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Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Theater’

Appomattox, Va.
Visited: October 11, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 257 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Loungin’ in 1865WHAT IS IT?
Rural Virginia town where, on April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant, ending the American Civil War.

BEAUTY (6/10)
The quaint village of Appomattox Court House remains locked in 1865, its buildings, roads, fields and trees. You see the town as Lee and Grant did.

The vivid natural colors are the only ineffective part of your time travel back to 1865. Our solution: take all your pictures in black and white. Then, and only then, will the setting match the photos taken at the time of the surrender.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (7/10)
Appomattox is one of American history’s most resonant names. It is one we memorize in history class, attach mythic-level importance to and lodge into our imagination. We see Lee and Grant on horseback, we see their forlorn faces, we visualize defeat and triumph, we know that it was here that they ended our bloodiest war.

Appomattox remains our place of closure. We flock to the reconstructed rural Virginia Court House village, we follow Lee’s retreat route, we know that Fort Sumter is where the War began, and Appomattox is where it ended. If only Reconstruction could have been so simple.

CROWDS (7/10)
More than a few other people were meandering their way back into 1865 and through the charming old village of Appomattox Court House. We half expected the diminutive U.S. Grant to appear.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
The town of Appomattox is located at the point in Virginia furthest from an Interstate. Only twisty country roads lead here. It is not that the Site is far from anything, it is just not that close. Charlottesville and I-64 are 75 miles to the north via Virginia Route 20. Richmond and I-95 are about 90 miles to the east via U.S. Route 60 and Roanoke is about 75 miles west and over the Blue Ridge Mountains via U.S. Route 460. The nearest large town is Lynchburg, some 25 miles westward.

The Park site consists of a reconstructed 1865 historic village, which must be traversed on foot. The VC and the village buildings are about a ¼-mile uphill stroll from the parking lot.

New Hobby for Gab?CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
Appomattox’s stellar Civil War bookstore takes up two rooms in Clover Hill Tavern kitchen, an original building built in 1819. Lee and Grant probably never stepped into this kitchen but they surely must have seen it and would probably be amazed and oddly flattered at the innumerable books that have been written about them.

While Michael browsed the shelves, Gab was transfixed for over fifteen minutes with So You Want to Be a Soldier: How to Get Started in Civil War Re-enacting. Has Michael created a monster? Probably not. Gab was just amazed with the elaborate costumes and historical proclivities of the so-called vivandieres, female companions of the legendary Zuoaves brigade.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $4 per person or a maximum of $10 per car. The fee is waived if you have the National Parks Pass.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
We always appreciate when the Park Service posts additional Ranger in or around important buildings. Here, a Ranger stood inside the McLean House, site of the surrender, eager to answer questions. We talked for a good bit about the terms agreed upon in the surrender. Human interaction is so important in the give and take of learning and the knowledgeable educational Rangers are undoubtedly the Park System’s most prized jewel.

TOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
In addition to the excellent Ranger talk, we enjoyed the Museum exhibit that examined the accuracy of the paintings of the surrender and how they shaped our understanding of Lee and Grant. We also appreciated Appomattox’s many vignette-worthy anecdotes and the spectacular electric map. Robert E. Lee was surely no General Cornwallis.

Desk of SurrenderFUN (6/10)
To get to the Park Site, you need to walk up a short distance on an uphill dirt road from your car. The effect is to transport you back into time, into 1865. It works, but mainly because of the ace combination of original buildings and reconstructions.

The McLean House would probably have survived the 150 years had it not been a victim of its own fame. In 1893, speculators dismantled the building with hopes of rebuilding it in Washington D.C. as a Civil War museum. Their plan failed and the dismantled bricks and wood planks never left Appomattox. Weather eroded the building parts before they could be put back in place. The current version was finished in the 1940’s using the original blueprint and dozens of the surrender’s commemorative photos and paintings.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (6/10)
Appomattox is a must-see destination for any Civil War buff. For those uninterested, Appomattox will not spark any new desires. History notes that Grant suffered from a post-partum like depression after the surrender. The Civil War traveler might also feel a sad sense of closure at Appomattox. So, save your visit until you have seen all the Civil War sites, even those tiny State Park sites in Tennessee and Missouri. It is always best to delay the physical conclusion even if you know how the War ends.

