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150 HQ

Sesquicentennial

FIRST MANASSAS:
A FIELD GUIDE

It was supposed to be the battle to end it all.

On July 16, 1861, the world watched as a 35,000-man Federal army headed out of Washington DC, beginning a 20-mile march toward 22,000 Confederates concentrated behind a wandering creek called Bull Run.

Conventional wisdom had it that this one big battle would settle the question that had turned into war at Fort Sumter four months earlier. Since then, certainly, shots had been fired and blood shed. But most of it seemed like lightning from a distant storm.
Now the storm had come. On a hot July 21, these two novice armies tangled on rolling hills near a railroad junction important to both sides.

What happened that day — a decisive Confederate victory — changed lots of things, including people’s idea that this was going to be a quick, sanitary war. This first big battle at Bull Run, or Manassas, meant that the war was headed for a dark shore with an outcome and duration no one could predict.
Now, 150 years after the battle, international attention returns to this Northern Virginia battlefield. A four-day schedule of commemorative events featuring lectures, tours and a big reenactment, is planned.

If you intend to visit during that July week or some other time this year, you might want to stick around awhile to see some of the dozen or so sites that fill out the story of the big battle.

Here’s a survey of sites (all with Civil War Trails signs or more) that contribute to the story of the first big battle of the war.

Manassas National Battlefield Park
This National Park actually preserves and interprets two battlefields: The landscape shared by the July 21, 1861, battle and a much bloodier one fought in late August 1862.
Important parts of the First Battle include Henry Hill, the hottest part of the battlefield, where charges and countercharges decided the day and where Confederate Gen. Thomas Jonathan Jackson became “Stonewall”; the Stone Bridge over Bull Run, over which the first shots of the battle were fired and a diversionary Union attack was made; and Chinn Ridge where fresh Confederates forced a Federal retreat. The park visitor center, located on Henry Hill just north of I-66 on Route 234, offers exhibits, audio-visual displays and an orientation film. Admission is $3/person, good for three days. Find more on the battlefield at www.nps.gov/mana.
    For a free podcast tour of Henry Hill narrated by park ranger Greg Wolf, click here.

Signal Hill
This is the spot where Confederate Capt. E.P. Alexander used flags to warn Col. N.G. “Shanks” Evans that Union troops were advancing on his flank. It is believed to be the first battlefield telecommunication. A monument placed by the Army Signal Corps is here along with a Trails sign. Parking area located approximately 9200 Signal View Drive across from Signal Bay Waterpark.

Piedmont Station
Confederate reinforcements from the Shenandoah Valley — including Jackson’s men — boarded trains here en route to Manassas Junction in what is probably the first use of a railroad to move troops to imminent battle. These soldiers made the difference in the July 21 battle. Trails sign describes the event. Located just north of I-66 on US 17.

Old Stone Church and Centreville
Union troops marched past this church on their way to the battlefield in July 1861, and they passed by here again in disorganized retreat. The church was used as a hospital. Civil War Trails sign on the spot at 13941 Braddock Road in Centreville with other historical markers close by.

Blackburn’s Ford
Here Union soldiers got a taste of what was to come. Well-placed Confederates here stopped a Union probe aimed at the railroads.
Trails sign located at the ford, in Bull Run Regional Park, on the west side of Route 28. Watch for the Trails sign.

McLean House site
The unfortunate Wilmer McLean owned a house near Blackburn’s Ford. The home was damaged during the July 18 battle and occupation, and later skirmishing trashed the property. McLean eventually moved his family to a spot well away from the fighting — Appomattox Court House. Lee surrendered to Grant in McLean’s house on April 9, 1865, ending the war in Virginia. Trails sign located at Route 28 and Yorkshire Lane.

Ben Lomond Historic Site
Built in the early 1830s, this manor house has been transformed into the field hospital it became after the 1861 battle. Exhibits highlight the terrible aftermath of the battle and the state of Civil War medicine at the time. Another highlight of the site is the historic road trace Gen. Thomas Jonathan Jackson (soon to be “Stonewall”) and his troops used to get to the battlefield. Located at 10321 Sudley Manor Drive. Open for tours Thursday–Monday 11 am–4 pm. $5/person. 703-367-7872 or www.pwcgov.org/benlomond. Civil War Trails and other interpretive signs on site.

Liberia
This large brick home, built in 1825, was Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters and probably was a hospital following the battle. Now undergoing restoration. Call the Manassas Museum, 703-368-1873, about scheduled tours and events on the property. Trails marker at Portner and Breedon avenues. Another marker on Mathis Avenue between Breedon and Liberia.

Conner House
Confederate commander Joseph Johnston used this house as headquarters following the 1861 battle. Civil War Trails sign at site on Conner Road near Euclid Avenue.

Mayfield Fort
Built in May and June 1861, this was one of 12 forts used by Confederates to protect the railroad lines at Manassas Junction. An interpreted walking tour takes visitors through the fort. Located at 8401 Quarry Road. Open daylight hours. More info: 703-368-1873.

Manassas Museum / Downtown Manassas Walking tour
The Manassas Museum (9101 Prince William St) is the starting point for interpreted walking and short driving tours in the downtown area. The tours reveal several stories related to the 1861 battle including a stop at the historic junction of the Manassas Gap and Orange and Alexandria railroads, a prize the Confederates wanted to protect and the Union wanted to capture. The museum itself offers tour information and Civil War exhibits. Open daily Memorial Day–Labor Day. Cost is $5/adult. More at www.manassasmuseum.org.

— Don Pierce and Rob Orrison

(Rob Orrison is the Historic Site Manager for Prince William County, Virginia.)

Manassas