I visited the Manassas National Battlefield Park last Saturday to hike the First Manassas Trail, a 5.4-mile route that starts from the Henry Hill Visitor Center, leads northeast to the Stone Bridge, up Bull Run to the fording site of the Federal army, west to Matthews Hill, and the south along the route of the Federal attack towards Henry Hill, passing the Stone House on the way. The park trail map is here.
First Manassas is one of the easier battles to make sense of while walking around on the ground. Since it took place in a relatively small area, you can cover most of the pivotal moments in a couple of hours’ walk. Since the leaves are pretty much off the trees in late Autumn, you can better see the landscape, too.
Looking south from Matthews Hill, it becomes apparent why Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson chose not to advance in support of General Bee’s struggle to stave off the Federal forces advancing near Matthews Hill. Once placed, the Federal battery on Matthews Hill dominated the low ground to its front, and Federal troops advancing out of the woods from the north are screened from fire by Matthews Hill.
I can’t remember the original source, but I at least one historian speculated that Bee’s famous cry, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall!” may very well have been a complaint that Jackson was forming up on Henry Hill and would not advance to reinforce Bee’s hopeless position. In any case, Bee was killed soon after making the remark, and the other interpretation, that Jackson stood firm like a stone wall and turned back the Federal assault, was the one that took root.
The hike is a pleasant one even if you aren’t a big Civil War buff. The route takes you through rolling Virginia countryside through woods and fields, with hilltops providing nice vistas of the surrounding farmlands.
After the hike some of the hikers drove to Gray Ghost Vineyards on the other side of Warrenton, where a group of Civil War authors gave presentations about their recently published books. Gray Ghost did a great job making the visit the toast of a wonderful day.