No visit to our nation’s capital, or the northeast corner of Virginia, would be complete without a trip to Manassas National Battlefield Park, site of two important Civil War battles. Located just south of Interstate 66, the town of Manassas is only about 25 miles southwest of the city limits of Washington D.C., and has not just one, but two battlefield tours which are bound to pique the interest of any traveler interested in historic sites, or the Civil War.
Two separate battles were fought near this small town in northern Virginia during the Civil War. In the south, these battles were referred to as First and Second Manassas, whereas in the north they were called First and Second Bull Run because of the close proximity to Bull Run Creek. The first battle, fought on July 21, 1861, was the first engagement of the war in this region, and pitted two armies that had no concept of the horrors of war, much less the long, bloody struggle which lay ahead for both sides. An eventual Confederate victory, First Manassas is known mostly for the inexperience of both armies, as well as the Washington socialites who came out to watch the battle, and eventually created a logjam during the Union retreat, causing mass panic by soldiers and civilians alike. This was also the battle where legendary Confederate General Thomas Jackson got his nickname of “Stonewall”, because his soldiers saw him “standing like a stone wall” while rallying southern troops to defend Henry Hill. Second Manassas, which was fought August 29-30, 1862 was also a victory for the Confederate Army, and was significant because it drove the Union Army of the Potomac back toward Washington. Whereas the northern forces had been previously moving south toward Richmond, this defeat opened up an opportunity for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to invade the north.
Although both of the battles fought near Manassas were fought on the same ground, the tours offered for visitors are completely different. Since First Manassas was fought in only one day, and in a fairly concentrated area, a walking tour is provided from the Visitor’s Center which will take you to all of the notable areas of the battle, such as Henry House, Henry Hill, and Robinson House. By contrast, the tour for Second Manassas is a twelve mile driving tour that takes visitors from the Visitor’s Center all over the battlefield, from Henry Hill to the Stone Bridge and back. To take in both tours, you will need to plan on a full day, and possibly more than a day if you want to really take in everything the Second Manassas Battlefield has to offer. The visitor’s center includes a museum and gift shop, along with a couple of short films which will educate you about the battles. To get to the park, all you have to do is take the Highway 234 exit off of Interstate 66, go north one mile, and let the signs take you the rest of the way. Here are some resources which give you more information about visiting the site, as well as some more background into the battles:
- The Insider’s Guide to Civil War Sites in the Eastern Theater – This is an excellent book which not only gives information about the battlefield site, but also some sites which are located near the battlefield, in and around the town of Manassas.
- America’s National Battlefield Parks: A Guide – This is a good source of background information on the battle, but also has some information related to visiting the park, including a fairly detailed description of the driving and walking tours.