Exploring – a stroll through Manassas National Battlefield Park

I finished up work at noon yesterday, and my last stop for the day was just a mile from the Manassas National Battlefield Park; so I decided to give it a visit. It was also 70 degrees in February, so I made the most of the unseasonably warm temperature. Plus there is no entry fee to the park (at least in the “off-season”).

Disclaimer – I am not a history expert. Therefore I will go light on the historical details. Hopefully there are no historical inaccuracies that follow.

What’s a National Battlefield?

The United States has (as of 2020) 25 “Military Parks” managed by the National Park Service. The Military Parks are further divided into Battlefields, Battlefield Parks, Military Parks, and Battlefield Sites. I am perplexed by the categorization, but Manassas is categorized as a Battlefield Park.

What’s at a National Battlefield?

Cannon on Henry Hill
Cannon on Henry Hill

Hundreds of acres have been preserved to present the most realistic depiction of the landscape while the battle was taking place. Some people find National Battlefields boring because they are usually “just some fields”. There are many markers scattered across the fields representing something from the actual battles. The markers can range from stones, wooden posts, signs, or even full-on monuments. You have to use your imagination a little bit, otherwise you would be looking at “just some fields”.

What’s there to see at Manassas Battlefield?

Manassas Battlefield is the location of two Civil War Battles: The First and Second Battles of Bull Run (or Battle(s) of Manassas depending on who you ask).

The visitor center and main parking area are located off of Sudley Road (VA route 234). From the parking area, you can grab a map from the Visitor Center and go off from there. There are several “big” attractions within a short walk of the visitor center.

From the Visitor Center, you can follow the Henry Hill Loop which roughly follows the perimeter of Henry Hill (or Henry House Hill depending on who you ask). The Henry Hill was used as a strategic outpost and was at the center of the Battle(s) of Bull Run. The Stonewall Jackson Monument is also just a few steps away along the Loop Trail as he famously fought (or stood) at Manassas.

Pictures around Henry Hill

Painters looking at Henry Hill (cannon was not loaded)

It was also interesting to see a number of painters out for the day (again, it was over 70 degrees in February – a nice day to paint) who were painting the landscape. I assume many were attempting to recapture the historical events around Henry Hill as well.

Around Henry Hill there are several cannons and other Civil War field paraphernalia (but mostly cannons). They help spark your imagination when trying to visualize the battlefield during the Civil War.

Recommended Hike (or walk, or run, or horseback ride)

As soon as I pulled into the parking lot I saw a few people warming up to run. The trails around the park are great for running (I had even planned to run this day). There were also signs of horses – you can take horses on some of the trails. My route also took me along some historical markers where you could imagine the sequence of events during the battles. If you want to learn the history, I highly recommend picking up a map/guide at the Visitor Center before you venture out.

Map of Manassas National Battlefield Area and suggested route

Hike to the Stone Bridge

I wanted to learn a little about the battlefield, so I elected to hike and not run along the trail. I took the First Manassas Trail from the Visitors Center to the Stone Bridge Loop and finished (the one-way) hike at the Stone Bridge. The total distance to the Stone Bridge is about 2.3 miles and it took me just over an hour (one-way). Double those figures for a round trip.

Stone Bridge over Bull Run
Stone Bridge over Bull Run

The Stone Bridge is a (rebuilt) bridge used by the Union forces to retreat after being defeated at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. The original bridge was subsequently used and destroyed by the Confederate forces in 1862.

Walkway near Stone Bridge
Walkway near Stone Bridge

The route to the Stone Bridge is great whether you are into history or not. It’s fairly flat except for the path leading down to the creek which is slightly eroded. Just before the stone bridge is an elevated boardwalk above the marshy area which looks like a good place for birth-watching.

Now you try

If you are into Civil War history, then you should enjoy Manassas Battlefield Park. However if you are an outdoor person but not really into history, there are tons of opportunities to hike and enjoy the Virginia Piedmont. And if you are an indoor person, you are probably reserved to the Visitors Center 🙂

…Although if you are an indoor person you can park near the Stone Bridge and walk just a minute or two to see a cool piece of history.

Resources

Manassas National Battlefield Park – NPS link