Manassas Battlefield Park has been struggling with traffic for a long time. The site of the First and Second Battles of Manassas, also known as the battles of Bull Run, it’s rich in Civil War history. The main reason two battles were fought there was that the Warrenton Turnpike, the main road from Virginia to Washington D.C., cut right through it.
That turnpike is now Lee Highway (Route 29) and is busier than ever. The roads are clogged with traffic through much of the day, and historic preservationists have fought any expansion of the two-lane highway because it would encroach on the park. They’ve also fought off a giant strip mall and a Disney theme park.
The traffic problem, however, is only getting worse, especially at its intersection with Sudley Road (Route 234). Traffic gets seriously backed up there, making it difficult for visitors to get around the park and passersby to continue to their destination.
Now Edwin C. Bearss, a Civil War historian and tour guide, has written an op-ed in the Washington Post with a controversial solution — expand the highways and build the proposed Bi-County Parkway, which would skirt the park. He says expanding the roads would be a small price to pay for easier access through the park, and would reduce the noise pollution caused by hundreds of idling cars waiting for the light at the intersection to change.
Other supporters of the park oppose any expansion of the roads through and around the battlefield. In such a busy region, however, history may end up taking a back seat to construction.
Like every other nation involved in World War I, Italy suffered terribly. It joined the war in 1915, throwing its lot in with the Allies against the Central Powers. Italy’s most immediate threat was its neighbor the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The border was mostly in the Alps and soldiers on both sides carved out ice caves from which to snipe at one another and used artillery to fire above each other’s positions in over to create avalanches. To this day, almost 100 years later, bodies of dead soldiers are being found frozen in the ice.
The most active part of the front was along the Isonzo river valley, the border between Italy and what is now Slovenia. For most of its length it cuts between steep mountains on either side.
I toured the Isonzo front with an organized bus tour from Gorizia. Without a car it’s the only way to quickly visit this long and rugged battlefield. Unfortunately, the pouring rain that had been plaguing northeast Italy and western Slovenia for the previous few days didn’t let up. In the higher latitudes it turned into a driving snow. This meant that except for a few glimpses of the terrain, the tour was pretty much a washout. At least we got an inkling of what it was like to have been stationed up here, and we did get to visit the excellent Kobarid Museum in Slovenia.
This is one of the best military history museums I’ve seen anywhere. While there are the usual flags and uniforms and weapons, the bulk of the exhibition is a vast collection of period photographs. These bring the visitor face to face with life on that terrible battlefield where half a million men lost their lives. Both armies are treated impartially and instead of glorification of the war there’s a frank, human look at the people involved.
%Slideshow-82%We get to see them at the front lines, perched high up on alpine peaks or hunkering down in trenches carved into snow and ice. A great amount of detail goes into how the vast armies were supplied, with displays on everything from cooking to handling horses. We also see the soldiers’ more relaxed moments, writing letters home or goofing around behind the lines.
There are some surprises too. One small display is dedicated to Ernest Hemingway, who was a Red Cross ambulance driver at the front and who fell in love with a nurse there. He used these experiences to write “A Farewell to Arms.”
The battles were mostly bloody stalemates, with the Italians making their only significant gains in the sixth battle when they took Gorizia. That was all undone in the 12th battle, better known as the Battle of Caporetto, when the Austro-Hungarians and their German allies shattered the Italian army. “Caporetto” has entered the Italian lexicon as a word signifying any horrible defeat, from a politician losing a landslide election to a football team getting spanked by their rivals.
The museum doesn’t shrink from the true face of war. In one grim display, we see photos of the dead lying unburied on the battlefield, and the grim portraits of some of the mutilated survivors. Some of these images are included at the end of the slideshow here, preceded by a warning. They are not easy to look at but I included them because I think it’s important for civilians to see what war really looks like.
Anyone with an interest in military history will want to see this museum. While visiting the remaining trenches and bunkers along the Isonzo front gives a feel for the terrain, a visit to the Kobarid Museum is essential for putting it all together and understanding the terrible waste of World War I.
On June 9, 1863, Union cavalry crossed the Rappahannock River and attacked the Confederate cavalry under the legendary general J.E.B. Stuart. A swirling battle of some 20,000 horsemen ensued and while the Union troops eventually retired, they had proven themselves. Before this, both sides saw the rebel cavalry as superior. The Battle of Brandy Station began to change that perception.
The Trust’s press release quotes historian Clark “Bud” Hall as saying that Fleetwood Hill is “without question the most fought over, camped upon and marched over real estate in the entire United States. This unpretentious little ridge has seen more military activity than any other piece of ground in American history.”
The Civil War Trust only needs to raise another $193,000 and they have matching funds from the American Battlefield Protection Program and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Donations can be made here. Considering the site’s historic importance, it’s certainly a better way to donate money than supporting someone’s Kickstarter vacation.
It was the bloodiest day of the Civil War. After 12 hours of ferocious fighting on September 17, 1862, an estimated 23,000 soldiers had been killed, wounded or declared missing. Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North was at an end.
The Battle of Antietam, in Maryland, proved to be a turning point in the war. Lincoln had been keeping his Emancipation Proclamation secret, waiting for a Union victory in order to make the controversial freeing of the slaves in rebellious states politically easier. This battle gave him that victory.
It also boosted confidence in the North. Union forces had suffered a series of embarrassing blunders and defeats. While the Union army’s success at Antietam wasn’t all it could have been (their forces outnumbered the rebels but were poorly handled by General McClellan) it showed that the war could be won.
On the weekend of September 15-17 Antietam National Battlefield Park is hosting a commemorative weekend of events for the 150th anniversary. Programs include battlefield hikes, lectures, special exhibits, kids activities, Civil War music and living history artillery and infantry firing demonstrations. For more information on General Lee’s ill-fated Maryland Campaign and commemoration events related to it, check out the National Park Service’s Maryland Campaign Commemoration page.
There’s also a large Battle of Antietam Reenactment on farmland a few miles away from the national park on September 14-16. This is a privately run event and preregistration is a must. Deadline is August 31.
A castle in Yorkshire will be the scene of a reenactment of one of England’s most important battles.
The Battle of Wakefield, fought on December 30, 1460, will be reenacted by the Frei Compagnie. Members of the group will not only be fighting it out medieval style, but will also be displaying medieval arts and crafts and talking about life in the 15th century.
Sandal Castle has an intriguing history. The first castle here was built in the early 12th century in the Norman motte-and-bailey style. An artificial hill had the main house on top, surrounded by a wooden palisade. A larger enclosure and other buildings on level ground were also surrounded by a palisade and the entire thing was further protected by an encircling ditch. These castles were quick, cheap, and easy to make and were one of the ways the new Norman rulers of England suppressed the rebellious Anglo-Saxons. Like many motte-and-bailey castles, the wooden walls of Sandal Castle were later replaced with stone.
The castle’s main claim to fame came during the War of the Roses, when Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, made a bid for the throne. He gathered a great deal of support and fought the armies of Queen Margaret and King Henry VI. In 1460 Richard was at Sandal Castle with an army of a few thousand men when his enemies showed up with a much larger force. Richard’s army was beaten and he was beheaded. The House of York continued to fight, but it was the beginning of the end.