Living history at Bull Run

Restored Henry Hill House, which was destroyed by cannon fire, sat in the middle of the Bull Run battlefield. The owner, bedridden Judith Carter Henry, 85, was killed by Union fire. BY RON MACARTHUR
July 25, 2011

More than 8,000 reenactors from all over the United States took sides to recreate the Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas) during the sweltering heat July 23 and 24 on the Brawner Farm – the location of the Second Battle of Bull Run – just a few miles from where the first battle took place July 21, 1861.

As many as 30,000 spectators braved the 100-degree temperature to watch the engagement. Others visited Camp Manassas within the Virginia city and also took part in activities at Manassas National Battlefield Park. More than half of the 4,000 battles of the Civil War took place on Virginia soil.

The first major battle of the Civil War, which both the North and South thought would be the one skirmish to end the conflict, was fought by green troops who had not been exposed to the horrors of war. It also became obvious to leaders on both sides that it might take years to resolve the war, which came to an end April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, not far from Manassas.

Considered a Confederate victory, at the time it was the largest and bloodiest battle in U.S. history with nearly 900 killed in action and another 2,700 wounded. Many bloody battles were to follow over the next four years. Each army had about 30,000 soldiers in the area ready for battle, but only about half actually saw action.

About one year later on Aug. 28-30, 1862, the sound of cannon and gunshot would return to the area during the Battle of Second Bull Run. Manassas Junction had been established as a Union supply depot as Yankee troops were put into place to protect nearby Washington, D.C. Once again, the South claimed victory and drove the Union Army from the area, but both sides suffered casualties of nearly 10,000 dead or wounded.

The reenactment – one of the largest in the state's history – is just one of many special events planned to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

TWO NAMES – Many battles have two names because the North named battles after nearby bodies of water – mostly rivers and streams – while the South named battles after nearby towns.

CONFUSING FLAG – Confusion was commonplace during the First Battle of First Bull Run. Part of that confusion was that the flags of the North – stars and stripes – and South – stars and bars – were similar. It didn't take long for the South to redesign a new flag – the Confederate battle flag, which would become one of the most recognizable symbols of the South.

THE STONEWALL – Unknown Confederate Col. Thomas J. Jackson would make his mark on history and gain a nickname.  Jackson refused to yield and was named Stonewall by his troops. Later promoted to general, he would become one of the most intelligent military men in U.S. history. He died on May 10, 1863, after wounds suffered in the Battle of Chancellorsville (Va.).

TAKING FLIGHT – Aviation was used following the battle. To check on movements of Confederate troops, famed balloonist Thaddeus Lowe took flight and recorded what he saw but he landed in Confederate territory. After being rescued, his report restored faith that Washington, D.C., was safe from Southern invasion.

  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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