The Battles of Manassas


On a warm July day in 1861, the Union and Confederate armies fought for the first time on the fields overlooking Bull Run.  The First Battle of Manassas was fought by 60,000 inexperienced but enthusiastic volunteers. Both sides were confident that their enemy would run at the first shot and the new recruits were thankful that they would not miss the only battle of what would be a short war. 

On July 16th, 1861, the untried Union army under Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell marched from Washington against the Confederate army, which was drawn up behind Bull Run beyond Centreville. On July 21st, McDowell attacked the Confederate left flank on Matthews Hill. Fighting raged throughout the day as Confederate forces were driven back to Henry Hill.  Late in the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements extended and broke the Union right flank. The Federal retreat rapidly deteriorated into a rout. Although victorious, Confederate forces were too disorganized to pursue.

Ten hours of heavy fighting swept away any notion the war's outcome would be decided quickly. The Union and Confederate soldiers were shocked by the violence and destruction of the battle.  At the end of July 21st, nearly 900 young men lay lifeless on the fields of Matthews Hill, Henry Hill, and Chinn Ridge.

In August 1862, Union and Confederate armies converged for a second time on the plains of Manassas. In the three day battle General Robert E. Lee defeated Union Major General John Pope and brought the Confederacy to the height of its power. The Second Battle of Manassas was fought by seasoned veterans.   On August 28th, Major General Thomas Jackson ordered an attack on a Federal column that was passing across his front on the Warrenton Turnpike to draw Pope’s army into battle. The fighting at Brawner Farm lasted several hours and resulted in a stalemate.  Pope became convinced that he had trapped Jackson and  concentrated the bulk of his army against him. On August 29th, Pope  attacked Jackson’s position along an unfinished railroad grade. The attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties on both sides. At noon, Longstreet's forces arrived on the field from Thoroughfare Gap and took position on Jackson’s right flank.  On August 30th, Pope renewed his attacks, seemingly unaware that Longstreet was on the field. When massed Confederate artillery devastated a Union assault by Fitz John Porter’s command, Longstreet’s wing of 28,000 men counterattacked in the largest, simultaneous mass assault of the war. The Union left flank was crushed and the army driven back to Bull Run. The battle resulted in a another Confederate victory at the cost of over 24,000 casualties.

The Manassas National Battlefield Park is operated by the National Park Service.  The battlefield's website contains extensive information to plan your visit. You can reach the park located 15 miles southwest of Dulles Airport and can be reached from Washington, DC via Route 66.  The site contains directions to the battlefield.

The park features a mile self guided walking trail of Henry Hill with four push button tape recorded messages and interpretive signs tells the story of the First Battle of Manassas. The park also has two longer trails : A five mile long loop trail covers the ground that was contested at  First Manassas and a five mile long loop trail crosses the key terrain of the three day long battle of Second Manassas.  A 45 minute Ranger walking tour around Henry Hill covers the events of the First Battle of Manassas.  There is also a 13 mile self guided driving tour of Second Manassas that covers 11 sites that figured prominently in the second battle.

Start your tour at the Henry Hill Visitor Center and see the film "Manassas: End of Innocence."  The center also has a museum and bookstore. 

Tour the Visitor Center and the First Manassas battlefield in the morning and go on the self guided driving tour of Second Manassas in the afternoon.

Please click on link below for map.

Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia, United States

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Revised 01/25/2011