Based on some initial research I had done on visiting the battlefield, I decided to take the audio driving tour. I've gravitated towards this method of touring ever since a childhood trip to Gettysburg. My Dad was a big fan, and I suppose his fondness rubbed off on me. I purchased the audio tour and guidebook at the Henry Hill Visitor Center. The package is produced by a private company known as "Travel Brains," but don't let the name fool you. Overall, the tour was worthwhile and provided detailed information to supplement the National Park Service (NPS) brochure and the markers on the battlefield. Those Civil War enthusiasts with extensive knowledge of the battle may find the tour a tad too basic. I haven't read much on Second Manassas, so I appreciated the refresher. The CD also gave useful, on-the-scene interpretations of what I was seeing on the battlefield.
A tour of the Second Manassas battlefield requires driving on some busy area roads. As we headed down U.S.-29 (Lee Highway), I noticed tailgaters pressuring me to move faster. Such behavior made my visit a little less pleasurable and prevented a more careful study of the surrounding terrain. Pulling in and out of some tour stops also proved a bit dicey. Needless to say, I am glad to hear that a by-pass of the battlefield is in the works.
The audio tour for some odd reason does not include the Brawner Farm, Tour Stop 1 on the NPS brochure. Whatever you do, however, don't miss going to the Brawner Farm. The NPS opened the site in 2007 after restoring the post-Civil War farmhouse and installing an Interpretive Center on Second Manassas. Despite the old-school technology, the electric map in the farmhouse offers an excellent overview of troop positions over the course of the three-day engagement. A variety of exhibits place the battle in a larger context and cover such topics as the court-martial of Gen. Fitz John Porter, a scapegoat of the Union defeat at Second Manassas.
|View from the position of the Stonewall Brigade towards the area of the Union lines occupied by the Iron Brigade.|
|Marker on Chinn Ridge indicating the position of the 73rd Ohio Infantry of Col. Nathaniel McLean's Brigade, First Division, First Corps, Army of Virginia, which fought to stem the tide of Longstreet's advancing Confederates on August 30.|
|Vantage point of a gunner with the 5th Maine Battery on Chinn Ridge. Longstreet's men advanced across the field in front of the 12-pounder Napoleon. The fighting here bought Pope additional time to mount a defense at Henry Hill.|
Second Manassas, although a significant victory for Robert E. Lee, is sandwiched in between Lee's emergence at the Seven Days Battles and Antietam, the bloodiest single day in U.S. history. The long-dominant Lost Cause school of interpretation had little use for Longstreet and his spectacular counter-attack, and the Northern victors of the war viewed Union commanders like Pope, McDowell, and Franz Sigel as less than heroic or else entirely forgettable. Is it any wonder that the battle failed to inspire the popular imagination in the same way as First Bull Run? Second Manassas, however, deserves more from us. After all, the battle, which resulted in yet another crushing Union defeat, showcased the formidable fighting prowess of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and opened the way for the Confederate invasion of Maryland. I hope that the 150th anniversary will focus more attention on this critical and fascinating battle. And those looking for a perfect way to commemorate Second Manassas this year should consider heading to the battlefield and walking the very ground where the armies clashed.
For more information:
The National Park Service website for Manassas National Battlefield Park contains a wealth of information on visiting the battlefield of Second Manassas.
For more details on Second Manassas, check out the Civil War Trust's page on the battle.
The National Park Service is planning several days of Sesquicentennial-related activities from August 25-September 2, 2012. More information can be found here.
The City of Manassas and Historic Manassas, Inc. are also sponsoring 150th commemorative activities. Check out the schedule here.