Treading Lightly On Sacred Ground

Visitors to the Manassas National Battlefield Park (MNBP), site of the first battle of what became the Civil War, now have a clearer view of the battlefield–and a better understanding of that momentous event in our nation’s history.

That’s because a land-clearing project at the Manassas, Va., site was recently completed to return it to its original condition during the First (and Second) Battle of Manassas. For the first time, visitors can stand on the battle lines of the Union forces, and see the cannon lines of Confederate forces, just as they did on July 21, 1861 (First Battle of Manassas) and August 28 through 30, 1862 (Second Battle of Manassas). Visitors can even gaze upon the hillsides and imagine the townsfolk enjoying a picnic lunch, watching what they were sure would be a quick rout of the Confederates. Little did the townspeople know how important that battle would be–or their contribution to our nation’s heritage.

Scott Reigel, co-owner of the consulting forestry firm Clear Creek Forestry, LLC, is a Civil War buff, and his company’s contribution is returning the battlefields to historical accuracy. Clear Creek teamed up with members of MNBP in all phases of the project, including mapping, area layout, environmental assessment, harvest planning and supervising the logging operation as well as debris cleanup and removal. “We knew the importance of this project, not only for its historical importance but also for future generations. It was an opportunity for us to make a difference. We also knew that it would be a struggle with the public because of the sensitivity of the site.” Scott says. “But it was a project that we definitely wanted to take on and be a part of.”

Digging In

The project had a two-pronged approach–restoration of an eight-acre site at Mathews Hill and another 118 acres at the Brawner Farm and Deep Cut area. These two sites had significant historical importance within the 4,000 acres owned by the park today.

The goal in the first of the two sites was essentially correcting a mistake made in the 1940s when a landscape-restoration project went astray. When the U.S. Park Service acquired the private property to preserve it, the area was predominantly plowed pasture land. To recreate the original conditions, a landscaping project called for planting trees. Unfortunately, the trees selected were Loblolly Pine, and were planted in the wrong location. As the non-native trees grew, they obstructed the view, and gave a historically inaccurate depiction of the battlefield. Their removal has made a dramatic change, as visitors can now stand at the Union cannon lines of Mathews Hill and look over to Buck Hill where the Confederate forces stood. They can look from Mathews Hill across the roof of the Old Stone House and see Henry Hill (location of the current visitors’ center), to where the Union forces pushed the Confederates. Henry Hill is where the infamous Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson earned his name, as he stood strong and successfully ordered his troops to attack the approaching Union forces. The result of that afternoon battle was approximately 3,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing for the Union and 2,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing for the Confederates, turning it into the most significant and deadly battle on U.S. soil.

A Sensitive Site

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