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