Driving Through History

Manassas National Battlefield Park
By Christina Breda
  |  Gorp.com

Located a few miles north of the coveted railroad junction at Manassas, Virginia, this peaceful stretch of countryside was actually home to two major battles, sensibly dubbed The Battle of First Manassas and The Battle of Second Manassas (also known as the first and second Battles of Bull Run). Both were victories for the Confederates.

The first battle, on July 16, 1861, was the first major encounter of the armies in Virginia and also the first signal to the Lincoln administration that the war would be a long and costly struggle. Neither side was prepared for the brutality of the battle, which left 900 men dead in ten hours of heavy fighting. It was here that General Thomas J. Jackson got the nickname that stuck—"Stonewall Jackson."

The second engagement lasted from August 28 to 30, in 1862, and was the decisive battle of the Northern Virginia Campaign. Although this battle exacted an even higher toll than the first—3,300 casualties—it was a high point for the Confederates. General Robert E. Lee's bold strategy here effectively laid the groundwork for the South's first invasion of the North and opened up the possibility of European recognition of the Confederate government.

What to Do

In stark contrast to Antietam and Gettysburg, Manassas has only a handful of monuments scattered across the 5,000 acres of battlefield park. Still, you can't mistake this for anything other than a preserved historic site. Much of the original landmarks are still here: Henry Hill looks much the same, although a new farmhouse marks the site of the old; the unfinished railroad that was the scene of carnage at Second Manassas still runs through the woods; and the Stone House—the former aid station—still stands as it has since the 1820s, overlooking the Warrenton Turnpike.

Slip into the visitor's center to pay the entrance fee, visit the museum, and catch the 13-minute orientation slide or six-minute audiovisual battle map program. Outside, the best way to explore the scene of First Manassas is to take a one-mile self-guided walking tour that makes a loop around Henry Hill and includes interpretive signs telling the tale of the battle.

To tour the scene of the second battle, which raged over three days, take your pick from a five-mile walking loop trail or a 12-stop driving tour that covers the battle's major sites.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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