• Tom Mills

Hallowed ground

Took advantage of the beautiful weather to close out the Labor Day weekend with a brief late afternoon photographic expedition to the Manassas National Battlefield Park. The park preserves the sites of two major American Civil War battles, the first and second battles of Bull Run and according to the National Park Service website, the park still retains much of is wartime character.


Aside from compulsory study of the American Civil War in history classes and reading books like Team of Rivals and Killer Angels, I never really delved into details about the various battles of the Civil War or even seriously contemplated the significance of the outcome. I suppose a lot of that is because I've always taken a unified country for granted, especially growing up overseas where "USA" was viewed as a single entity, not a collection of independent states with different regional cultures and attitudes. I grew up in Japan and the Philippines and also served a majority of my time in the navy in Hawaii, so the Pacific theater of World War II was just more real; not only did I read about things like the Bataan Death March and Pearl Harbor, I was able to physically see where things happened.


We started the brief excursion at the Henry Hill Visitor Center, taking a quick hike to the Henry House and Henry Hill Monument.

Henry House and Henry Hill Monument, Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya-Sekor 45mm f/2.8, Kodak Ektar 100

Turns out our short jaunt covered most of the historically significant "areas" of the first battle of Bull Run. On July 21, 1861, Union and Confederate troops engaged in the first major battle since war was declared between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. The Union armies were hopeful that their first invasion into Virginia would end the war but in the end, the results were no where near what was expected.

Another view of Henry House with cannon, Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya-Sekor 45mm f/2.8, Kodak Ektar 100

What amazed me the most were the historical accounts of "well dressed socialites and spectators, armed with refreshments" going to Manassas to "watch the battle". The whole idea of war as a spectator sport is a bit abhorrent to me...


Walking around, I could only imagine what it was like for the inexperienced soldiers on both sides; July 21st was described as "bright and beautiful, under a strikingly blue sky", probably much like what we saw on our brief visit. Here's another view of the Henry House from the Visitor's center, couldn't help but imagine that it might have been very similar to what soldiers saw on that fateful day in July 1861...

A view from the Visitor Center, Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya-Sekor 45mm f/2.8, Kodak Ektar 100

After a brief hike around the Henry House Hill and a stroll through the visitor center to get a copy of the park map, we headed to the Stone House, below Henry House Hill. Stone House is a historical building that served as a hospital during the first and second battles of Bull Run. Based on a detailed description of the first battle of Bull Run, Stone House seemed to be the central point between the clashing armies.

Stone House, Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya-Sekor 45mm f/2.8, Lomography Color Negative 400

I only brought two backs with me, both had some shots already exposed. I had a back loaded with Kodak Ektar 100 and a back loaded with the Lomography Color Negative 400. I was much more impressed with the way the Ektar 100 came out over the Lomography Color Negative 400, colors just seemed to render much better.

View up Buck Hill from Stone House, Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya-Sekor 45mm f/2.8, Lomography Color Negative 400

We climbed to the top of Buck Hill, where we had a clear view of Matthew's Hill, where the Union attacks were able to force the Confederate forces to retreat to Henry House Hill.

View of Matthew's Hill, Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya-Sekor 45mm f/2.8, Lomography Color Negative 400

By the end of the day, the Union advance failed and the troops became a mob and retreated. As the Union troops withdrew, wounded soldiers left in the makeshift hospital at Stone House were taken prisoner. About 4,900 people lost their lives that day; 620,000 would ultimately lose their lives in the 10,000 or so battles fought in the ensuing four years. I've lived in the DC metropolitan area for well over a decade and had never made it out to the park and I wished I had visited earlier... hallowed ground indeed.

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