on April 15, 2009
One semester in college, I interned for the Civil War Preservation Trust – a non-profit that works to preserve Civil War battlefields from the onslaught of Wal-mart and the like. I’m a history buff and I believed in the organization’s mission, but I occasionally found myself thinking, "come on, all of them, we have to save all of them." CWPT isn’t trying to save every scrap of land a boy in blue or gray died on, just the battlefields with historical significance. It was during my first battlefield tour while on the job, Manassas, that I really recognized the importance of dedicated preservation. When you’re standing on a battlefield like First Manassas and a ranger is sweeping his arm over where Union troops advanced across Bull Run, your ability to visualize and appreciate what happened is umpteen times greater than when reading about it in a book. It’s an incredible experience at any battlefield, but First Manassas is particularly striking to see in person since it was the first major clash between Union and Confederate troops in 1861. The Civil War Sites Advisory Committee provides an excellent, succinct explanation of First Manassas - http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/abpp/battles/va005.htm. Basically, Union troops under McDowell received a thrashing at the hands of Joe Johnston and Beauregard (Stonewall Jackson at the rank of Col. is also a noteworthy force during the battle). Union troops ultimately retreat back to Washington, DC and there is a general realization that it’s going to be a long hard slog to preserve the union. It took about 45 minutes to get to Manassas from DC – pretty easy trek and you won’t be stranded in the middle of nowhere when you finish. The National Battlefield Park actually encompasses parts of Second Manassas (occurring in 1862, even larger than #1, and involving Robert E. Lee and John Pope for the North), as well as First Manassas. I believe you can buy a tape for a self driven car tour of Second Manassas, but on my visit we only did a walking tour of First Manassas. However you choose to structure your visit, you will need around two hours to get the most out of the trip. At the visitors center there is a small museum, education displays, and a gift shop (with hiking stick medallions if you collect those). You can hike around on your own and enjoy the green space, but I highly recommend going on a guided tour. The rangers and tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly; they’re passionate about what they do and you will get a great feel for the battlefield by listening to them. In the spring, there’s a 45 minute walking tour of First Manassas at 11 am and 3 pm, and a Second Manassas talk at 1 pm. Here’s the NPS link for the battlefield park: http://www.nps.gov/mana/. Check the website out and then go check Manassas out.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009