Prelude to First Manassas
During the Civil War, two railroads—the Manassas Gap and the Orange and Alexandria—intersected here. Manassas Junction was strategically important to both the Union and the Confederacy as a supply depot and for military transportation. Two of the war's great battles were fought nearby. Diaries, letters, and newspaper articles documented the war's effects on civilians as well as the thousands of soldiers who passed through the junction.
More than 34,000 Confederate soldiers camped on an near this spot during the first months of the Civil War in 1861. Thousands of young men joined local companies throughout the South to fight in what most believed would be a single decisive battle to defend their independence. Those who came here were treated as heroes en route. As the weeks and months crawled by at this once-quiet rural railroad junction, just 27 miles from Washington, the green recruits slowly adjusted to the reality of a soldier's daily camp life. They filled their letters home with accounts of discomfort and boredom as they eagerly awaited the glory of victory in the great battle still to come.
"About one hour before the brake of day you are interrupted by a loud beating of a base drum which they call revile. You then at once rise & on double quick time drag on your old dust wallowed coat [and start with] the speed of some wild flying fowl for the parade ground to answer your name at roll call. You then proceed to kindle you a fire, then apply your cooking utensils which are near nothing, iron mashed to geather [together]. You take from the pan some burnt biscuit without either salt, flour or water in them & from said kettle you take a little beef's neck boil[ed] without any water. You then seat your self with four or five of your filthy handed, snot nosed, frisele [frizzle-]headed mess mates. After this is finished about one third are detailed to guard the others & keep them all to wollern [wallowing] in one hole as if they were a parcel of hogs."
—Letter, Sgt Edmond Stephens to William W. Upshaw, 9th Louisiana Infantry, Nov. 22, 1861.