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

Chapter 5

current topic 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 6
National Park Service Arrowhead

Changing of the Guard

Enhancing the Museum Exhibits

The exhibits at Manassas remained essentially unchanged for the twenty years following the installation of the first permanent displays in 1948. Mission 66 planning included updating these exhibits, and the Park Service's History Exhibits Planning Team designed a new museum plan in 1960. Although Superintendent Wilshin approved the plan, he did not guide it to completion. At the time of his dismissal in 1969, the museum plan required revision to incorporate additional artifacts acquired during the 1960s, such as a twenty-six-star American battle flag carried during the battle of Second Manassas and a fife found on the battlefield. [1]

Wilshin's concentration on the 1961 reenactment left him little time to devote to the installation of new displays based on the 1960 museum plan, although these exhibits would have complemented the reenactment. The plan provided added contextual details about the two battles and set the Manassas confrontations in the larger framework of the Civil War. Significantly, the proposed museum plan would have augmented discussion of the Second Battle of Manassas by highlighting that two battles had been fought here. Existing displays placed so much emphasis on First Manassas that visitors sometimes missed the fact that a second battle occurred a year later. Several displays for the second battle were planned, including a diorama of the fighting at Deep Cut and a panel explaining the Brawner Farm battle of 28 August when Jackson's Stonewall Brigade clashed with what would be called the Iron Brigade, composed of troops from Wisconsin and Indiana. This confrontation was the first meeting of these two famous commands. [2]

After the reenactment had been staged, Wilshin had the opportunity to install new exhibits and other interpretive aids, but he failed to do so. Funding did not pose an obstacle. The Park Service continued to dedicate Mission 66 funds for this work on an annual basis. Each year, as it became apparent that the money would not be used, the Park Service transferred the funds to interpretative programs at other parks. One factor in the decision to use the Manassas money elsewhere, Wilshin claimed, was that newly established Civil War areas were taking precedence over parks like Manassas with existing museum displays. But, in reality, Manassas funding was simply transferred to other units because it was not being used at Manassas. In fiscal year 1965, unspent Manassas funds went to electrical work at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a seventeenth-century Spanish fort in St. Augustine, Florida. [3]

During the mid-1960s, interest in revising the Manassas museum panels increased, although implementation continued to be stalled. The exhibits planning team met with Wilshin and the park historians to discuss ideas about the displays, but the Park Service did not execute these plans. Service memoranda referred to the anticipated museum revisions at Manassas, and Wilshin incorporated planned interpretive changes in the park's 1965 master plan, but the plans did not proceed. Visitors disappointed with exhibits at the park prodded the Park Service to update them. One tourist, a William Hauser, wrote Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall that the Manassas displays were one of the "shoddiest collections of mementos" he had ever seen. In reply, the Park Service noted that new exhibits were planned for installation in 1964. In fact, it would take another four years. [4]

Wilshin's administrative style accounted for the repeated delays. He alienated Park Service employees both on his staff and at the regional office, ironically because of his devotion to history, especially the telling of the First Battle of Manassas. As former chief historian Edwin C. Bearss remembered later, Wilshin held the title of superintendent but he practiced the role of park historian. He left the everyday management of the park to his administrative assistants, first Joe Vaughn and later Mildred Gay. These individuals capably handled the daily affairs, but long-term planning, for such projects as Mission 66 interpretive programs, suffered. [5]

A long line of park historians passed through Manassas National Battlefield Park because of Wilshin's insistence that he do their job. Bearss described the situation as a swinging door: historians would come to the park full of expectations and would leave in disgust. One such historian, L. Van Loan Naisawald, had far better credentials than Wilshin as a military historian and had practical combat experience as an artillerist during World War II. But, as Naisawald recalled, his ideas for new narrative markers and for lectures failed to materialize. Wilshin would not let go of the historical work, nor could he follow through on projects Naisawald initiated. Naisawald's job as historian eventually degenerated into the role of "ticket-taker, a Howdy Doody role," a problem succeeding historians also encountered. [6]

These battles between park historians and Wilshin required intervention by the southeast regional office, which had direction over the Manassas battlefield park. The regional historian frequently had to travel from Richmond to Manassas and salve the festering wounds resulting from these turf wars. This spent energy left the regional office less inclined to devote added time to interpretive planning at Manassas. Wilshin compounded the problem by not pressing the regional office to follow through on its museum proposal. A stalemate resulted, with the park's interpretive program the principal victim. [7]

Wilshin's filling the role of both superintendent and historian need not have prevented change in park interpretation. Joseph Mills Hanson and James Myers had accomplished significant milestones in park interpretation while serving in both capacities. They ushered in the first permanent exhibits in the museum and augmented the self-guided tours around the park. While Hanson and Myers had fewer visitors during their tenures, they also had much smaller staffs. They had to do the historical research, the initial interpretive planning, and the park management alone. Wilshin, in contrast, had two park historians in addition to an administrative aide. It was not lack of support but Wilshin's single-minded focus on the First Battle of Manassas along with his indecisiveness and poor relations with the park historians and regional office that slowed the progress of change at the park. [8]

With the end of the Civil War Centennial in 1965 and Mission 66 a year later, the National Park Service could devote more concentrated time to individual parks and accomplished what Wilshin had been unable to do. In 1968 the Park Service's museum planning team designed a new exhibit plan for the visitor center. Before Wilshin had the chance to review the final draft of wall labels, and possibly stall the project with further concerns, workers began revamping the museum space. Work progressed steadily, and visitors were enjoying the new exhibits by the end of the year. [9]

In a significant departure from the 1960 plan, the 1968 visitor center plan relied on an improved audiovisual program to explain the principal tactical aspects of First and Second Manassas. This program, which was not completed until 1971, included a taped narrative with appropriate sound effects, projections of strategic maps and pictorial graphics, and a diorama terrain model. The 1960 plan had relied on the exhibits to describe many of the key events during the battles. [10]

With the audiovisual program interpreting individual battles, the 1968 exhibits focused on more general concerns. Filling the first-floor museum space and the downstairs public area, the 1968 displays looked at such themes as the confusing array of uniforms soldiers wore and the weapons they used. This thematic approach avoided concentration on just First or Second Manassas and made good use of the park's extensive and growing artifact collection. One display showcased the different objects that soldiers used while camped at Manassas, including knapsacks, canteens, field glasses, and knives. Illustrations portraying the lay of the land helped explain why Manassas Junction became the battleground for two conflicts. Although the 1960 plan had explained similar ideas, it had relied more heavily on text and less on artifacts to educate visitors. On the other hand, the 1960 plan did have the advantage of being more interpretive in its approach, telling a more finished story about the battles than the 1968 plan, which relied heavily on visitors making their own conclusions about the array of artifacts. [11]

As the National Park Service installed the new museum exhibits in 1968, Wilshin readied the Stone House for its role in the park's interpretation. For more than ten years, Wilshin had intended to turn the Stone House from a park residence to a field hospital exhibit. Although the Stone House did not open until after Wilshin left, he oversaw the research and initial planning for the project. "Like a lonely sentinel brooding over a nation's wounds," as Wilshin described the structure, the Stone House represented a significant historic resource at the park due to its hasty conversion from a tavern to a hospital during both Manassas battles. The proposed Stone House display was viewed by Wilshin as a "giant step forward" in battle interpretation. [12]

CONTINUED continued


History | Links to the Past | National Park Service | Search | Contact


National Park Service's ParkNet Home