Visiting the Manassas Battlefield: An Old Business Opportunity

Every Civil War historian likes a good battlefield trip. Entire parks await the eager visitor, with carefully laid out driving tours and nicely labeled stops. Even better, some may argue, is taking the tour with a guide who knows the battlefield and can point out particularly interesting spots on the battlefield. While millions of people from all around the World flock to the battlefield and parks every year, it was no different during the war either.

While doing some research on a different project and scanning through newspapers centered around Washington, D.C., I came across this ad, from the March 22, 1862 edition of the Washington Evening Star:






For $6, a passenger could hop on a stage coach and make their way south from Washington and visit the battlefields around Manassas. Even better, as another ad made sure to point out, the proprietor of the stagecoach line had fought at Manassas and could regale his tourists with tales straight from the battlefield:

Washington Evening Star, April 3, 1862





This battlefield visitation service appeared barely two weeks after the Confederate army had evacuated from its defenses around Manassas and retreated towards the Rappahannock River, revealing how quickly some latched onto the idea of making a buck through heritage tourism.

But an influx of visitors, both civilian and soldiers from the Army of the Potomac, began to take its toll on the battlefield. During the engagement, Georgia colonel Francis Bartow had been killed leading his brigade into action atop Henry House Hill, and to commemorate their commander, his soldiers had erected a small monument.

A lithograph showing the monument to Confederate Francis Bartow. Today only a flat stand exists. (Manassas National Battlefield Park)

Just a month after the Confederates had evacuated Manassas, however, the Washington Evening Star printed this editorial about the devastation to the battlefield, and the embarrassing frequency of vandalism.

Washington Evening Star, April 9, 1862


The historic forays did not last very long. Within just a few months the armies would return to the fields around Manassas, fighting bigger battles.  Among the different newspapers and editorials, though, one thing becomes clear: our ancestors appreciated a field trip to the sites as much as we do 155 years later.

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