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Manassas National Battlefield Park
Prince William and Fairfax Counties, Virginia

Manassas National Battlefield Park
Photo bybestbib&tucker via Flickr and Creative Commons

The Manassas Battlefield Historic District in Prince William and Fairfax Counties in Virginia, contains nearly 6500 acres of landscape historically significant for its association with two major engagements of the Civil War: the First and Second Battles of Manassas. Prior to the Civil War conflicts at Manassas, the property was initially developed as agricultural land by the heirs of the prominent Robert “King” Carter. Between the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries, plantations and rural farms dotted the landscape.

The First Battle of Manassas, known to the Federal army as First Bull Run, was the first major land battle of the Civil War. The one day of fighting on July 21, 1861 assembled the largest American force to date, with 34,000 Confederates and 35,000 Federal troops. Union troops moved to seize Manassas Junction, the intersection of the Orange & Alexandria and Manassas Gap Railroad tracks, which would put the Federal forces in a position to invade Virginia and capture the Confederate Capital at Richmond. The Confederates had foreseen this assault and had been defending the position at Bull Run since April 1861.

Manassas National Battlefield Park
Photo by bestbibandtucker via Flickr and Creative Commons

Beginning on July 19th, the encamped Confederate troops at Manassas were joined by forces originally stationed near Winchester. The reinforcements travelled sixty miles in twenty-eight hours, taking advantage of the Manassas Gap Railroad to travel half the distance. This journey marked the first territorial shift by rail from one war zone to another. Around dawn on July 21st, Union forces fired shots across the Stone Bridge over Bull Run, signaling the start of the first large-scale land engagement of the American Civil War. The battle raged until the late afternoon, and seesawed back and forth with casualties mounting and no clear indication of a victor. The geography of the landscape ultimately favored Confederate defenses, and under the leadership of subordinate commanders P.G.T. Beauregard, Joseph E. Johnston, and Thomas J. Jackson, the Confederates turned back the final Union assault shortly after 4:00 p.m. Jackson received his sobriquet “Stonewall” during this engagement, due to his instrumental role in the defense of Henry Hill.

Manassas National Battlefield Park
Photo bydancingnomad3 via Flickr and Creative Commons

Fought a little over a year after the first battle, between August 28 and August 30, 1862, the Second Battle of Manassas was fought by Confederate troops under the direction of Robert E. Lee against Union forces marching northeast from Warrenton. The battle stands as an important case study of the Army of Northern Virginia and allowed Robert E. Lee to gain his reputation as a masterful tactician. Stonewall Jackson, continuing the gallantry illustrated during the first battle, was responsible for the execution of the boldest maneuver of its kind during the war. Under Lee’s direction, Jackson, in an effort to engage the Federal army, seized the supply depot at Manassas Junction, causing Major General John Pope to abandon his lines along the Rappahannock River. Jackson’s men, now hidden along Stony Ridge north of an unfinished railroad grade, attacked the Union column as it marched past on Warrenton Turnpike. This savage fight began at Brawner Farm in the late afternoon of August 28, 1862, and concluded two days later after Lee and Major General James Longstreet’s Right Wing of the Army of Northern Virginia arrived to catch Pope’s army in a flank movement. The Second Battle of Manassas was the first full campaign, and one of the largest attacks, that Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched during the war. The second Confederate victory at Manassas cleared the way for an invasion of the north and a bid for foreign intervention.

Manassas Henry Cemetery
Photo by mr t in dc via Flickr and Creative Commons

Just weeks after the First Battle of Manassas, the battlefield gained significance as more than just a place of military conflict and strategy. The Manassas battlefield became a place of formal commemoration in September 1861, when the Eighth Georgia Infantry installed a white marble pillar in memory of its fallen leader, Colonel Francis Stebbins Bartow. This memorial was the first of its kind to be erected in honor of a Civil War casualty, and served as a model for similar memorials through the nation during the Reconstruction period. At least twenty-six commemorative markers and historical monuments now stand at Manassas, the last of which was dedicated in 1940 to Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson, on the site where he stood when he received his nickname, “Stonewall.”

Manassas National Battlefield Park
Photo by rjones0856 via Flickr and Creative Commons

In addition to manmade memorials, the hallowed ground of the battles of First and Second Manassas maintained artifacts of the engagements, entrenchments, encampments, and burial sites. Preservation of the historic and commemorative landscape of the Manassas battlefields became an official priority with the creation of Manassas Battlefield Confederate Park in 1922, and ultimately Manassas National Battlefield Park in 1940. With relatively little commercial and residential development within the view shed of the park, the battlefield landscape is sufficiently intact to provide vistas similar to those seen in the 1860s by the generals and soldiers who fought there. Dwellings, military embattlements, and the Unfinished Railroad, all dating to the time of battle, retain integrity of design, workmanship and material. The Manassas battlefields were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

14th Regiment NY Volunteer Memorial
Photo by wizzer via Flickr and Creative Commons

In addition to the Manassas Battlefield Historic District, Manassas can claim many other historic resources, including the National Register listed Manassas Historic District, Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth, and Manassas Gap Railroad Independent Line.

Read the National Register file on Manassas National Battlefield Park (text / photos)


Learn More:

Visit Manassas National Battlefield Park

Check out other the historic sites Manassas has to offer while celebrating Independence Day in Old Town Manassas.

Join the Manassas community July 21st through 24th, 2011 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of First Manassas.

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