- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2003

A visit to Manassas National Battlefield Park is a chance to take in the now-peaceful countryside while gaining historical perspective. It was at this spot in July 1861 that the Civil War’s Battle of First Manassas (also known as Bull Run) was fought. Troops from both sides were eager and confident that the skirmish would be a swift start to a short conflict.

They, of course, were wrong. Nearly 900 men died that day, and the Civil War went on for four years. Today, a 5,000-acre national park sits on the spot of that battle, as well as the even bloodier Battle of Second Manassas, which took place 13 months later and claimed the lives of 3,300 soldiers.

There are several ways to take in the history here, including self-guided and ranger-led walking tours. There also is a driving tour; visitors can purchase an audiotape in the gift shop and play it on their car stereos for narration. One even can tour the park on horseback, provided you bring your own horse.

No matter which way you choose to see the battlefield, the best place to start is the Henry Hill Visitor Center. A 45-minute movie titled “Manassas: End of Innocence” plays on the hour and offers a look at how First Manassas came to be. The movie tells the story of the battle, but also the personal perspective of Judith Carter Henry. Mrs. Henry, a bedridden widow, became the only civilian casualty of the battle after fighting broke out near her home.

The artifacts in the visitors center pertain primarily to First Manassas. They include a giant map on which six minutes of recorded narration and lights show how the battle lines were formed and how troops moved; relics from Mrs. Henry’s home, including a Bible and part of her bedpost; a guide to artillery; and a gallery of weapons and uniforms.

At First Manassas, because the troops were assembled hastily from state and local units, there were some 200 different uniforms. Many of them looked similar, which added to the confusion that day.

On the First Manassas walking tours, sites include Mrs. Henry’s grave, the line Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson formed, as well as a giant statue of a muscular Jackson and his equally muscular horse.

“He looks like the Hulk,” said one teenage visitor taking a tour recently.

The Second Manassas 16-mile driving tour includes the Stone House, a former tavern that was a shelter for the wounded in the first battle and the headquarters of Union commander John Pope during the second battle. The Stone Bridge — where the defeated Union Army withdrew during Second Manassas — also is featured.

The park is a popular spot for tourists to the Washington area, Civil War buffs and schoolchildren, says longtime volunteer Bob Laine.

“Between 800,000 and a million people visit each year,” he says. “What we have here is 5,000 acres of grass, fields and history. Some people say they have already been to Gettysburg, but I say if there was no Manassas, there wouldn’t have been a Gettysburg.”

Manassas Battlefield National Park is the site of several living-history events in the summer to commemorate both battles. The anniversary programs include re-creations by military units, artillery demonstrations, solider life encampments and special tours.

Mr. Laine says they prefer not to call the events re-enactments.

“We are not opposing forces,” he says. “The people we bring in are experienced in living history.”

In the spring and fall, the park hosts battlefield hikes. These are five-hour guided tours that go farther and encompass more than a typical walking tour. Fall hikes will take place on Oct. 4 (First Manassas) and Oct. 18 (Second Manassas).

School groups visit the park almost daily, says education coordinator Tim Nosal. Because Virginia’s Civil War history is a large part of the state’s elementary school Standards of Learning tests, a trip here can supplement what the children learn in the classroom.

“In a two-hour visit, children get a tour of the park and a museum scavenger hunt,” Mr. Nosal says. “In addition, we have a Web site where teachers can download lots of information and activities. Teachers from all over the country visit it to supplement their history lessons.”

WHEN YOU GO

Location: Manassas National Battlefield Park is located on Route 234 in Manassas.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Interstate 66 west to Exit 47B (Route 234 north). Follow signs for the park, which is about a mile down on the right.

Hours: The park is open is during daylight hours every day. Henry Hill Visitor Center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The visitors center is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.

Admission: $3 per person (good for three days) or $20 annual admission. Admission to the movie “Manassas: End of Innocence” is an additional $3.

Parking: On-site parking is free and available.

Note: There is an extensive bookstore and gift shop in the visitors center. Bring good walking shoes if you plan to take a walking tour.

More information: 703/361-1339 or www.nps.gov/mana.


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