Manassas: Erecting monuments to the dead 150 years ago

Manassas monument a

Among the more curious aspects of the Manassas National Battlefield Park is the presence of one of the first monuments erected in recognition of men who died during the War Between the States.

Located just behind the Henry House is a 20-foot-tall obelisk, topped by a granite block and a 200-pound artillery shell. The block obelisk sits on three levels of granite which extend out and feature three smaller granite blocks at each corner, all topped by 200-pound artillery shells (see above).

On one face of the marker written in decidedly simplistic lettering are the words “In Memory of the Patriots who fell at Bull Run July 21, 1861”.

Designed by 2nd Lt. James McCallum of the 16th Battery, Massachusetts Light Artillery, and built by men from the 5th Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, the monument was dedicated on June 11, 1865, two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, a month after Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured in Georgia and two weeks before the last significant Southern force, under Brig. Gen. Stand Watie, laid down its arms.

On the same day, Federal forces erected a second monument nearby to Union soldiers who fell during the Battle of Second Manassas (or Second Bull Run), fought Aug. 28-30, 1862.

Several thousand Union soldiers were on hand for the unveiling of the monuments in June 1865, including Maj. Gen. Henry W. Benham, Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman, Maj. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, Brig. Gen. John F. Farnsworth, Brig. Gen. William Gamble, Brig. Gen. John P. Slough and Brig. Gen. Orlando B. Willcox.

While the monuments were erected before the war was officially over, they weren’t the first to be raised on the Manassas battlefield.

Just six weeks after the first battle, soldiers from Col. Francis S. Bartow’s brigade, a Confederate unit made up of the 7th, 8th and 9th Georgia infantry regiments, along with Pope’s and Duncan’s infantry battalions, placed a marble column to honor Bartow, killed July 21, 1861.

Close-up of inscription on Union monument at First Manassas, dedicated June 11, 1865.

Close-up of inscription on Union monument at First Manassas, dedicated June 11, 1865.

Despite the presence of the First Manassas monument, the land remained in private hands, being owned by descendants of Judith Henry, an elderly widow killed by Union artillery fire in the Henry House on July 21, 1861.

It, along with much of the rest of the battlefield, would remain so for many decades, despite efforts beginning in the 1890s to preserve former battlefields.

In 1900, George C. Round, who had served as a lieutenant in the Federal Army’s Signal Corps during the war, then moved to Manassas after war, appeared before Congress to submit a memorial asking that the Federal government “take the proper steps to acquire the title to the land” on which the monuments stand, along with much of the surrounding country, to enable US citizens and tourists from abroad to “… to view the said battle fields without trespassing upon private property.”

Round recognized that Americans, from both North and South, needed to visit Manassas “to come to terms with the past and move forward with their lives,” according to Battling for Manassas: The Fifty-Year Preservation Struggle at Manassas.

Round’s collaborative approach was evident in his petition, when just 35 years after the end of the bloody conflict he was able to acknowledge the spirit of his former foes:

“Your memorialist submits as a further fact of our history that the victors of Bull Run were also Americans; that the valor which gave them the victory was valor of which all Americans are proud; and though your memorialist believes that their interpretation of the National Constitution was not the true one, yet he submits that their devotion to their belief was a credit to American character.”

A little more than a decade later, veterans from both North and South would meet at the monument and shake hands during the Peace Jubilee of 1911 on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of First Manassas.

That coming together of former adversaries represented the first such conciliation of its kind, and presaged a similar and better known event at Gettysburg two years later.

It would be many decades before the establishment of Manassas National Battlefield Park, with the final pieces of property not being acquired until well into the 20th century.

But it’s a testament to the pivotal role the Civil War plays in our nation’s memory that the commemoration of those men who fell on the peaceful Virginia countryside in 1861 and 1862 began even before the struggle had officially ended, nearly 150 years ago.

(Top: Monument to fallen Union soldiers at First Manassas, erected June 11, 1865, as seen last November.)

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