GAINESVILLE, Va. — Cannon fire and troop movement began under a hazy sky Sunday morning, as thousands of Civil War re-enactors fought the Battle of Bull Run amid heat and a crowd similar to those that came out to watch the original battle.
The event marked the final day of Manassas’ 150th anniversary celebration of the first land battle between Union and Confederate soldiers, a fight that set off four years of bloodshed that historian continue to analyze and remember.
“Between 1861 and 1863, we in Prince William County were on the front lines of the American Civil War, right here,” said David Born, the announcer for Sunday’s re-enactment and coordinator of Prince William’s historic preservation division.
The Confederate victory at Bull Run - also known as the Battle of First Manassas as the South named its battles after nearby jurisdictions while the North used nearby bodies of water - meant fighting would continue because Union soldiers were prevented from storming Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, which would have put an end to the revolt.
Hundreds of spectators Sunday in raised bleachers and along the perimeter of the combat area cheered as cannons thundered, horses galloped and soldiers dressed in mismatched uniforms stood shoulder to shoulder, firing their rifles into the oncoming enemy.
“This fight is like a barroom brawl,” Mr. Born said. He said the skirmishes weren’t “crisp” because the men had not grown accustomed to fighting and that the temperature for the original battle was about 100 degrees, “which is not hard for us to imagine.”
The four-day anniversary coincided with a heat-and-humidity wave that blanketed the region and forced the cancellation of some programs and events.
As he waited for his sergeant to announce a post-battle lunch, Michigan resident Troy Bongard said jokingly that his favorite weather to fight in is 105-degree heat, especially when he layers on his wool uniform.
The second of three generations of re-enactors, Mr. Bongard said the sense of family is one reason he took up Civil War re-enactments, along with the fact that “we’re all kind of history buffs. It’s also like the big-boy game of cowboys and Indians.”
Sunday’s battle was the first national battle for Mr. Bongard’s 13-year-old son, Lucas, who had the important job of acting as color bearer for the Union soldiers in Battery D, 1st Michigan Light Artillery.
The re-enactors understood who would win the day, but according to Jason Leggett, a 17-year re-enactor veteran, that doesn’t always mean soldiers fight according to plan.
“It doesn’t look right if no one falls down,” the Lisbon, Ohio, resident said of the faux casualties. Some re-enactors can get carried away trying to stay in the battle, so the ones who do end up taking a fall “are a lot of times the same people,” he said.
Sunday’s battle included many casualties - the Civil War Trust puts the real total at 4,700 - including the collapse of dozens of charging Confederate soldiers as they attempted to push back the Union troops.