First on the agenda was a little help for our travels. One thing we've been considering to help get around in big cities is a GPS. We found a Best Buy with a good salesman and here's our new friend, “Tillie,” the Garmin GPS. (We thought the name just suited her.) We've had fun on our test runs since she joined us. Tillie told us how to navigate the highways and side streets in Fairfax and D. C., to locate, buildings, restaurants and parks. And she is so patient, “recalculating” any time we miss a turn. We were amazed that it was so easy to catch on to all the functions. Why didn't we have this sooner???
Yesterday we took a short trip, about 20 miles southwest, to the Manassas National Battlefield. This is the site of the first land battle of the Civil War in 1861 - “First Manassas.” Many call it “Bull Run”. About a year later, Union and Confederate soldiers bloodied these hills and woods again in the “Second Manassas.” In all, almost 30,000 soldiers fell to their deaths on this battlefield.
There are a museum, movie and hands-on artifacts in the visitors' center that provide a good deal of information about this sobering piece of history. But the 45-minute tour over the battlefield with the park ranger, Hank, brought us the vivid imagery. He walked us through the circumstances of the First Manassas, describing the types of soldiers involved and bringing to life in our minds the horror of the events played out on the ground where we were standing. The cannons are positioned on the hill and at the edge of the woods just as they were 148 years ago. You stand at the top of Henry Hill and look north to where the boys in blue fought over Bull Run and up the hill to where the boys in gray fiercely defended out of the woods. Around 5,000 men lost their lives on that summer day in 1861. He explained the tactics of the Union and Confederate officers in command, two men who were former classmates at West Point. He emphasized that the majority of the volunteers fighting on both sides were barely trained and very naive about the glory of war. It was also widely believed that this would be a short conflict, perhaps ending after this battle. The soldiers who survived learned that there is no romance in war and that this was only the beginning of many months of sorrow. And, of course, friends and families from Massachusetts to Texas became aware of these realities, too.
Later we took the ride that leads through the countryside , over the grounds of the battle to several key sites of the Second Manassas in 1862. As you drive the tour you can see the denseness of the woods that the men marched through and the hills and valleys where they positioned their cannons and stood to fire their rifles....in the open... point blank. The one year of fighting had seasoned those who hadn't been taken by a bullet or a disease. The Stone House that was a Union field hospital still stands, with initials carved by soldiers recovering and dying there. The troops casualties in this battle numbered 24,000. Some of the dead were buried on the site and a few were carried home by family. God bless them all.
The visit to Manassas was somewhat sad, but also very informative. The park has impressive presentations that are designed for all ages.
It reminded us that there are good reasons to preserve this place in time and discuss these tragic moments in history. We had a good day.