Rick and I arrived by train at the “un-manned” station at 8am on a Thursday morning, surprised to see a man hanging around the depot. He was dressed in a dark suit with some official looking pins on his shirt. Not many people had disembarked from the Amtrak Crescent train, and the few that did, dispersed quickly. As he approached us with a smile and outstretched hand, we asked him if he knew where the “Old Town Inn” was. We already knew it was walking distance of the station. He began telling us he was from New Jersey, and he knew the DC area very well. We were a bit confused, as we were in Manassas, Virginia! Then he walked off, so we just picked a direction to go, looking for Main Street. Shortly thereafter we saw the man standing on a deserted street corner (except for us), and he was belting out “My Country Tis of Thee” and waving his arms. We headed in the opposite direction. Eventually, we did find the Inn.
We had arrived at the start of festivities of the Sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of the original Battle of Manassas (aka “Bull Run” to Yankees) the third weekend of July 2011. Recently I learned, as many do not realize, that some battles during the War Between the States had two names. The Southern rebels named them after the city and the Northerners, after creeks or rivers. Bull Run is a creek. The main events (Battle re-enactments on Saturday and Sunday) were organized by Prince William County, and were to be held at Pageland Farms, private property adjacent to the National Battlefield. Civil War re-enactments never take place on the true battlefield because it is considered hallowed ground in honor of the dead soldiers. Most of the re-enactors camp out at the battle, but I was never much of a camper. Rick and I typically stay in a nearby hotel, and I was extra glad this time, as it was extremely hot. Going to the campsite to visit Rick’s fellow comrades, was like stepping into an oven.
There was hardly any breeze or trees to shade the rows of tents. They were expecting 9,000 re-enactors to participate in the battle on Saturday. Nearly all had come.
Given the enormous crowds expected, Prince William County did a great job in organizing the event, as did the City of Manassas. However, we quickly learned that there were different sets of re-enactors, so that was a bit confusing at times. There were so many things to do in the area that it was mind-boggling. I had brought my ball gown in order to attend the “Blue and Grey Ball” to be held at a Pavilion in walking distance from the Inn. However, I couldn’t figure out how to get tickets. On the brochure it said to call for the discount, so I called and the lady that answered couldn’t help me. Apparently all the staff was “in the field”, so she asked me to call back on Monday. The ball was Saturday night…so Monday just wouldn’t work. She then told me where the booth was, so I walked a few blocks and was able to get the tickets.
Friday morning was the Re-enactor parade, but Rick and I thought it was just too hot, even at 10am, to participate. Also, you had to have permission from your camp commander, which we didn’t. The good news was that the parade went right past our hotel, so we found a good spot to take pictures. Rick would be in the battle early the next morning. He was also battling a cold, so we didn’t want to overdo it.
Come Saturday, we awoke early to catch the shuttle bus to the Battle. After arriving at the parking lot, Rick realized he forgot his canteen. We weren’t sure if he would have a chance to buy one from the sutlers (period shops and vendors), so I went back to the hotel to retrieve it. The event organizers wanted to make sure everyone, soldiers and civilians were well hydrated, so they gave each person at least two bottles of water, and had “cooling stations” at various points. Thankfully, Rick’s cousin had given me her ticket for a bleacher seat, as she was unable to attend due to the heat. I had decided not to dress out in period costume for the Battle, being that it was 105 degrees but felt even hotter.
There were 11,000 spectators at the event, many which had to stand behind the cannons. Back in 1861 it was only 80-something degrees, and there were civilian spectators then who came from Washington DC and brought a picnic, as if they were seeing a play. They soon realized the horrors of war and became in danger themselves, fleeing the scene in their buggies.
The Battle was from 9:30am to noon. I wasn’t able to see Rick anywhere, even with his new Havelock-Kepi hat that resembled the French Foreign legion attire. There was an announcer that explained the diversity of the uniforms. The battle took place early in the War when companies and units of both sides picked their own uniforms and chose any color, such as blue, grey, red and even green outfits. Also, some units were carrying their state flag. This complicated things, as soldiers sometimes couldn’t determine “the enemy” and would fire on their fellow comrades (friendly fire). Later on in the War, there was more of the traditional blue for North and grey for South. This was the battle where General “Stonewall” Jackson got his name, for having standed firm like a “stone wall” alongside his troops. This first major battle of the War was a Confederate victory. However, it would turn out that for Rick and I, the battle was not over quite yet – even when Taps was played and the re-enactor soldiers were leaving the field.
Rick called me on the cell phone (yes, they are allowed) after the Battle and, I met him with plenty of water and some Gatorade in hand. After some rest, but not nearly enough, we started to the bus, which was a bit of a hike. Rick started to feel ill when we saw the long lines to board. He went to a nearby tent to lie down, and they decided to drive us back in a Gator to the medical tent to get cooled off. We started heading back where we came from. They assured me they could give us a ride back to the buses. After a long time of rest we knew it was getting late, but couldn’t find a ride. I suggested that Rick eat a hamburger, and I headed toward the Information booth to find us some transportation. The booth was empty, and then we heard on the loud speaker the event is closing and the last bus leaves at 3:15. I looked down at my watch: It was 3:00. We walked as fast as we were able, and got within 50 feet or so, and I saw the last bus pulling away in front of us. Like a mad woman I started yelling “Stop!!” and waving my arms. The bus paused and opened the door. Praise to God!
We were exhausted when we finally got to the motel, and we both crashed. But, we had paid a pretty price for those tickets to the ball – which was Saturday evening at an “outdoor” pavilion, within walking distance from the Inn. I was determined to go. Rick also said he felt like going, so we got ready and went. I was thinking it might cool off when the sun went down, but it didn’t. On top of that, I had gotten sunburned earlier in spite of applying sunscreen twice. We both had sweat pouring from us, even as the evening wore on. I was too pooped to even dance. Instead we ate, drank some sodas and just sat there. But even so, we had a great time. Rick enjoyed hearing the speaker talk about his heritage, and I enjoyed talking to Rhoda, who had come by herself and was at our table. She lived near Manassas and had a lot on her mind. Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them. I was exhausted, so I was happy to oblige. I believe God puts people in your path for a reason. Rick and I decided not to attend the Sunday battle, as we needed to recuperate the next day. Rhoda was debating on whether to attend, so I gave her my ticket that would otherwise have gone to waste. I hope she went and had a good time.
It was getting late, so Rick and I headed back to the Inn. The moon was out, but it was still hot. On the way…we saw our favorite Civil War band, Unreconstructed out playing in the street, with a few people listening. We stopped to let the music fill us. Tired, weary, dehydrated…overall I’d say that in spite of the heat…we won.