n July 1861—one hundred and sixty years ago this month—the first major battle of the Civil War was fought along the banks of Bull Run and near the town of Manassas in northern Virginia. How does this relate to Central Virginia and that region's battlefields?
It sparked a conversation around the CVBT office and with our preservation partners about the first battlefields we ever visited and also some curiosity about what Fredericksburg citizens knew about that battle in 1861. We've pulled together the results of the conversation and some extra history in this email to follow the timeline of the 160th anniversary.
Where did you visit first?
Earlier this month, we shared a survey asking: "What was the first-ever Civil War battlefield that you visited?" The battlefields of Gettysburg, Manassas, Antietam, Petersburg, Fredericksburg, and Shiloh all received multiple votes as shown in the chart below. Other battlefields that got single mentions included: Appomattox, Chickamauga, Chancellorsville, Wilson's Creek, Vicksburg, and Piedmont. For many Preservation Partners, their first battlefield visit is connected to memories of family travel, research, or tourism that sparked a passion for the past.
Why Look Back to the First Battlefields?
Civil War soldiers did not forget their first battlefield experiences. The combat they witnessed, the role of their regiment, the friends that they lost, and the victories or defeats they carried from the field stayed with them and were later written in battle reports, letters, or memoirs. When we preserve the land where these soldiers in blue and gray fought, we help to save the stories of their experiences. We also create the potential for memorable first experiences in a peaceful setting: first visits to battlefields. Whether that first battlefield visit occurs in childhood or later in life, it has the opportunity to be a memorable moment of learning about history, courage, and preservation. Thinking about the future of historic interpretation and education in our nation does have an exceptionally bright beacon: battlefield preservation. Here on hallowed ground, visitors of all ages can stand where history happened, ask and answer big questions, and explore the stories of the past. Let's keep creating and preserving outdoor classrooms where visitors will experience that first battlefield visit!
Notes on First Manassas...From Fredericksburg
From the safety of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Betty Herndon Maury recorded the news that she heard about the First Battle of Manassas/Bull Run which was fought on July 21, 1861. She wrote about troops moving through Fredericksburg and the railroad cars taken for transportation:
...Twelve thousand of Gen' Johnson's command from Winchester under Gen' Jackson have effected a junction with Beauregard and are on their way to Alexandria. God speed them.... Distant firing had been heard all day.
All the cars were sent for last night to come at once to Richmond. We suppose they are to be put on the Central road to carry more troops to Manassas.... There was an officer here last night who was in the fight at Bull Run. He says that the South Carolinians after firing threw down their muskets and charged with their bowie knives seizing the Yankees by the collar and cutting them down.... A company of five hundred cavalry are to pass through here to day on their way to Manassas. The Hampton Brigade of S.C.
More news! More good news! Will has just come to tell me. The battle yesterday was more extensive than we thought. It extended along our whole line. The enemy are routed and we are in hot pursuit. Thank God, thank God. I hope it is all true. What would not I give to hear that they are now on Arlington Heights.
There was great loss on both sides, so the telegram runs. Is a victory worth the loss of so many of our good and brave men?....
We only pursued the enemy as far as Centerville on Sunday.
Gen' Beauregard commanded the right wing, Gen' Johnson the left and Jeff Davis the center.
President Davis sent the following telegram to his wife. "We have won a glorious but dear bought victory. The night closed with the enemy in full flight pursued by our troops."
In two of our Virginia regiments every officer above the rank of Lieut' was killed. We fought in the open field and not behind entrenchments.
Oh what suffering there must be among those poor wounded soldiers. Wish I was fit to go and help nurse them. I am trying to raise a little money to buy a few comforts for them.
(Photo by Sarah Kay Bierle, 2021.)
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.