TOTAL 52/80

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Petersburg, Va.
Visited: October 11, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 256 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website


Pistol Petersburg
WHAT IS IT?
Site of the prolonged 9½-month long, 1864-65 U.S. Grant-led campaign and siege against Robert E. Lee and the War’s last Confederate stronghold, Petersburg, Va. The April ’65 fall of Petersburg resulted in Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House and the Civil War’s end.

BEAUTY (3/10)
Richmond’s sleek New South veneer did not travel the 25 miles down I-95 to Petersburg. At the Park’s most beautiful part, City Point, you can see bald eagles soaring over the confluence of the James and Appomattox Rivers and above heavy-duty industrial ships. This part of Virginia is not going to win any beauty contests.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
Grant’s long-drawn-out siege of Petersburg won the Civil War for the Union. Whether or not the War’s outcome had already been decided in late 1864 is, ostensibly, the topic for historical debate.

The Petersburg NB contains sites vital to the siege like City Point, whose deep water aided in its transformation from plantation manor to the Union Army’s headquarters and the site of a massive makeshift port. The supplies that allowed the lengthy siege to continue came through City Point.

The Crater is one of the Civil War’s most infamous battles. Halfway through the siege, a regiment of former Pennsylvania miners felt they could build a tunnel directly underneath a Confederate fort. From beneath the fort, they would detonate explosives and then charge and take the Rebel base. African American troops were trained to lead the initial charge but at the last moment, Union General Meade replaced the black regiment with untrained men. The detonation worked, but the untrained men failed to defeat the Rebels.

The Union success at the April 1st Battle of Five Forks precipitated the fall of Petersburg and the fall of the Confederacy. The only supply rail line into Petersburg came through Five Forks. When Lee lost Five Forks, he lost Petersburg and the War. Lee’s surrender would come eight days later at Appomattox.

Infamous Crater Mine EntryCROWDS (6/10)
We saw few other travelers at any of our Petersburg NB stops. One couple, clearly tuned in, made both vital stops along the auto tour: hiking to the intriguingly named Dictator Cannon and taking the Battle of the Crater self-guided walking tour. The Petersburg NB travels directly through the much-larger-than-we-thought city of Petersburg. Traffic tends to inch along her crowded streets. Budget twice as much travel time as your innocent map seems to indicate.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
Over 30 miles separates Petersburg NB’s furthest points, City Point in the northeast and Five Forks Battlefield to the southwest. The Park’s Main VC lies about 8-miles southwest of City Point. It takes about 25 minutes to drive this traffic light infested road.

You can only enter the auto tour portion of the Park (includes The Crater) from North. Approach from Virginia Route 36 a/k/a Washington Street. You should see signs. From I-95 take Exit 52 and go east. From I-295 take Exit 9 and go west.

For your own sanity, pick up a Park map before you get here. If you are visiting Petersburg NB, chances are you are a Civil War buff. Not too many casual visitors come to this part of Virginia. Depending on the direction you are traveling, there are good odds that you’ve come from another Civil War site. Appomattox in the west, Richmond to the north, Yorktown to the east and, well, you are on your own from the South. Pick up the Petersburg brochure at one of these sites. You will be thankful.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
We did not have time to peruse the Petersburg NB Main VC bookstore because we arrived just before closing. The volunteer on duty would not even start up the electric map for us. It pays to be on time. A cursory glance revealed an entire shelf of the Pulitzer Prize winning fiction book turned Renee Zellweger movie, Cold Mountain. The book’s setting is a fictional Civil War battlefield, however, the movie moves the location to The Battle of the Crater, Petersburg, Va.


Grant’s Siege Headquarters

What Knee Deep in Hell: Trench Warfare in World War I is doing at a Civil War bookstore is anyone’s guess. Michael actually owns two copies of this book; an accidental double purchase during his freshman year at college.

We were impressed by the shimmery pages of the NPS publication, Battle of Five Forks. The large laminated papers show the intricate movements of troops on subsequent full color pages. The military strategy is so detailed that if you flip the book really fast it might resemble a animated cartoon. Cool stuff.

