Manassas National Battlefield—A Good Place for a Family Day Trip
Manassas National Battlefield
Manassas National Battlefield is adjacent to the City of Manassas. This is the site of the First and Second Battles of Manassas. For people who learned about U.S. History in the northern U.S. states these battles are known as the Battles of Bull Run. Regardless of where a person learned about U.S. History there is much to learn at the Manassas National Battlefield that wasn’t taught in school.
Manassas National Battlefield is located just north of route I-66 at exit 47. Route 234 passes through the park and passes right by the Henry Hill Visitor Center. The Visitor’s Center is next to the Northern Virginia Community College Manassas Campus. The battlefield is open year round from dawn till dusk. The Henry Hill Visitor Center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas day. The Brawner Farm is open daily Interpretive Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the Stone House is open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and closes for the season in early October.[i] The park and all its buildings are free and open to the public. Donations are accepted at the Henry Hill Visitor’s Center. Black bear sightings are rare at the park. The Park Service’s advice is to slowly walk away from black bears. They are dangerous and there are cases where they have attacked people.
[i] In 2016 it closes for the season on Sunday, October 9.
The Visitor’s Center has a small museum and gift shop. The center has an auditorium that shows the 45 minute film “Baptism of Fire”. The film tells the story of the Battles of Manassas through the eyes of people who were there. These people included children and other civilians, privates on both sides of the battles, a Virginia Military Institute Cadet, and an experienced Union artillery officer. This film gives perspectives of the battles, and of the Civil War, that you probably didn’t get in school. It also brought up the Confederate Army’s practice of considering African Americans they found as “contraband of war”. These unfortunate African Americans were shipped south and sold as slaves.
The National Park Service has guided tours where tour groups are walked around the battlefield and tour guides tell what happened on the ground they are walking on. Visitors get a good perception of the close quarters of the fighting. Visitors can also go on self guided tours. Manassas National Battlefield is good if your group has some members who like to walk and other members who don’t want to, or can’t, walk too much. There is a good view of the battlefield from the back of the Henry Hill Visitor Center. Visitors who want a long walk can go on a self guided exploration of the battlefield. If you plan to explore heed the warnings on the Park’s web site.[i]
[i] https://www.nps.gov/mana/planyourvisit/conditions.htm, & https://www.nps.gov/mana/learn/education/tick-safety.htm, last accessed 10/11/2016.
The First Battle of Bull Run
Abraham Lincoln decided to bring the southern rebellion to a quick end by sending troops into Virginia with the aim of capturing Richmond. The Union volunteers had signed 90 day enlistments, which were almost up. He ordered Brigadier General Irvin McDowell to send his 35,000 troops to attack the 20,000 Confederate troops who were camped near Manassas Junction. General McDowell asked for more time to train his troops because they weren’t ready for combat. Lincoln decided the Rebel troops would also be unprepared and ordered McDowell to send his troops immediately.[i]
McDowell’s troops marched on July 16. Their poor training showed immediately, they only covered 5 miles (8 km) on the first day. Manassas Junction was 25 miles (40 km) from Washington. This gave General P.G.T. Beauregard advanced warning and he asked General Joseph E. Johnston, who commanded 11,000 Confederate troops in the Shenandoah Valley, for reinforcements. General Johnston outmaneuvered the Union forces in the area and marched towards Manassas.[ii]
People from Washington D.C. went to the area to watch the battle. They believed they would witness the decisive battle that would end the rebellion. On the other side local people watched, knowing a Confederate defeat would mean the road to Richmond was open and their cause would be lost.
The battle began at 5:30 AM with a Union artillery barrage. Union troops crossed Sudley Ford attempting to strike the Confederate left flank. Again the lack of training showed and the troops moved slowly. Confederate Colonel Nathan Evans correctly figured it was a diversion. He left a small force to hold Stone Bridge and sent the remainder to Matthews Hill to face McDowell’s lead unit.[iii] For the next 2 hours 10,000 Union troops attacked 4,500 Confederate troops. These Union troops pushed the Confederates from the Warrington turnpike to Henry House Hill.
Brigadier General Thomas Jackson, Colonel Wade Hampton, and Colonel J.E.B. Stuart brought their troops to Henry Hill to reinforce the Confederate position. Jackson set up artillery on the hill’s crest. McDowell sent his artillery to Matthews Hill. The opposing batteries had an artillery duel.[iv] Mrs. Judith Henry was bed ridden in her home on Henry Hill. Earlier her family tried to move her but she insisted to be brought back in the house. Confederate sharp shooters took up positions near her house. Union artillery opened fire on the sharp shooters and the artillery struck Mrs. Henry’s house. She was mortally wounded and was the only civilian killed during the battle.
