Destination Profile: Manassas, VA

This year marked the 145th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run, originally fought at Manassas, VA. On July 21-23, thousands converged to participate in or to witness its reenactment, an event that takes place every five years.

“This year, we had 7,000 foot soldiers, 76 artillery guns, and 70 sutlers [vendors in costume],” says Suzanne Chilson, executive director of the VA-based Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, which organized the event. “The spectators ranged from 10,000 to 16,000 over the two-day event.”

Spectators buy tickets to view reenactments but do not, as a rule, join the fun. Chilson provides group sales and prints a program for spectators, but does not allow participation, citing liability and the fact that “this is a serious hobby. Reenactors organize themselves into units, drill, and have paid to equip themselves.” The price can be steep; according to Hooper, “The cost to outfit a soldier is $1,200 to $1,500—that’s uniform, rifle, and everything.”

Since reenactments are, essentially, special events, meeting groups are generally welcomed at the venues—when a full-scale battle is not taking place. Private foundations like Pamplin Park has purpose-built space for meetings, as do state and national parks; these can all provide docents to educate/entertainment meetings that are held near their battlegrounds.

It could prove to be popular program. The desire to recreate history is expanding, according to Ed Hooper, editor-in-chief of the Camp Chase Gazette (which is the leading publication for the “living history” movement), up to 50 Civil War battle reenactments occur each year: “The American Civil War took place in 34 states, but now all 50 states, and Australia and England, hold Civil War reenactments." Hooper numbers Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana (specifically, New Orleans) among the most active states for reenactments. “Florida and South Carolina have a bunch,” Hooper adds, “and Virginia, of course, is one of the biggest.”