COSTS (3/5)
Three of the Park’s four attractions are free: Five Forks, City Point and the Poplar Grove National Cemetery. Entry into the Park’s four-mile Battlefield driving tour costs $5 per car, free with the National Parks Pass.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
We got into wonderful history conversations with Rangers at both City Point and Five Forks. Our Five Forks talk revolved around what constitutes history, what matters for historical remembrance, Union cavalry General Sheridan, the Mexican War and the Indian Wars. Did we mention that Ranger discussions are infinitely better than any graduate level history seminar with which we have ever been involved?

Sadly, there were no Rangers at the Battlefield’s primary sector, the fee-based auto tour. We found the best educational rewards at Petersburg NB, like Richmond NBP and Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP before it, off the beaten path and not at the main visitor centers.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
Great Ranger discussions but we did have electric map difficulties. The Five Forks Battlefield electric map is a hand-me-down from Appomattox and tells the same story as the updated version at the more visited Park Site. And we were too late to see the siege recap electric map found at the Visitor Center. Petersburg NB feels almost forgotten by the Park Service despite the excellent stopgap support offered by Rangers, mimeographed handouts and waysides.

Petersburg Cannon

FUN (5/10)
The more you dive into Civil War sites, the more fun they get. Petersburg NB is a logical stop for the Civil War vacationer. First Fredericksburg, then south to Richmond, south to Petersburg and finally, west to Appomattox. The route even follows the chronological order of Grant’s 1864-65 campaign. Petersburg NB is a crucial piece in the Civil War puzzle and is much more fascinating when viewed as part of a whole rather than individually.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
For casual travelers, Petersburg, while vital historically, does not make for the best Civil War introduction. Stop at Richmond or Fredericksburg instead. Petersburg NB is an upper level graduate class; important but esoteric and boring to all but the most interested.

Everyone and their mother suggested that we go to the privately-owned Pamplin Historical Park, entry fee $13.50. We didn’t but that doesn’t mean we can’t pass everyone’s suggestion onto you.

TOTAL 44/80

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Richmond, Va.
Visited: October 7, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 253 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Iron Works EntryWHAT IS IT?
Richmond served as the capital of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. Battlefield sites scattered throughout the city’s outskirts commemorate the Union’s attempts to take the city in both 1862 and 1864. The Park also includes the Rebels’ primary armory and foundry, the Tredegar Iron Works and Chimborazo, a major Confederate military hospital.

BEAUTY (7/10)
Richmond’s indelible Civil War image is of charred and gutted brick buildings; a veritable ghost town destroyed by the flame. Amazingly, the Site plays on this imagery, utilizing the remains of the burned Iron Works to house the Richmond Civil War VC. The building’s brick walls, scarred from the 1865 blaze, still hold cannon balls and shells. The Iron Works’ forge lies in an eternal stage of destruction. Vaulted entrances to an outdoor park are, in fact, the remnants of the Iron Works’ interior. The use of a vital Civil War ruin as a working educational building is a stunning architectural triumph.

That being said, we can think of no fathomable reason as to why a statue of Abraham Lincoln stands nearby the VC’s entrance. Then again, the former Confederate states, from Virginia to Mississippi to Texas, now vote predominantly for Republicans, the political party of their conqueror, Mr. Lincoln. My, my, my how things have changed.

Richmond NBP’s numerous battlefield sites are wedged in between the sprawl of Virginia’s growing capital city. Some units (Malvern Hill) are more isolated than others (Beaver Creek Dam). The stately Chimborazo Medical Museum stands perched atop what must be Richmond’s highest point.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (10/10)
Richmond, Virginia is easily the most important city of the Civil War. It was the Confederates’ capital and the Federals’ primary military target. Not only was it the South’s brain, but also its power and muscle, producing its weapons and ammunition.

The casualties totaled in the area’s two major military campaigns, the 1862 Seven Days Battles and the 1864 Cold Harbor Battle, outnumber those lost at either Gettysburg or Antietam. Only the Fredericksburg area saw more bloodshed.

