In our effort to get ready for our trip to the Grand Canyon in the fall, we went hiking at Manassas Battlefield Park yesterday. Incidently, the Grand Canyon has now been changed to a fun trip to the beach in August. However, we have had so much fun hiking the past month and hiking is such great exercise, that we’ve decided to start enjoying some of the many historical trails in our area. We’ve lived in Virginia for over 25 years, and have finally decided it’s time to see some if the history in the area. Manassas was first!
We started at the historic Stone Bridge, following the blue trail on the east side. We had no idea how long the trail was, since this information was not on the trail map we printed off the website: https://www.nps.gov/mana/planyourvisit/maps.htm. For info on the Stone Bridge, because I couldn’t do it justice, here’s the link: https://www.nps.gov/mana/learn/historyculture/places.htm
As we walked along the trail, we had no idea the trail went through beautiful wooded land, that was relatively flat. We were thinking it wasn’t such a difficult hike, maybe we would do the red trail as well. Then we got to the hill we had to climb up away from the small stream toward the main battlefield.
At the top of the hill there is a marker explain we were at Farm Ford, were evidently someone for the Confederacy who was on horseback decided it would be nice to taunt the Union soldiers on the north side who were trying to figure a way to come south across the stream. He took his horse back and forth, and unwittingly showed the Union army where the stream was the shallowest. In the dead of night, the soldiers marched single file across this part, and up out of the ford on toward the battlefield. Just standing there thinking that in July 1861 there was a battle going on in that exact spot was humbling to say the least.
The path took us along past the Carter House. One of many homes that were in the path of destruction or used by the armies as headquarters or field hospitals. The Carter House is now just a brick foundation, having burned to the ground during the 2nd Batttle of Manassas.
This quote that we came across on our hike really puts into perspective what these men went to on both sides. I could not fathom sending my family member into such a horrible situation. As we continued our hike, this soldier’s words continued to haunt my thoughts.
We came into the clearing from the woods and were unsure which way to go. We chose to go left, down the hill. Why go up when you can go down, right? Bad choice, however, when we reached the stream and couldn’t cross. Had to turn around. We saw our next location across the field, and decided the shortcut was the best way to go. Happy that I was wearng hiking shoes and long pants, we trekked across the field, which during the summer would be crawling with all kinds of bugs!!
We came upon the The Stone House, which now sits at the corner of Route 29 and 234. The building was originally a stop on the on the Fauquier and Alexandria Turnpike in 1848, but served as a hospital during the First and Second Battles of Manassas. During the summer it is open to tours. This particular building was named in diary after diary by soldiers, who had been in this particular hospital stating that eventhough it housed countless wounded men, it was a place of peace in the midst of battle. It survived both battles relatively unscathed.
The trail then leads you across Route 29 and up Matthews Hill. When you get to the top and turn around it gives you an incredible perspective of what it must have been like. The Stone House is in the center and fighting was going on all around. If it weren’t for all the traffic noise from the busy roads, you could almost hear cannon fire coming from atop this hill. Once again I had chills at the thought of what these men must have gone through.
On the way to the Visitor’s Center, the trail leads you past the Henry House, one of the farms caught up in the battle. Just imagine the elderly Mrs. Judith Henry, bedridden, in this home, refusing to leave, with the battle raging outside. She did not survive and was the only civilian casualty in the first Battle of Manassas. Outside the rebuilt Henry House is a family cemetery where Mrs. Henry is burried.
On the opposite side of the house is the Henry Hill Monument, built six weeks after the First Battle of Manassas. Col. Francis S. Bartow’s brigade of the Union Army placed a marble column there to honor his memory. There are monuments like this throughout the park.
We stopped by the Visitor’s Center to get more information about the park, and also a brochure about other battlefield parks in our area we will now be hiking. At this point we had gone approximately four miles and realized our plan to do the entire park wasn’t happening! We hiked the last two miles back to our car and made ourselves a promise to come back soon to hike the red trail, which follows the west side of the battlefield.