The decision to visit the Flying Circus at Bealeton, Va. during this road trip adventure came with another decision. How to spend Sunday morning prior to the air show?
A quick glance at the map easily answered this question. The Manassas National Battlefield Park was just a little bit out of the way en route from Winchester to the airfield at Bealeton. The park is open dusk to dawn and the visitors’ center opens at 8:30 a.m., timed perfectly for a walk around the battlefield before heading south to see all the cool planes.
If you’re a Yankee like me, you likely remember this battle from history class as the Battle of Bull Run. And technically, two battles were fought here – the first in July 1861 and the second the following year in August. The 1861 battle was the first major battle of the Civil War and a Confederate victory.
Today, the park encompasses over 5,000 acres just outside of town. There are bridal trails, hiking trails, ranger led programs, a walking tour and driving tour. The visitors’ center has an orientation film, bookstore and rangers who can help you use your time here wisely.
On the battlefield, you’ll see a home – destroyed by the battle and reconstructed to help tell the story. A small family cemetery holds the remains of the elderly woman who was bedridden inside that house. By the end of that first battle, she was dead, her home destroyed and her farmland ravaged by war.
Cannons dot the landscape along with small markers that honor the fallen and interpretive signage that outlines what went on here. A statue of Stonewall Jackson surveys the battlefield from atop his horse.
I walked the battlefield, admired the farmhouse and stood inside the footprint of the tiny home of James Robinson, a free African American man who lived here with his family. The home escaped major damage although Mr. Robinson suffered significant financial losses because of the battles fought here. He claimed more than $2,600 in property either destroyed or taken by Union soldiers. He received less than half his claim. All that’s left of the home today are the foundation stones.
This place is mostly peaceful, making it hard to believe these gently rolling hills were once soaked with blood. Both sides suffered significant casualties here – hundreds died in the first battle alone.
From the area around the farmhouse and cemetery, you can look out over a valley, now cut through by a highway. Sounds of traffic waft up the hill and an occasional siren in the distance reminds you that time marches on and that life continues to move forward even as the past hangs heavy over this land.
I also stood in the shadow of Stonewall Jackson, contemplating the role of Confederate monuments in this country. I had toured his Winchester headquarters just the day before during a visit to Old Town.
As I walked the empty battlefield, my mind’s eye was incapable of picturing the horrors that went on here and I am grateful that I couldn’t imagine it.
This is the kind of place where you can spend as much or as little time as you like. I was perfectly happy to just walk around a bit and study the visitors’ center materials. There were other places to go that day and I lacked the mental energy to delve deeper into the tragedy this land has seen.
I’m glad that I went but was even happier to have something more carefree to enjoy later in the day. You can read all about that fun afternoon here.
Tomorrow we’ll continue our journey down the road and I promise it will be a happier story.