When you live in Northern Virginia, only miles from Washington D.C., you are somewhat aware of the history all around you, yet it is a distant feeling, drowned out by suburban sprawl and ubiquitous strip malls. Today, it is difficult to form a picture of what happened in this countryside 150 years ago during the Civil War. Over half the Civil War battles were fought in the state of Virginia.
Appropriately, the first major battle of the Civil was at Manassas in Northern Virginia. The First Battle of Manassas/Bull Run on July 21, 1861, dashed hopes on both sides of the fight that war would be a quick affair. The rest, as they say, is history, and I will leave it to historians to tell that story.
For me, the 150th anniversary of this important battle was an opportunity to imagine what it may have been like. With my cameras in hand, I could share the experience with others through my pictures. Cameras of course have a great way of opening doors and allowing one to see what others do not. With the aid of my daughter’s teacher, Mark Stevens, who is not only from Manassas but is also a Civil War reenactor, I was graciously invited into the Confederate camp to spend a few days soaking in the sights and experiences of the reenactor. No, I did not put on the wool uniform and nor did I sleep in a tent. I did, however, get a good glimpse of the passion and dedication these reenactors take into an event. By the time they were ready for battle, I was already overwhelmed by what I had seen in the Confederate and Union camps. Talk about a feast for the eyes of a history buff.
I must preface all this by pointing out that while the reenactment was taking place, Northern Virginia and the entire Washington D.C. area was suffering record high temperatures, over 100-degrees. That’s hot, really, really hot. And did I mention humid? Now close your eyes, picture the heat, and then reach for your woolen soldier’s uniform….. Union or confederate, gray or blue, either will do. Hot yet? Now put on all your accessories for battle, fill your canteens, pick up your musket and……well….you get the idea. Yes, you are sweating profusely before you have even started marching toward the battlefield. Back in 1861, temperatures were only in the low 80’s.
Due to the heat, event planners decided to scale back the day’s battle, but reenactors still performed for a half day under the blazing hot sun. Never having seen a reenactment before, I was unsure what to expect. As the battle began, I was not remotely disappointed. Awe is more the word. The choreography of man, horse and artillery in simulated battle was a sight to behold.