Gab and Abe – Both Out of PlaceCROWDS (6/10)
It is not that we had the Park site to ourselves, but Richmond NBP is so spread out. Traffic can be problematic because of vexing downtown one-way streets, meandering country roads that lead to nowhere, the screaming speeds of I-95 and people’s general tendency to tailgate.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The Richmond NBP is even more sprawling than the nearby Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP. The Park’s northern-most display (Totopotomy Creek) is over 25 miles north of its southern-most exhibit (Parker’s Battery). A circuit traveling only to the Park’s five official Visitor Centers would encompass at least one full day and over 50 twisting miles. In addition, the Malvern Hill and Fort Harrison VC’s are only open seasonally.

Nonetheless, these sites are all within an accessible urban area, close to Interstates 64, 95 and 295 as well as a plethora of hotels. The two downtown VC’s, the Chimborazo Medical Museum and the Tredegar Iron Works both contain ample free public parking despite published reports to the contrary.

Although there are many signs leading you to the Park’s innumerable units and display, separate paths often cross. It would be a good idea to start your Richmond NBP with a Park Map, a AAA map of the Richmond vicinity, and a plan for where you want to go.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
Who buys all these Civil War books? The Richmond NBP is indubitably the best Civil War bookstore… until we get to the next one.

Check out these obscure titles found at the Tredegar Iron Works bookstore: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers; Civil War Acoustic Shadows; The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Towards Death 1799-1883; Military Ballooning During the Early Civil War; Counterfeit Currency of the Confederate States of America; The Telegraph Goes to War and War of the Aeronauts. Now get this, those seven books stand next to each other, in a row, on the same shelf! Just imagine what is on the bookstore’s 50+ other shelves.

COSTS (5/5)
Entry to all Richmond NBP sites is free.

Gaines Mill BattlefiedRANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
Sure, two of the Park’s five VC’s were closed for the season but enough Rangers and knowledgeable volunteers staffed the other three. We especially enjoyed the long military strategy discussion we had at the Cold Harbor Visitor Center. The Ranger was a Virginia Military Institute alum. Strangely, the Ranger the day before at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine graduated from Washington & Lee. What is it with Lexington, Va. and Park Rangers?

TOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
We love electric maps and Richmond NBP has a lot of them. The Cold Harbor VC runs two standard maps in its tiny Museum space, one covering the 1862 Seven Days’ Battle, the other discussing the events of 1864 and Cold Harbor. The Tredegar Iron Works takes it a step further with its table top, flat screen TV display electric maps that recount the specific battles of the Seven Days and lesser-known 1864 fights. So many maps, so little time.

Did we say that everything at the Tredegar Iron Works VC is really cool? The Museum is innovatively interactive and built within the Confederacy industrial heart. Two facing timeline displays follow Richmond and the United States as a whole throughout the war. We never would have guessed that the fleeing Confederates, not the Union troops, burned this fair city. All the Museum’s exhibits are fascinating and simple enough for the Civil War neophyte as well as probing and esoteric enough for the history buff.

The Chimborazo Museum focuses on the War’s medical history and is not for the squeamish. The flat screen TV’s make the grisly realities of war a little too intense. We never thought we would pine for a lower quality television and a poor sound system.

FUN (8/10)
Why does the Civil War still hold such a grasp on the American psyche. For one, it is a great story with great characters and great settings. Richmond was the center of it all. The Richmond NBP, especially the Tredegar Iron Works VC, does a good job of bringing these characters to life: incompetent McLellan, gallant Lee, irascible Early, vicious Grant, prideful Davis and complex Lincoln. That is just scratching the surface. You can flesh out any Civil War story you want in the Richmond area. It is your choice.

Barrel ViewWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
All Americans should be interested in the Civil War. This history should not be forgotten or left as the dominion of battle reënactors and military strategists. A trip down the Virginia I-95 corridor, to Fredericksburg, Richmond and Petersburg is an essential American learning experience.

The Civil War attractions afforded by the Richmond NBP and found in the Richmond area (the Confederate White House, the Museum of the Confederacy, Monument Avenue) are among some of the most defining places in our United States. If your automobile vacation brings you past Richmond on I-95, stop into the Civil War Visitor Center at the Tredegar Iron Works. Did we mention it is free? The Museum provides a terrific introduction to the War and the area’s attractions. From there you can decide how much more you want to learn and see.

