Sunday, July 24, 2011

Manassas 150th Events, Part II: The Reenactment

Yesterday I attended the large-scale reenactment of the Battle of First Manassas with my father and good friend Ken.  The event was held on the grounds of a farm not far from the Manassas National Battlefield Park.  (In fact, the shuttle bus drop off point was at the Brawner Farm, a National Park site connected with the Second Battle of Bull Run.)  The early morning ride west along I-66 went smoothly, but we hit traffic on the road to the giant parking lot at Jiffy Lube Live.  All told, it took us around 25 minutes just to enter the lot -- a sure signs of the crowds to come.  Kudos to the event staff, who ran a very tight ship.  Local news sources report that around 11,000 spectators attended yesterday's reenactment, yet the crowds were moved along very efficiently from place to place. 

At the event parking lot, we were handled bottled water and boarded an air conditioned bus that took us to the Brawner Farm.  From there we walked quite a distance to the grandstands.  I am thankful that we paid the extra money for seating, since I was not inclined to stand in a crowd for two and a half long hours while the temperature climbed to around 100 degrees.  The heat and humidity were once again the enemy as at Thursday's events, although I was well equipped with bottled water and sunscreen.

Heading to the grandstand, I felt transported back to the dirt roads around Manassas 150 years ago.  Here, Confederate soldiers march towards the sounds of enemy artillery.
I was impressed with the reenactment.  Out on an open field, around 8,700 reenactors faithfully recreated the movements of the Battle of First Manassas, starting with Matthews Hill.  The organizers planned the action so that the climax on Henry Hill played out in front of the grandstand.  A narrator provided context and explained what was taking place.  Observing so many men in action gave a feel for the tactics used during the battle.  Whatever your opinions about reenacting (and I know some people certainly knock this hobby), the event surely helped many in the audience understand what had happened near Manassas 150 years ago.  And I have a feeling that for better or for worse, more people elected to go to the reenactment than to the events at Mansassas NBP or across Prince William County; if they got exposed to First Manassas, the reenactment was it.

South Carolina troops dressed in a hodgepodge of uniforms move towards the front.  I was struck by how well the reenactors mastered the non-standardized look at the time of First Manassas. 

A contingent of U.S. Marines arrives on Henry Hill to support the artillery batteries of Captains Charles Griffin and James Ricketts.

Ricketts' gunners in position on Henry Hill.

Confederate troops who have overrun Ricketts' Battery clash with the 69th New York.
More Confederate reinforcements enter the chaos of the battlefield.

A Confederate regiment unleashes a volley into the Union forces who have retaken Ricketts' Battery.  The massive power lines in the background were a noticeable intrusion on the attempt to recreate a 19th century battlefield.

The 69th New York fights back.
We left the reenactment a little early to avoid the huge exodus and get out of the heat, so I did not have time to check out the massive encampment.  (Of course, once you've seen one, you've seen them all!)  Our next stop was the City of Manassas.  We parked at the Prince William County Fairgrounds, the point of origin for the city's 150th anniversary activities.  The lot was empty compared to the parking area at Jiffy Lube Live.  After boarding yet another air conditioned bus, we disembarked along Main Street in the heart of Old Town Manassas, a quaint Southern hamlet.  At the time of the battle, the railroad junction consisted of just a few buildings.  After the Civil War, the town grew to become the transportation and commercial hub of Prince William County.  A fire destroyed Manassas in 1905.  Many of the current historic structures date from the early 1900s.

Looking down Main Street in Old Town Manassas.  The railroad still runs through the town.  Depsite living in the Washington area for many years, this was my first trip to Old Town.
My Dad, Ken, and I all grabbed a beer and sandwich at a local watering hole and then walked the streets of Old Town -- perhaps against our better judgment in light of the heat.  Our first stop was Prospero's Books, which has a solid collection of used Civil War books and prints.  I had seen this store on the local news and wanted to stop by to browse.  We also walked past various outdoor vendors who had set up in Old Town for the 150th.  I was fortunate to stumble upon artist Brian Kammerer's booth.  I have seen Brian's Civil War art on the Internet, and finally was able to meet the artist in person and chat about his work.  Brian creates illustrations of Civil War campaigns from an overhead prospective, similar to the maps in Bruce Catton's classic, American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War.  His unique work is well-researched and extremely detailed.  I purchased several prints for my home office.  At Brian's booth I also met fellow blogger Bernard Kempinski, who is building an O-scale model railroad depicting the U. S. Military Railroad Aquia-Fredericksburg line in 1863.

My crew had planned to got to Liberia Plantation and few of the other sites around Manassas, but the temperatures got the best of us.  We settled on a brief visit to the Manassas Museum and a walk around the living history encampment on the grounds of the museum, before going back to our car.  

