As will be seen from the photo in the Photos tab, the terrain at Manassas is quite unremarkable. It is the railway junction and its proximity to Washington DC that made this worth fighting over.
The First Battle of Manassas Virginia, or Bull Run; was the first real engagement of the war. Both sides were green and many thought the war would end when the other side lost the battle. The local population from both sides came and watched - from a little distance - but in the case of those from the North, that turned out to be too close! The Union forces appeared to be prevailing but were eventually routed, with the spectators being caught up in the retreat. It was at this battle that General Thomas Jefferson gained his sobriquet 'Stonewall'. His fellow General Barnard Elliot Bee Jr is said to have rallied his troops by referring them to Jackson holding his position like a stone wall. General Bee suffered mortal wounds in that battle.
I have been struck by a couple of observations of the war. The first is that it was very fluid, and territory could be fought over on more than one occasion. Harpers Ferry changed hands on several occasions and indeed, about a year later, there was the Second Battle of Manassas - also a Confederate victory. Another observation is the way infantry fought. They often (usually?) lined up in ranks opposite each other and tried to shoot each other to pieces. On all too many occasions they achieved this objective with eminent success. It may be because it is certainly easier to reload a musket while standing, but how foolish is that!?
At the Manassas Visitor Center I spoke with a volunteer guide about the necessity for a war of the shooting variety. He delivered to me a conspiracy theory, that the International Bankers precipitated the war to divide the USA which was beginning to challenge Europe economically! I listened respectfully, decided to keep silent about my occupation and moved on.
I took time out from educating myself in American history to try and change Australian history. I rode into Washington DC in pouring rain to vote at the Embassy.
The Americans know how to do symbolism. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is iconic, but it is in the middle of a frantically busy traffic circle and plagued by camera-clicking tourists. Is it guarded? I have not seen one.
The Americans have Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac from DC.One arrives to a sign advising that this is the holiest shrine in all of the country and visitors are to be silent and show respect. There are further signs around the more than 600 acres where the message is echoed more succinctly: SILENCE and RESPECT.
Arlington is perhaps better known to many as the burial place of President John F Kennedy. His grave, and that of Jackie and two children have a view across to the Lincoln Memorial. Bobby and Ted are nearby, too.
But apart from being an operating cemetery, Arlington is the resting place of the Unknowns.
As per an act of Congress, procedures were established to choose the remains of unidentified soldiers from the major conflicts to be interred in the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington. These dead soldiers have symbolically been awarded the Medal of Honour and their remains are guarded around the clock 365 days a year. It is simple and very solemn, with a sentry patrolling left and right with military precision drill. Each hour or half hour as the case may be, depending on the season, there is a ritualized Changing of the Guard. I will not describe it in detail, but you can see it on YouTube. This is a serious business and it helps me understand why so many of the serving military are so committed to, and proud of their service and country.
On the way in I passed the Iwo Jima memorial. Wow! On my next visit to DC I will stop there.
Tom messaged me and we met near the Pentagon and rode home together. Some terrific roads, but two really serious traffic jams as well. A pleasant family dinner concluded the day.
Thanks, Tom, Gayla and Christine.