Tourist in My Hometown: Manassas Battlefield

Today we weren’t intending to hike a battlefield, but we did anyway. We set the GPS for Bull Run State Park, and ended up turning into a gated utility road. Apparently, Garmin doesn’t know where that park is. But it does know where Manassas Battlefield Park is, just a few minutes away, so that is where we went.

The park has two trails, one for the Battle of First Manassas and one for Battle of Second Manassas. We walked the first battlefield today, a 5.5 mile circular trail through meadows and woods. It was a beautiful day, and many others were doing the same. Nice to see so many people out enjoying the outdoors and history.

This battle (called the Battle of Bull Run by the North), one of the first of the war in July, 1861, was a reality check for both sides. The Union troops, who outnumbered the Confederates, assumed it would be a quick rout. People actually traveled from Washington, DC in carriages to have picnics and watch the battle. I just can’t imagine doing that, but these were days when lynching was a spectator sport, after all. The war took place in a violent context, really.

Instead, 900 soldiers died on these fields and the Yankees went home with their tails between their legs. The Confederates learned that they could fight, and the Yankees did too. Unfortunately, that Rebel tenacity was the reason the war lasted as long as it did—and that so much death and destruction ensued.

Manassas Battlefield Park is surrounded by some of the ugliest, most cookie-cutter housing developments and shopping centers you can imagine. Though I understand that prosperity is exactly what the Civil War accomplished in the end, I’m very glad that the battlefield itself has been preserved. It is not only a beautiful piece of rolling Virginia countryside, but a great reminder of the history behind all that suburban sprawl.

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