day trip to the park so did not have time for this particular side-trip, but it is good to know that it is available.

Our visit to the National Park Service areas at Petersburg National Battlefield, however, concluded with a visit to the FIve Forks Unit, which is located approximately 15 miles to the west of Petersburg.   After Lee’s failed assault on Fort Stedman (back in the main portion of the Park) on March 25, 1865, Grant knew that he now had an opportunity to press his advantage.   He dispatched a mobile force under Major General Philip Sheriden out to the west to try and cut the last remaining railway line into Petersburg.   Lee dispatched General George Pickett (he of the famous Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg) to try and hold the lines.   The two forces met on March 31st in the vicinity of Five Forks, an area where five roads come together just two miles south of the railroad line.  By the evening of April 1st, the Union forces had won the battlefield.   The next day, Sunday April 2nd, Grant ordered a number of assaults on the entrenched Confederate lines around Petersburg, and the nine month siege was over.  Lee’s forces were retreteating to the north and to the west towards Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War would effectively end one week later on April 9th.

As it so happens, April 9th was Palm Sunday that year, the day on which Christians all over the world simultaneously mark both the triumphant entrance of Jesus of Nazareth into Jersualem and his subsequent crucifxtion at the hands of the Romans, an act that Christians believe was in atonement for the sins of the world.   Just five days after that, Abraham Lincoln would be shot in Ford’s Theatre on Good Friday.   Thus, the two climactic events of a war that Lincoln was already growing to understand in increasingly religious terms, as he had articulated just one month earlier, would occur on two massively symbolic religious anniversaries.

On a personal note, this visit to Petersburg National Battlefield also had symbolic importance to me.  This visit marked the 300th Unit of the U.S. National Park System that I have visited at least once.  It was also the last of the National Park Service Units primarily dedicated to the Civil War that I had not yet visited, and also the last National Park Service Unit in the Mid-Atlantic Region that I had not yet visited.  So this visit carried a sense of accomplishment in my personal travels as well.

Our visit also included all five of the Passport Cancellations currently available at Petersburg National Battlefield:

  • Grant’s Headquarters at City Point (in the Appomattox Plantation House)
  • Petersburg, VA (at the Easter Front (Main) Visitor Center)
  • Siege of Petersburg | 150th Anniversary of the Civil War (also at the Eastern Front (Main) Visitor Center)
  • Poplar Grove National Cemetery (at the Eastern Front Visitor Center in the winter when the Poplar Grove Contact Station is closed)
  • Five Forks, VA (at the Five Forks Contact Station)
The cannons are now silent at Petersburg National Battlefield.
The cannons are now silent at Petersburg National Battlefield.
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Lincoln Memorial and Great Speeches

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Photo by Parkasaurus from May 2010

Today’s post is about the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC after being reminded that earlier this week was the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address.

The Lincoln Memorial anchors the West end of the National Mall in West Potomac Park of downtown Washington, DC.  Inside the Greek-style Temple with Doric columns is, of course, the famous sculpture of Abraham Lincoln carved by famed American sculptor Daniel Chester French.  Inside the temple are two of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, on the north and south walls, respectively.   As I like to describe them, one of the speeches is the greatest speech in American History, the other is the Gettysburg Address.

That “greatest speech in American History,” is, of course, Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address.   Indeed, it is a remarkable testament to Lincoln’s brilliance that he would have not just delivered not one, but two of the speeches in the canon of all-time greats in American History, but that both of them would also be short enough that they could be carved in their entirety into the walls of a Memorial.

Perhaps even more amazing is that the only other real contender, in my mind, with these two speeches for the title of “all-time greatest speech in American History” was delivered on the steps of this very Memorial.  This is, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, a speech which begins by directly referencing Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and echoing the famous opening of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

All that is definiately fitting because as far as I’m concerned, the list of  greatest-speeches in American History would have to have these three speeches, Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural, King’s “I Have a Dream,” and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as 1, 2, and 3 in some order – and you really can’t go wrong with whatever order you choose.   Yes, there are some other notable speeches in American History, such as John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address – “ask not what your country can do for you,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1st Inaugural Address – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Lou Gehrig’s Farewell – “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth,” and Ronald Reagan’s Speech at the Brandenburg Gate – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”; but in my view these four are all in a second tier below the first three.

"I-have-a-dream-site" by ProhibitOnions - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:I-have-a-dream-site.jpg#mediaviewer/File:I-have-a-dream-site.jpg
The National Park Service has marked the exact spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood while delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech with this inscription in the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.   “I-have-a-dream-site” by ProhibitOnions – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:I-have-a-dream-site.jpg#mediaviewer/File:I-have-a-dream-site.jpg

Top honors, for me, however, go to Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address – the 150th Anniversary of which is being marked this week.   Back in the 19th Century, Presidential Inaugurations were held on March 4th each year (unless it was Sunday), before being moved to the present date of January 20th (unless its a Sunday) in the 1930’s.

