Love is a Battlefield

It’s hard to believe that we are already three weekdays into Winter Break. On Monday and Tuesday, we did the typical lazy vacation routine: make a gingerbread house (except this year we used Pop-Tarts thanks to this video tutorial!), eat a multitude of cookies, watch Christmas movies, drive around looking at lights, etc.

We’re kind of obsessed with our Pop-Tart House.

By Wednesday, it was time to venture out into the fresh air. My daughter shot down my first few outdoorsy suggestions and asked me to read off a list of parks that we haven’t visited. I was a little surprised when she stopped me at Manassas National Battlefield Park and said “let’s go there.” Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against visiting battlefields. In fact, I rather enjoy them. They remind me of my college years in Gettysburg, and I’ve always been fascinated by the combination of picturesque scenery and history. I even spent a few hours by myself in Antietam last summer. I was just surprised that it was my nine-year-old’s first choice, although it may have had something to do with the approaching lunch hour and the park’s close proximity to our house. In any case, off to Manassas we went.

Manassas National Battlefield Park is maintained by the National Park Service, though unlike the locations I mentioned in my previous NPS post, admission is free there. Spanning more than seven square miles – and containing approximately 40 miles of hiking trails – the park is the site of not one but two Civil War battles. Known as First and Second Manassas to the Confederacy and the First and Second Battles of Bull Run to the Union, each of the battles has its own dedicated trail full of expansive views and interpretive signs. We began at the Henry Hill Visitor’s Center, which is located in the First Manassas region of the park. I grabbed a map, got my stamp, and had a brief, socially distanced conversation with a ranger before we began exploring the surrounding area (after a picnic lunch, of course).

Like the Visitor’s Center, the hill surrounding it is named after the Henry family, who owned the local farmland. Their farmhouse was destroyed during the battle (also resulting in the only civilian fatality in First Manassas), but a replica stands in its place.

Beside it is a monument built by Union veterans to honor those lost in the battle, which is considered to be one of the oldest still-standing Civil War monuments.

My daughter enjoyed peaking in and around the house, but for her the big draw of this area was the cannons. So. Many. Cannons. Interpretive signs explained their significance in the artillery lines during the battle, but she was more interested in running back and forth between them and examining them closely. It was a particularly fun surprise to find a bird’s nest and some feathers inside of one of them! The views from the cannon lines are not to be missed, as wide fields roll towards distant tree lines and hazy blue mountains. One of the things that always awes me about places like this is the juxtaposition of historical destruction and enduring natural beauty – it makes a visit that much more moving.

We could have easily stayed in this region of the park and hiked a portion of the 5.4 mile Manassas Loop Trail, but I was in the market for a shorter loop. The ranger recommended the Deep Cut Loop Trail, which is only 1.2 miles long and a short drive away from the Visitor Center, so we decided to check it out.

Located in the Second Manassas region of the park, Deep Cut has a slightly more primitive and unkempt appearance than the neatly manicured lawns of Henry Hill. Tall grasses and wild berries line both sides of the dirt trail, which winds up and around a hilly field before heading back down towards the parking lot.

It turned out to be a lot muddier than I expected, and I regretted not changing from our sneakers into our hiking boots before leaving the car. Still, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Early on, I stopped to read an interpretive sign and my daughter asked “So, what was this war about, anyway?” I built on the prior knowledge she had acquired during our visit to Harriet Tubman National Historic Park a while back in order to explain the significance of the fighting, and we also talked about about the definitions of civil war and secession. Once she tired of the topic, she busied herself by playing with my Nikon, which she insisted on carrying along with her (I usually take hiking photos with my phone, since I’m too lazy to lug around the big camera).

Guess who wound up carrying the camera for the last leg of the hike?

Here are a couple of her shots:

Not bad, right? In any case, the three hours we spent in Manassas National Battlefield Park turned out to be a fun and unexpected departure from our more typical hiking destinations. There is so much more to see and do there, but our chosen stops and time allotment worked perfectly for us. I’m glad we got to squeeze in one more park before the holiday!

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