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We Should Know Our History: The War Between the States

Manassas National Battlefield ParkThese days our country is divided politically, pretty much 50/50 and friends and family with opposing viewpoints cannot seem to have a civil discussion without breaking down into name-calling. I keep hearing people say “it’s never been this bad” and “I’ve never seen our country so divided”.

In the context of our short U.S. history, nothing could be more divergent than the War Between the States, fought from 1861 – 1865.  Keeping it in perspective, the stunning loss of 622,000 lives was almost more than our losses in all other U.S. wars combined.  Based on population percentages, that’s equivalent to 6 million today. It was a war in which family members were often on both sides of the battle and I can see that clearly reflected in my own ancestry research.

Manassas National Battlefield ParkThe battlefields are now national parks, under the management of the National Park Service and while Gettysburg may be the most famous there are many others.  On this trip north, we stopped to visit Manassas National Battlefield Park. Up until this battle, the general population was treating the warlike performance art theater, riding in from cities with picnic baskets packed, to watch. The battle at Manassas ended that trend as the violent, bloody battle and death toll of young soldiers from both sides sent the observers into a fast retreat. The First Manassas Battle is more commonly known as the Battle of Bull Run and it is considered the first major battle of the war, fought in July 1861. A second battle was fought in the same area in August of 1862.

Manassas National Battlefield ParkToday the pastoral setting has been beautifully maintained and buildings restored. There is a nice Visitor’s Center with interesting exhibits and a well-done movie explaining the battle. Rangers lead informative tours and hikes. Located near Gainesville, VA, the park is bisected by US Highway 29.

Some might wonder who won this battle, but from my point of view, no one wins a fight with his brother.

Defining Boar’s Head

Charlottesville, Virginia is a beautiful town in a lovely part of the country. They’ve gotten some bad press lately due to divisive protests initiated by outside forces.  I hope the coverage doesn’t keep visitors away from this generally genteel community with its gently rolling hills and scattered horse farms. The area also has both feet firmly planted in the history of this country.

The Boar’s Head Inn is an interesting historic hotel, with a history dating back to the 1700s.  The exact location first served as a welcoming spot for travelers in 1759, as an inn named Terrell’s Ordinary. In the early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson convinced a friend to move to the area and purchase the land.  Through the 1900s the estate was known as “Birdwood” and was owned by Henry Fonda at one point in its storied past.  Today, the remaining 573 acres and facilities are owned by the University of Virginia Foundation. Read the rest of this entry