The 14th Brooklyn Regiment[v] took up positions to the right of the Union’s artillery batteries.[vi] The 14th Brooklyn Regiment had distinct uniforms that included red pants. The Confederate line was breaking and Brigadier General Barnard Bee exclaimed, “Look at Jackson’s standing like a stone wall.” The popular explanation is General Bee said this to rally his men to stand behind General Jackson. An alternate explanation is General Bee was frustrated that General Jackson was slow in moving to support his troops. General Thomas Jackson from that day forward was known as “Stonewall” Jackson. The 14th Brooklyn Regiment made three assaults on Henry Hill. During one of the assaults General Jackson reportedly dubbed the 14th Brooklyn, “Red Legged Devils”.
At about 4 PM, with about 18,000 troops on both sides fighting, Beauregard ordered a counter attack. The Union troops retreated. The people who came from Washington, DC to witness the rebellion’s demise rushed to get back to Washington. The retreating Union troops ran into this crowd of civilians and the retreat turned into a rout. It was here the Confederate troops’ lack of training showed. They weren’t able to exploit the Union rout because they were also disorganized. This meant it was going to be a long war.
The 14th Brooklyn Regiment casualties were 33 dead, 39 captured, and 69 wounded.[vii] Total Union casualties were 480 killed, 1,000 wounded, and 1,200 missing or captured. Confederate casualties were 390 killed, 1,600 wounded, and about a dozen missing.[viii]
[i] History.com, First Battle of Bull Run, http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/first-battle-of-bull-run, last accessed 10/8/2016.
[ii] History.com, First Battle of Bull Run, http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/first-battle-of-bull-run, last accessed 10/8/2016.
[iii] National Park Service, The Battle of First Manassas (First Bull Run), https://www.nps.gov/mana/learn/historyculture/first-manassas.htm, last accessed 10/8/2016.
[iv] Historynet.com, Battle of Bull Run, http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-bull-run, last accessed 10/8/2016.
[v] The Regiment was from Brooklyn, NY, which was a separate city at the time.
[vi] 14th Brooklyn.org, http://www.14thbrooklyn.org/page2.html, last accessed 18/8/2016.
[vii] The Fourteenth Brooklyn Society, History of the Fourteenth Brooklyn Regiment, http://fourteenthbrooklynsociety.blogspot.com/p/history-of-fourteenth-brooklyn-regiment.html, last accessed 10/8/2016.
[viii] Historynet.com, Bull Run Casualties, http://www.historynet.com/bull-run-casualties, last accessed 10/8/2016.
The Second Battle of Bull Run
On August 27, 1862 General “Stonewall” Jackson captured the Union supply depot at Manassas Junction.[i] At about 6:30 PM on August 28 Jackson engaged Union troops at Warrenton Turnpike. These Union troops were on their way to Centreville. Lt. General James Longstreet marched his troops to join with Jackson on the morning of August 29. Union Major General Franz Sigel’s corps made contact with Jackson’s troops about 7 a.m. General Sigel’s corps carried out a number of attacks and they broke through the Confederate line before they were pushed back. Generals Porter and McDowell advanced along the Gainesville-Manassas Road until Confederate cavalry fire stopped them. Major General Joseph Hooker and Brigadier General Isaac Stevens joined up with General Sigel and at 1 p.m. these forces resumed attacks against Jackson’s forces. These attacked failed. General Porter’s forces attacked Jackson’s right flank. Porter then had his troops take up defensive positions.
On August 30 General Pope believed the Confederate forces were retreating and ordered an attack. The Confederate forces were repositioning and had the position advantage. General Porter attacked at 3 p.m. and the Confederate artillery decimated his troops. General Longstreet had outflanked the Union troops. Confederate troops attacked from Chinn Ridge. They outnumbered Union forces in the area 10-1. The 5th New York Zouaves had 521 of their troops engaged with the Confederates. In 10 minutes they had 332 casualties, including 121 killed[ii]. With the 5th New York’s line broken Private James Webb saw a line of Union artillery would be outflanked. He ran to the artillery batteries and reported their situation. The artillery batteries withdrew and avoided being overrun. Private James Webb was given the Medal of Honor for his heroism. General Pope realized his forces were in a bad position and ordered a withdrawal.[iii]
The Union troops made an orderly withdrawal. The Second Battle of Bull Run showed how much the troops on both sides improved in the year since the First Battle of Bull Run. The battle also illustrated how much the bloodletting had increased as the war progressed. Union forces had 14,000 casualties and the Confederate forces had 8,000 casualties.[iv]
[i] Historynet.com, Second Battle of Bull Run, http://www.historynet.com/second-battle-of-bull-run, last accessed 10/8/2016.
[ii] Two of those killed have not been accounted for.
[iii] Historynet.com, Second Battle of Bull Run, http://www.historynet.com/second-battle-of-bull-run, last accessed 10/8/2016.
[iv] Historynet.com, Second Battle of Bull Run, http://www.historynet.com/second-battle-of-bull-run, last accessed 10/8/2016.
© 2016 Robert Sacchi