4/23/2016 Battlefield Tour Recap Part I

27 04 2016

The Bull Runnings Battlefield Tour with guide John Hennessy, held this past Saturday, was, I think, a success. Officially we had 62 attendees who signed in, and suspect we had a few who chose to not sign in. In addition, a few folks dropped out during the day, and I think we even picked up one or two others along the way. I’ll break the tour into two posts, then follow up with some conclusions and requests for input from attendees.

Tour Synopsis – Morning

We met at the picnic area off Groveton Road at 9:00 am. The pavilion came in handy as it was raining pretty steadily – this kept up all morning. After introductions and a review of the itinerary, we set off.


Assembling at the Picnic Grove

We consolidated into fewer cars (we had left a few at the Visitor’s Center), and headed for our first stop at Sudley Church. From there, we hiked the original Sudley Road trace to Sudley Springs Ford on Catharpin Run, where John set the stage, discussed the crossing of McDowell’s army, and dispelled the notion that anyone was going to services at Sudley Church on the morning of July 21, 1861.


Sudley Church


Sudley Springs Ford

Next we moved south to the Thornberry House, where many things were discussed, including the photos of March 1862, the Thornberry children, and Sullivan Ballou and his death, burial, and desecration. For the record, yes, I do believe his letter was real, even though the original’s whereabouts are unknown.


Thornberry House

From there, John showed us the site of the graves of twelve Union soldiers, and also the site of the post-war home of the Benson’s of Sudley Church. See here for some disturbing inconsistencies in the wartime event.


Union burial sites (no, I’m not giving out GPS coordinates)

Then it was back to the cars (we managed two crossings of Sudley Road without an incident, no small feat) and south to the Matthews Hill parking lot. There we received water and snacks from Debra Kathman and the good people at the Manassas Battlefield Trust, and made our way to Reynolds’s Rhode Island Battery, where John described the opening of the battle by Burnside’s Brigade and Evans’s men. Craig Swain laid some artillery jargon on us, discussing the range of various pieces North and South.


Reynolds’s Rhode Island Battery

Next we marched south on Matthews Hill to Buck Hill, above the Stone House, and discussed what McDowell’s vision of victory may have been, the afternoon “lull,” and “the plan.” As it happens, John and I agree on what McDowell’s expectations were regarding what he could expect from the enemy in terms of numbers. We also agree on what McDowell planned and, most important, where those plans ended. We may differ a bit regarding the psychology, if you will, behind those plans, but we’re much closer than we are far apart. The plans pretty much end with the establishment of McDowell’s line along the Warrenton Turnpike, and across the Stone Bridge. After that, the next move depended on how the rebels would react.


Panorama from Buck Hill

Down in the Stone House’s back yard (the Stone House was owned by a family named Matthews, which was a different family from that which occupied the Matthews House on Matthews Hill), John described what was taking place in what has been traditionally called a  relatively quiet “no man’s land.” That is to say, it was far from quiet. Sorry, for some reason I took no photos there. But John Cummings got this shot, spoiled only by my presence in it.


Stone House Yard (John Cummings)

From there we crossed the Warrenton Pike (today’s Lee Highway) and proceeded up Henry Hill.


Up Henry Hill!

We stopped to recount the movements of Imboden’s Staunton Artillery (while it didn’t happen here, with the help of artillery buff Jim Rosebrock we determined that Imboden was most likely serving as the number four man on the piece when he crouched too near a gun he was working and went deaf in his left ear when it fired).


Imboden’s Position

Our last stops before breaking for lunch was at the “boggy area” just off the paved Visitior’s Center parking lot, which has been traditionally described as the site where several post battle photos of Union graves were recorded (I perpetuated the legend here). John Cummings teased us about the proof he has assembled that the photos were not recorded here, nor were they recorded at the spot other photo buffs have identified. He promises more in the future. The most compelling evidence was presented by John Hennessy, who informed us that prior to the mid-1980s, the site was not damp at all – it became that way after changes were made to the topography.


Site Where Famous Photos Were Not Taken

OK, I’ll end this part where we took our lunch break. Highlights of that included shuttling drivers back to Matthews Hill to fetch cars for the afternoon portion of the hike.

Part II

Part III



9 responses

27 04 2016
Meg Groeling

Worst post ever! Lousy images! Bunch of selfish Easterners . . . I WANTED TO BE THERE SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!! Glad it was great–and so glad for my Fire Zouaves that folks still care. Huzzah, Harry–and a Tiger!

Liked by 1 person

28 04 2016
Jim Rosebrock

Thanks again for putting this together Harry. What a terrific day. I really have a feel for the ground


28 04 2016

Excellent tour..Highly informative..Nothing beats walking the grounds with guides like Mr Hennesey who has not only worked there but republished his book with updated information making it cleared than ever. Amos Benson is sidelined as are the parishioners at Sudley Church on that fateful Sunday morning…though do have to say… they did add a certain touch of seasoning to the story. They will be missed.

Liked by 1 person

28 04 2016
Harry Smeltzer

There are holes in the story for sure, but I wouldn’t jettison the Bensons entirely. The post war account definitely happened – it’s well documented. But there are concerns raised with an earlier account, “presumably” based on Rice’s recollection. I’ve added a link to John’s article on this. For now, I’m not ready to completely abandon the Bensons. But there’s always the possibility that the two men embellished, or even completely fabricated the story to encourage subscriptions to the cause of the church. On the other hand, is it possible that Rice left Benson out of his 1862 recollection, in consideration of the fact that Benson was by March of that year serving in the 4th VA cavalry?

Liked by 1 person

28 04 2016
Debra Kathman

Thank you to Harry and John for the wonderful tour. I appreciated the invitation and the chance to introduce the participants to the Manassas Battlefield Trust. Looking forward to putting together some tours like this in the future for our members….so hope your readers will consider joining the Trust: http://manassasbattlefield.org/donate/. Special thank you to the new memberships I revived this week from the tour group!

Liked by 1 person

29 04 2016
Stephen Keating

Clearly more study is needed for the “Site Where Famous Photos Were Not Taken”. Harry, the tour was great and you and John are to be commended. I have been to the battlefield numerous times, but have never gotten a complete tour like that. Many thanks

Stephen Keating

Liked by 2 people

29 04 2016
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks for coming, Stephen!


2 05 2016
4 05 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: