Remember that record-breaking heat wave a month or so ago? Remember the intense temperatures combined with sweltering humidity that had city officials issuing heat advisories and telling people to stay inside? Remember that day where Northern Virginia was the hottest place in the entire country? Remember how sane people did everything they could to find air conditioning wherever they could?
Well I’m not sane. That weekend, I and about 30,000 other people spent those days outside, wandering Old Town Manassas, soaking up the sun and history. I was one of many volunteers for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, also known as the Sesquicentennial. It was 4 days of reenactments, exhibits, tours, lectures, and music all centered around life during the war. For those of you who are history buffs, you can understand why one would be excited about this; for those who aren’t I’m going to try to explain. Hopefully this won’t sound like a history report.
The best thing about history events like this is it’s so much more than just another history lesson. Rather than just reading about what happened, you get the opportunity to experience how it was – it’s history come to life! You can see how people slept, ate, dressed, played, and worked in the 1800s. More than that, you can learn how they handled the crisis that came their way; how they faced the adversity and challenges of war literally in their backyard; and how they sacrificed family, friends, and home to fight for what they believed.
There were military camps artillery demonstrations, dance lessons, musical interludes, and hundreds of reenactors spread throughout the Historic Manassas area, but it would take a long time to tell you about everything, so I’ll tell you about my three favorite events.
Coming in at number three was the Confederate Cemetery. I’ll admit a slight bias for this one because this is where I was volunteering for two of the four days. I asked to volunteer there because I’ve long had an affinity for old cemeteries. I love the stories literally buried in the grounds (plus they’re just kind of cool-looking). Our cemetery has many Southern Cross of Honor winners (the Confederate equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor) and a memorial to the Confederate soldiers killed during the war, as well as a Union soldier who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. If you want to know some stories, feel free to ask me – I had to memorize a lot of them.
The runner-up was Liberia Plantation. Living in Manassas all my life, I’ve heard about it many times, but it’s rarely open to the public. For the Sesquicentennial, it opened its beautiful doors and let us look around a bit – it’s a gorgeous house and if you get the chance to visit, I recommend it. A highlight of Liberia Plantation was a reenactment of Rose Greenhow, a female spy during the Civil War. She spoke of how she passed secrets that were pivotal to the Confederates’ success in the 1st Battle of Manassas, as well as what life was like after she was captured. And she never went out of character, despite many people trying to trip her up with their questions
And now for my favorite event of the weekend! The reenactment of the 1st Battle of Manassas was amazing. Several hundred reenactors fighting exactly as their 1800s counterparts did. There was gunfire, cannons booming, horses running, rebel yells… it was intense. And those poor men (and women – they painted on mustaches and beards) in all that wool clothing, running around in the heat! The battle was the highlight of the weekend for me.
These videos give you an idea of what the reenactment was like, but it was a lot louder in person. (For instance, the little popping noises are actually gunfire.)
So why is this important? Maybe it’s not, but it was a major event in our little hometown, and I was honored to be a part of it. I used to think history was boring, but then I had a teacher who made it real for me; she made it “come alive.” Too bad she didn’t bring one of those cannons into the classroom!