TOTAL 66/80

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Fredericksburg, Va.
Visited: October 5, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 251 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Stonewall Jackson ShrineWHAT IS IT?
Perhaps the bloodiest locale on the North American continent. The four Civil War battles commemorated by the Park took over 100,000 casualties including the War’s most famous soldier, Stonewall Jackson.

The battles memorialized are the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, the April-May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville (which includes Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church), the May 5-6 1864 Battle of the Wilderness and the May 8-21 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania.

BEAUTY (6/10)
The rural wooded Virginia countryside and former farmlands that makes up much of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park (F&S NMP) feels isolated, untouched and haunted. The Battlefields must look like they did just before the fighting began, from the charming old downtown of Fredericksburg, with its church spires and quaint brick buildings to the impenetrable forest of The Wilderness to the rolling fields nearby Spotsylvania Court House. The horrors of the fighting are tangible and one’s imagination easily sparked because the theaters of battle seem to be unchanged.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (9/10)
Fredericksburg, Virginia’s unfortunate geography placed it half way between Washington, D.C., the Union capital, and Richmond, Va., the head of the Confederacy. The area witnessed three major Union attacks between 1862 and 1864. Historians note none of these battles as “the War’s turning point” or “its most important fight”.

Individually, the battles claim no superlatives. But collectively the region feels bathed in near continuous bloodshed. Union slaughters abound. At First Fredericksburg, Union battalions charged uphill, losing nearly all of their men.

Up the Bloody AngleAt Spotsylvania, Grant led his men through the dense fog and pouring rain and into the Bloody Angle. Thousands died during the unbearable 20-hour fight. During The Wilderness battle, horrific close-range fighting raged in dense forest underbrush and thick confines. Indiscriminate rifle fire felled trees alongside the many blue and gray soldiers.

Most of the War’s luminaries fought here. Lee and Grant first met at The Wilderness. Walt Whitman and Clara Barton nursed Union troops across the Rappahannock at the Chatham Mansion. Stonewall Jackson died here, a victim of friendly fire during the Battle of Chancellorsville.

CROWDS (6/10)
The further you get from Fredericksburg, the less people you will see, both tourists and residents. The downtown streets of Fredericksburg meet at odd angles and invariably run the one-way that you do not want to go. I-95 is a bear of a drive regardless of time. Virginia Route 3, a/k/a Plank Road, travels from Exit 130 west towards the Chancellorsville and Wilderness battlefields. The Road is a crowded commercial stretch from the Interstate until the Battlefields.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
F&S NMP is a sprawling mess of a park. The Site has seven major disconnected sections that represent three distinct military campaigns and at least six separate battles. Luckily, all the sites are within a 15-mile radius of Fredericksburg, Va. and easily accessed from Interstate 95 via exits 118, 126 and 130.

Plan your visit. Stop first at the Fredericksburg Battlefield VC (east from Exit 130) if only to get a Park map. The tortuous and lengthy auto tour travels in chronological order. Just remember that the four-mile ride from the Battle of Chancellorsville to the Wilderness Battlefield represents a full year, different Union Generals and an entirely different context: Chancellorsville was pre-Gettysburg, Wilderness and Spotsylvania post.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
The Park’s voluminous bookstore actually is its own building, located next door to the Fredericksburg Battlefield VC. The store lists its top 10 bestsellers for those who like to give in to peer pressure.

COSTS (2/5)
Park entry is free. Both the Fredericksburg Battlefield VC and the Chancellorsville Battlefield VC charge $2 per person to watch their respective introductory films.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5)
We did not have the best luck with Rangers at the Park’s VC’s but did at the Site’s adjunct locations, the Stonewall Jackson Shrine and Chatham.

A Ghostly TrailTOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
An F&S NMP visit can be very confusing. You need to be able to separate the battles in your head, attach them to their proper historical setting and swiftly change that perspective once you move to the next battle location. Space and finances dictate that your initial foray into the non-Fredericksburg battles is at the Chancellorsville Battlefield VC. A separate VC for the May 1864 battles would be nice and proper and would alleviate the bewilderment.