Back in 1865, when Lincoln was delivering this speech, the Civil War had raged for nearly four years since the first shots had been fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.   What everyone thought would be a short war at the 1st Battle of Manassas had proven to be anything but.   By this point, some 700,00 soldiers on both sides lay dead, with many more civilian casualties on top of that.  All of this in a Nation that had numbered just 31.5 million in the 1860 Census, including nearly 4 million enslaved African-Americans.

Over the years of warfare, as technology advanced and war-fighting tactics improved, a new kind of total warfare had developed.   By the time that Lincoln was delivering his Second Inaugural Address it was clear that the end was imminently near.  Indeed, Lee would surrender at Appomattox Courhouse just one month later, on April 9th.   At this time, though,  General Ulysses S. Grant was entering the 10th month of his siege campaign to surround the Conferederate capital of Richmond, and its adjacent railroad hub of Petersburg.   This was an intense trench warfare campaign of the sort that would prefigure the terrible trench warfare of the First World War that would come some 50 years later.

With the Nation having suffered so much, Lincoln chose this occasion to try and make some sense of the sensless carnage which had ravaged the country and to try and give some meaning to all the suffering the Nation had endured.   One year into the war, in April 1862, Lincoln famously wrote in a letter to New York City newpaperman Horace Greeley “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it.”   Now, nearly three years later, Lincoln uses this occasion to articulate that a war which had been begun to save the Union, was now definitively also about the higher purpose of ending the institution of slavery.   And although there is not really any evidence that Lincoln was himself a religious man, he finds in allusions to Biblical texts that would have been well known by his audience, some semblance ofan answer as to why this war had lasted so long and caused so much suffering.

Lincoln then ends the speech with his famous closing lines, “with malice towards none, and charity towards all,” articulating a vision for how the Nation should be reunited, and directly rebuking those in the North who wanted to inflict punitive retribution on the South.  In a way, this is Lincoln articulating his own dream, a dream that would ultimately not be realized.  His Vice President that day was Andrew Johnson, unusually, a Democrat (Lincoln was,  of course, a Republican), and a Southerner, from Tennessee.  With the election of 1864 being conducted during wartime, and with half the country in open rebellion, Lincoln had sought to run on a “national unity” ticket.  As such, he had dropped his Vice President from his first term, the Republican Hannibal Hamlin from Maine, and replaced him with Andrew Johnson, who had been a Senator from Tennessee, and whom Lincoln had apointed as military governor of Tennessee when the Union Army had largely recaptured the State.

The task of carrying out Lincoln's vision for Reconstruction would largely fall to Andrew Johnson. Photo from Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, TN, 2013.
The task of carrying out Lincoln’s vision for Reconstruction would largely fall to Andrew Johnson. Photo from Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, TN, 2013.

Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln’s dream would largely die with him after being shot at Ford’s Theatre.  Less than two months after Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, Andrew Johnson would find himself President of the United States.  As the ultimate outsider, however, a Southern Democrat who had largely been elected by Northern Republicans, he would quickly find himself largely unable to execute Lincoln’s vision for Reconstruction.  In that sense, Lincoln’s unfulfilled dream prefigures the more profound unfilfilled dream of a country where “all men are created equal,” and a country where his “four little children… will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” that would be echoed some 98 years later on August 28, 1963.

Indeed, those connections still echo today.  As I write this post on March 7th, earlier today the National Park Service  held a commemorative program marking the 150th Anniversary (plus two days) of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, on the same day that so many people gathered in Selma, Alabama to mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights March to Montgomery back in 1965.

So with all that being said, here are the words of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, some 150 years later:

Fellow Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil-war. All dreaded it — all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”

If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

 

 

 

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Managing Manassas

The Stone House is the iconic structure of Manassas NBP, it was used as a hospital in both battles, and is one of three Passport locations for the park.
The Stone House is the iconic structure of Manassas NBP, it was a landmark in both battles fought here, and is one of three Passport locations for the park.

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.

 

This statue marks the spot where Confederate General Thomas Jackson rallied his troops by standing "like a stone wall."   The name stuck.  Photo taken in 2011.
This statue marks the spot where Confederate General Thomas Jackson rallied his troops by standing “like a stone wall.” The name stuck. Photo taken in 2011.

 

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.

 

A view of the one-mile self-guided walking tour for the battle of 1st Manassas, looking back at the Henry Hill Visitor Center in the distance.
A view of the one-mile self-guided walking tour for the battle of 1st Manassas, looking back at the Henry Hill Visitor Center in the distance.

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.

The Brawner Farm Interpretive Center contains this model of the colorful uniforms worn by the 5th New York Regiment, known as the zouave's.
The Brawner Farm Interpretive Center contains this model of the colorful uniforms worn by the 5th New York Regiment, known as the zouave’s.

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!

One of the many surprises at Manassas National Battlefield Park is that you may learn about dinosaurs at this stop on the cell phone tour at the Stone Bridge.
One of the many surprises at Manassas National Battlefield Park is that you may learn about dinosaurs at this stop on the cell phone tour at the Stone Bridge.

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.

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