About 40 minutes by car from Washington, D.C. lies Manassas Battlefield, officially known as the Manassas National Battlefield Park. This seemingly uninteresting site actually bears a tremendous amount of history. This is not just a field; it is where the course of American history changed dramatically.
Manassas National Battlefield Park, managed by the U.S. National Park Service and located next to Bull Run, was the very site of two major battles during the American Civil War. The First Battle of Manassas, also known as the First Battle of Bull Run, effectively kicked off the Civil War—it was the very first meeting of the Union and Confederate armies. Surprisingly, the Confederates, whose army was previously considered to be inferior to the Union’s, emerged from the battle as victors. The battle also showed America that this would be a war that could go on for a while. The battle of Manassas was also when the Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson got his nickname “Stonewall”, given because of his stubbornness to admit defeat and his perseverance that would eventually lead to the Confederate victory in this battle. The first battle was fought on July 21, 1861.
The Second Battle of Manassas, or the Second Battle of Bull Run, took place one year later, from August 28 to August 30, 1862. This one also resulted in a victory of the Confederate army. This campaign was led by Stonewall Jackson and General Robert E. Lee. It was then and there that Lee became determined to invade Union territory, at that point a foreign country, which would also have enormous repercussions for the future of the war.
A Visit to the Manassas National Battlefield Park
Nowadays, Manassas Battlefield is one of the most important battlefields in the United States. It is beautifully well preserved and makes for a fascinating few-hours visit. Anyone interested in the American Civil War can’t miss this battlefield—it’s where it all really started, after all.
The excellent visitor center at the park has a wonderful exhibit of battle memorabilia, interactive maps and detailed information boards. Park rangers regularly give presentations about the battles of Manassas and there is a great movie shown every hour.
The best thing to do, after learning about what led up to the battles and troop movements, is simply walking around the actual battlefield. Definitely take the time to walk the 1.4-mile Henry Hill Trail, which starts and ends at the visitor center and loops around Henry Hill, the actual battle site. This informative walking path takes in the entire field, including both the Union and Confederate cannon lines, the Henry House and the statue of Stonewall Jackson.
If you have more time, you can expand your exploratory walks with about 40 miles more of hiking trails. There are also picnic sites outside the visitor center. The area around Manassas Battlefield is great for fishing, horseback riding and hiking.
This is a fantastic place to visit for anyone who’s interested in history and/or the American Civil War. And it lies just outside of Washington, D.C.!