We refused to pay for the introductory films on principle and wished we would have skipped both VC’s 40+ year-old museums, long on dioramas and short on historical analysis. In fact, the two VC’s were the only bad part of our visit.

Be sure to pick up as many of the Park’s walking tour pamphlets as you can carry. We have eight (and there might be more). Too much happened at F&S NMP to be covered adequately in the standard Park brochure. Use the pamphlets while you take walking trails around the Park’s sprawling environs. We enjoyed the free Ranger-led guided tours of Chatham (the Lacy House) and the Stonewall Jackson shrine and used this time to gain answers to the questions that the VC Museums evoked but could not answer.

FUN (6/10)
We had a fun and educational, if not solemn, time at F&S NMP. At The Wilderness Battlefield, we hiked through the still-dense forest while a morning mist enveloped our horizons. It felt as if we were walking with ghosts. The horrors of the battle flashed into our psyches, the trees still wailed and even the birds were silent.

As we walked around the Bloody Angle section of the Spotsylvania Battlefield, portions of the sky turned an ominous dark blue. Wind whistled through the now-peaceful tall grass field. The hike ends with the slight uphill incline where the Union troops clawed their way over their fallen comrades and towards the Rebel trenches. Our walk was as powerful and emotional as any trail we have taken on American soil.

Once we left Spotsylvania, we followed the route of Stonewall Jackson’s ambulance to the house where he died. We felt an urgency in our car even though we were traveling on a twisting rural two-lane road nearly devoid of traffic. A light rain began as we approached the two-story white building. Once inside we discussed Stonewall with a scholarly Ranger for over one-hour, learning more than we dared imagine about the legendary General.

Our Greatest GeneralWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
A trip to F&S NMP is an intensive Civil War learning experience and an essential visit for anyone with an interest in American History. On Michael’s previous two trips to Fredericksburg, he had only visited the downtown Fredericksburg portions of the Park (Marye’s Hill, the National Cemetery and the VC). Big mistake. Not only is First Fredericksburg the least interesting battle of the four, but the best educational opportunities are found elsewhere.

It takes at least one full day to experience F&S NMP. Two days are recommended. Take the auto tour, hike the battlegrounds, read the exhibits and augment your learning with a Civil War book (like the Battle Cry of Freedom) or an auto tour CD. Visit the Stonewall Jackson shrine and Chatham, two highlights of our visit, and talk to the Rangers posted there. They know what they are talking about.

TOTAL 53/80

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Manassas, Va.
Visited: October 5, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 249 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website


Stonewall’s Stonewall
WHAT IS IT?
Site of two early Civil War battles, in July 1861 and August 1862. The Battles are also known by their Union moniker, the First and Second Battles of Bull Run.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Northern Virginia’s rolling landscape of expansive farm estates, stately foliage and old brick houses speaks of a gentried, southern aristocratic past (and present). The battlefield’s lush green fields and thinned woodlands would like to go on forever but are sliced into sectors by crowded thoroughfares and hemmed in on all sides by the encroaching suburban sprawl.

The roads through the Park are narrow thoroughfares, only slightly unchanged from the days of horse-drawn carriages. Only nowadays, they absorb constant bumper-to-bumper traffic and a steady diet of smoke billowing tractor-trailers and heavy pick-up trucks.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (7/10)
The First Battle of Bull Run opened the American Civil War. The decisive Confederate victory proved to all that the War would neither end in 90 days nor be an easy Union triumph. The oft-cited story of Washington D.C. politicos and wives in formal dress watching the battle from a nearby hill occurred during First Bull Run.

Second Manassas was another Confederate triumph characterized by the usual incompetence of General George McClellan, then head of the Union Army of the Potomac.

Busy IntersectionCROWDS (2/10)
Does everyone in affluent suburban northern Virginia drive an SUV? Why haven’t the roads changed in direction or width since the Civil War? Why is there a crowded community college less than an eighth of a mile from the Visitor Center? Why are there so many people here and so few Rangers?

