VIRGINIA KID HISTORIAN: 1st Battle of Manassas

KID HISTORIAN Explores Civil War History at Manassas National Battlefield

Dhruv learns about the 1st Battle of Bull Run at the Manassas National Battlefield Park

View of the Manassas Battlefield National Park
View of the Manassas Battlefield National Park
Bristow Beat (Stacy Shaw)

The air of Bull Run Junction on July 21, 1861, was so thick with tension, you could cut it with a  knife. The wind blew as the two sides lined up for one of the most well-known battles of the Civil War: the First Battle of Manassas, or otherwise known as the First Battle of Bull Run. The Union side, or Northerners, were led by Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, while the opposing side, the Confederates, were led by General P.G.T. Beauregard.

The battle was started when McDowell marched 35,000 Union soldiers from Washington, D.C. to meet Beauregard’s smaller force of 20,000 Confederates. The battle was a victory for the Confederates, with 1,750 casualties on their side, while the Union suffered 3,000 losses. However, the Confederates were unable to pursue the retreating Union forces back to Washington since they were too unorganized. All the same, the battle was a huge morale booster for the Confederate Army, while it was a devastating shock for the Union, who thought that the war would be over quickly.

How do we know all of these facts? It’s all thanks to the wonderful people at Manassas Battlefield Park. They have many amazing historical activities at the park, and the guides are all extremely informative. Park activities include a twelve-stop self-driving tour and several walking trails along five thousand acres that will take you in the footsteps of the soldiers as they fought in this fierce battle.

When did the park open? How do they keep their visitors interested in the history of the area? Who was the most important person who visited the park during its time of being open? These were all questions that we asked when we interviewed Park Ranger/Historic Weapons Supervisor Anthony Trusso.

According to Mr. Trusso, the park has been open for more than 83 years as of 2023! That’s older than my grandfather! The park keeps its visitors entertained with various activities, suitable for all ages and experiences, from “the first-time visitor to the Civil War military history buff”.

You could also learn about the civilian and African American experience during the battle. For example, Jim Robinson was a free African American whose house was turned into a hospital during the first battle. After the bloodshed, Jim and his family buried thousands of soldiers from both sides in unmarked graves. Known as the Robinson house,  it sits at the bottom of Henry Hill to this day. Other important African American figures that helped shape the battle, as well as the museum, include Montgomery Peters, who donated his land to the park service, and Andrew Reinmann, who owned a blacksmith shop in the little village of Groveton.

The park also has various interesting weapons on display, some of which were acquired in recent years. For instance, only two years ago on the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, the battlefield museum acquired two Dahlgren Naval Boat Howitzer Cannons used by a Union New York Regiment during the First Battle of Manassas. The interesting fact about these guns is they were supposed to be mounted in strategic locations onboard a ship, so it was extremely unorthodox for them to be used in a land battle.

Women were also affected by the Civil War. In fact, the first civilian killed during the Civil War was Judith Henry, who died during the First Battle of Manassas. She is buried in what is believed to be the garden of her house on Henry Hill, which has been named for her.

Another amazing fact about the battlefield park is that former President Calvin Coolidge visited the park and signed its visitor’s log on Henry Hill while he was in office.

The Manassas Battlefield Park is an enlightening place to visit for any age. It will truly open your eyes to the history and heritage of Virginia and the Manassas area. You can learn how many brave men sacrificed their lives for our country to stay intact. (Others fought on behalf of their states to which they felt a greater allegiance since the nation then was less unified than it is today.*) The United State of America is “the Land of the Free and the home of the Brave,” but had it not been for the Civil War, we may not be as free (nor as united) as we are today.

*Note added by Bristow Beat 

Bristow Beat is now accepting sponsors for its 'Kid Historian' series. Please contact Stacy Shaw at if your business or organization would be interested in becoming a sponsor. 

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