- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

No members of Congress or ladies in carriages were present at the site of the first major Civil War battles at Manassas when it was revealed yesterday as it appeared 143 years ago.

Last June, bulldozers began excavating and grading slopes and ponds to restore about 45 acres of the 106-acre Stuart’s Hill site as wetlands.

Restoring the wetlands in the Manassas National Battlefield Park cost $1.5 million, said Bob Sutton, park superintendent.

Trees lining the tract block views of traffic on Interstate 66, Lee Highway and U.S. 29, formerly known as Warrenton Turnpike.

Most visible at the site are slopes, some leading down to ponds, with wild geese overhead and dragonflies darting. A snake was swimming in one of the ponds yesterday.

“Restoration helps the natural resources, too. It is important to protect the resources in the future,” said Fran Mainella, regional director for the National Park Service.

Seven years ago, the slopes were absent from the site. Dirt had been deposited to level the terrain. No ponds were present because of modern drains installed for three houses under construction by Hazel and Peterson Developers.

That is when the National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and Virginia Department of Transportation decided to restore the historic site of two Civil War battles — called the Battles of Bull Run by Union troops and Battles of Manassas by Confederates.

It was on July 21, 1861, that congressional parties visited the battlefields for what was expected to be an entertaining encounter between 35,000 Union and 32,000 Confederate troops. But by day’s end, 900 young men lay dead on the battlefields. Surviving Union troops had to wend their way around the stunned congressional spectators in their retreat to Washington.

Gen. Thomas L. Jackson acquired the nickname “Stonewall” as a result of the battle.

From Aug. 28-30, 1862, the North and South again fought at Second Manassas, or Second Bull Run — this time without congressional viewers. That was when Gen. Robert E. Lee scored a second victory for the Confederates. About 33,000 soldiers died.

Once the Park Service decided to restore the site, the University of Georgia’s School of Design was contracted to define the terrain as it existed during the Civil War, Mr. Sutton said.

The Smithsonian became involved because it needed a wetlands site to replace those at Washington Dulles International Airport where it was building the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center, said Lin Ezell, executive officer of the museum.

In November, restoration of 30 acres of emergent wetlands and 15 acres of forested wetlands was completed.

“This park opens up the respectful and truthful window on the history of this country,” Mrs. Mainella said. “We here are telling an important story.”

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