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Federal and Confederate armies met twice at Manassas because it stood at a transportation crossroads, namely the intersection of the Warrenton Turnpike and the Manassas-Sudley Road. These roads and their heavy traffic remain. The Warrenton Turnpike, now U.S. Route 29 a/k/a the Lee Turnpike bisects the Park.

The Second Manassas Auto Tour follows these high volume arteries. Good luck keeping your wit’s end trying to pull into parking lots while 18-wheelers tailgate you with signature zeal. A Park Ranger suggested doing the Auto Tour only at a very early hour.

Manassas NBP stands in the midst of Washington D.C.’s large northern Virginia sprawl, about 30 miles west of our capital city. Exit 47 of Interstate 66 drops you off less than a ¼ mile south of the Park’s Visitor Center.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
Why is the children’s book, The Story of the Lord’s Prayer, on sale here? Just wondering. There are thousands of books for sale at Manassas NBP and its inventory tag refers to a different book. Maybe it just snuck through.

And why is a book section entitled “Indian & Colored Troops”? Who still uses the term colored? Have no shoppers been offended prior to our visit?


Please, Please Let Me In
COSTS (2/5)
$3 per person to get in, free with the National Parks Pass. If you wish to see the introductory film, there is an additional $3 per person charge. The Parks Pass brings no cinematic discount. After 1 ½ years of National Park travel, and exactly 250 official NPS Sites, Manassas NBP is the first Site to charge for its introductory film.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5)
Both the one Ranger on duty and the extremely helpful volunteer seemed angry and were vocal about the neglected state of the National Park System (and Manassas NBP). Perhaps it is their proximity to Washington D.C. They were neither happy nor accepting of the decision to charge for the introductory film. One volunteer even argued with the ticket vendor about the film’s rightful owner. There really should be more than one Ranger on duty given the thousands that visit Manassas every day.

TOURS/CLASSES (3/10)
Well, we do not know what the intro film is like. No way we are paying; principles you see.

(We have since seen the absurdly weird, Manassas: The End of the Innocence. At home, we might add. The movie was directed by Ben Burtt, a sound designer often employed by George Lucas. He famously created the whirring light saber sound from Star Wars as well as Chewbacca’s voice. So, of course, his Manassas film is laden with over-the-top sound effects; but no, we weren’t expecting the morphing soldiers and Richard Dreyfuss. The film’s best part is the skillful Photo Shop removal of the area’s heavily-trafficked streets. Now that’s a special effect.

We can safely say: skip it.)

Judging by the museum displays, there was only one battle fought at Bull Run. Yes, the museum only covers the first Battle. An understanding of the second Battle comes only through the Park brochure and a circuitous driving tour in and around heavy traffic and construction. The Park staff recommended we take the driving tour only on Sundays or in the early morning. At all other times, the trip is a nightmare.

The Park’s educational shortcomings provoked us to pull out James McPherson’s one volume Civil War classic, Battle Cry of Freedom. With book in hand and Gab as trusty narrator, our Civil War battlefield visits have been much more lively and thorough than we ever expected.

Powerful Stonewall FUN (3/10)
The coolest part of the Battlefield was the long row of cannons just outside the Visitor Center that commemorate the Southern troops famous line of defense during the first Bull Run. This line was where Confederate General Thomas Jackson earned his immortal nickname, Stonewall. A monument to the legendary General stands nearby. Stonewall’s monument depicts him (and his horse) with rippling muscles and a larger-than-life demeanor. He looks like a superhero.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10)
If historical sites had feelings, then the Manassas NBP would be sad, confused and deservedly claustrophobic. It would know that it has an important historical story to tell and would know by its strong visitorship that people are very interested. But it would also see the stifling traffic, thick air pollution, infringing housing developments and general educational disregard from the Park system itself.

We would recommend a trip to Bull Run to only the most devout of Civil War buffs. Manassas NBP was a stressful experience. It was too crowded and too endangered (see Pea Ridge review). We were put off by the film charge and wonder if the “pay to learn about your country’s history” route will become more common. Manassas NBP ranks at the bottom of eastern Civil War sites.

TOTAL 33/80

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