The Manassas Museum in Old Town Manassas.  The museum tells the story of Manassas, including the role that the vital railroad junction played in the Civil War.
I particularly liked this quote from Jubal Early displayed at the museum.  Early was a delegate to the Virginia Convention and had been a forceful opponent of secession.  Later a Confederate general, Early became a major proponent of the Lost Cause school of thought after the war.
Part of the living history encampment on the museum lawn.
Overall, the last few days were a whirlwind of Civil War-related activity.  I was deeply satisfied to be able to participate in some of the major events commemorating the 150th anniversary of First Manassas and to share that experience with so many other enthusiasts and historians.  As we headed back to McLean, my friend Ken asked me, "Have you had your fill for now?"  "Never," I responded.


Bernie said...

It was great to meet you this weekend.

You got some fantastic shots of the re-enactment. Good job!

BrianK said...

Ron,Thanks for the post...great to meet you too and honored to share some of your office wall space. Had a wonderful time and met all kinds of enthusiastic and passionate people. Thanks for posting your pics of the re-enactment. Could not get there myself since I was the only one minding the store. My only regret was that the event was so widely scattered. I wish I could have been in and amongst the troops since I know they would have appreciated the art I had done. I give you permission to post them at 72 dpi on your blog if you wish and if they want the really nice printed pieces they can contact me direct. Help me finish the fight so I can move on to the Antietam campaign..:)

Ron Baumgarten said...


Great to meet you as well and glad you like the photos. I am certainly happy that I have a zoom lens. I look forward to checking out your display one of these days.


Ron Baumgarten said...

@Brian--Thanks. I really liked hearing about your artwork and am sure you attracted a lot of visitors to your booth with all those Civil War buffs in town. I appreciate the permission to use the illustrations and will be sure to link to your website if I post them. I look forward to the Antietam series!

Walk Forrest Walk said...

Ron, The weather was "HOT" but that didn't curb your enthusiasm for this historic event in our country's history. This history buff from Michigan appreciates your posts. The photo were great. The one I like the best was the picture of The New York 69th.It was so realistic. I see by the comments I'm not the only one who enjoys our American History. Jim

Ron Baumgarten said...

Jim--Yes, nothing was going to keep me away from a once in a lifetime series of events. (A Sesquicentennial only happens once!) Glad you liked the pics. I really was struck by the "69th" in action. The uniforms, flags, muskets, and smoke all made for some good photo opportunities. And you are not alone--the turnout at Manassas was proof positive!

NL said...

Enjoyed reading your account and viewing your great photos, too. It's remarkable how closely reenactors can replicate the soldiers' experience, just short of reliving the actual emotions they felt. The little human interest story at this link comes quite close to recapturing the emotions of many Civil War soldiers who were accompanied by dogs, in camp, on the march, and sometimes into battle:

Ron Baumgarten said...

Thanks for the compliment and for pointing out the little-known role of canines in the war. Glad to see you are putting your profits towards a good cause, too.

BrianK said...

Ron, was the proliferation of the red shirted participants at the re-enactment a combination of 1st Minn and 11th NY Fire Zouaves portraying the 69th NYSM?
Add in the red shirted 2nd Miss and it must have been really confusing. Just curious

Ron Baumgarten said...

You are correct that there was a lot of red out there at the reenactment! This certainly helped to creat the type of confusion that must have been present at First Manassas. I think that the 69th N.Y. was portrayed by the 69th N.Y. reenactment group itself, while other groups portrayed the 11th N.Y. and 1st Minn. According to the 69th N.Y. group's website, red shirts were encouraged at the reenactment:

A contemporary Currier & Ives print shows a similar uniform to the one portrayed at the reenactment:

Hope this helps!

Brian Kammerer said...

Thank you Ron for all of that excellent information. Now I am fully informed. Will let you know when I get the image portraying the 69th done. Still trying to update my website..too much to do but it will get done. Thanks again.
Brian K

Ron Baumgarten said...

Brian--You are welcome. Glad to be of help! Please do let me know when you've finished the image. Btw, I have your print of the Marshall House framed and prominently displayed in my home office. I need to frame another and take to work!


Brian Kammerer said...

After many days of writing, resizing art and making sure all the links and pages work..... I finally uploaded all the Matthews farm Fight and retreat to Henry House Hill art along with accompanying copy. Now I can proceed with the Henry House Hill Action. For those that have yet to see this artwork. Please do take a look. Sorry for the delay.

Ron Baumgarten said...

Thanks for letting us know. What a painstaking project you have undertaken!