On-line Book
Cover book to Battling for Manassas: The Fifty-Year Preservation Struggle at Manassas National Battlefield Park. [Image of cannon in the battlefield]
Battling for Manassas: The Fifty-Year Preservation Struggle at Manassas National Battlefield Park


Table of Contents




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

current topic Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11


Appendix I

Appendix II

Appendix III

Appendix IV

Appendix V (omitted from on-line edition)

Appendix VI

Appendix VII

Appendix VIII

Chapter 5
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Reenacting the Past

First Manassas Reenactment

Administrative problems and financial worries melted away under the blazing sun and 90-degree temperatures when Manassas National Battlefield Park hosted the reenactment of the First Battle during the 21 July weekend. On Friday the First Manassas Corporation staged an open dress rehearsal before an audience of 20,000 visitors and the press. Stories in the morning papers attracted another 55,000 people on Saturday and 45,000 on Sunday. A number arrived in period costumes, reminiscent of the audience that had traveled from as far as Centreville on that July day in 1861 to witness the first "skirmish" of the war. [53]

July 1961 reenactment of the First Battle
of Manassas
Fig. 11. The July 1961 reenactment of the First Battle of Manassas gave spectators a rare opportunity to touch the past by hearing the sound of Civil War-era cannons and experiencing the fear and carnage of battle. National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth later determined that the potential for injury to participants and the historic resource during this restaging justified banning future reenactments on lands administered by his agency. (National Park Service photo)

For Wilshin, the reenactment was a very exciting thing. He long remembered the feeling of being right in the battle, with bombs going off and dirt flying around the charging men. The sight of the battle flags and the sounds of the men yelling gave a real sense of the actual battle experience. Timing of the attacks and counterattacks sometimes varied from the script, but the general effect was so close to the original that viewers experienced the fear, the excitement, the carnage of First Manassas. [54]

The zeal of the reenactors added to the drama. Many belonged to the North-South Skirmish Association, a national organization that represented units of both the North and South and was dedicated to the preservation of the history and spirit of the Civil War. As the skirmishers assembled in mass formations, attacked over open ground, and fired point blank at each other, the audience gained a real sense of battle conditions. The sound of cannons and the crack of a Civil War musket provided a rare opportunity for everyone to touch the past. As Wilshin fondly recalled, some reenactors were so interested in being part of the action that they were unwilling to play dead but got up and reentered the fray. [55]

Spectators and some of the press responded warmly to the show. One viewer noted that the reenactment allowed a greater visualization of history than "cold stone monuments or words on paper" do. The audience was caught up in the reenactment toward the end of the production. At the point late in the battle when Confederate forces pushed Union forces off Henry Hill and into retreat, "sustained rebel yells" erupted from the mostly southern audience. Newspapers took this spontaneous show of support for the South as indicative of a larger involvement in the nation's past. Accounts emphasized the sense of national unity that the reenactment drove home. People had the chance to see the sacrifices Americans had made to defend deeply held beliefs, both for the North and the South. [56]

This enthusiasm from participants and spectators for the reenactment made assessing the value of the event difficult. In his opening remarks for the 22 July presentation, Director Wirth welcomed the reenactment as a way to "visit the inspiring scenes of the past" and gain "strength, imagination, and wisdom" to prepare for the future. Wirth recognized the educational benefits the reenactment and proposed film provided the public, but he also saw the effort, expense, and hazards inherent in the production. The National Park Service had paid a heavy cost in terms of personnel time to supervise the event and in direct outlays, such as $10,000 for sanitary facilities. The potential for serious injuries or damage to the battlefield remained a concern. Some resource damage to the historic lands included Chinn Ridge, where heavy usage by camping reenactors necessitated reseeding. Well-defined wagon wheel tracks from the show cut into other parts of the battlefield and required attention. [57]

Another significant concern involved the overall appearance of the reenactment and how this event influenced opinions about the Park Service. While the spectators and some of the press gave favorable reviews, other newspaper reporters slammed the reenactment as a "farce" which allowed "overgrown boys" to get a "thrill" from hearing guns go off. An editorial cartoons in the Washington Star showed the endless traffic, with cars banged up against each other and people fuming in the heat, instead of the more historically significant aspects of the event. Even Park Service personnel admitted to the commercialism of the production, especially the "Coney Island" atmosphere behind the spectator stands. After coordinating the final aspects of the reenactment, Volz concluded that the show appeared to be more a celebration than a commemoration of a tragic historical event, a result that the organizers of the overall Civil War Centennial had feared, leading them to advise against planning reenactments. Volz and others realized that although the National Park Service was not blamed for the less dignified aspects of the Manassas reenactment, the agency might not receive the same treatment in the future. [58]

Based on these concerns, Director Wirth established a National Park Service policy not to authorize any future reenactments on parklands. A previous commitment to hold a reenactment at Antietam in September 1962 would be honored, but further productions would not be sanctioned by the Park Service. Wirth encouraged demonstrations of musket firing and troop drills, flag presentations, and parades in period costumes as suitable replacements for reenactments. The Park Service saw the value of "some sort of pageantry" to help visitors visualize the past through a "dignified and impressive commemoration." At Manassas National Battlefield Park, newly enlarged and enhanced through Mission 66 improvements, these quieter commemorations marked subsequent anniversaries of the two historic battles. [59]

CONTINUED continued


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