The Civil War world is naturally focused on Manassas this week, as we move closer to the 150th Anniversary of the first major land battle of America's fratricidal conflict. Thursday, July 21, 2011, will mark 150 years since this terrible fight.
Even though I am now just thirty-two years old, I do remember distinctly the commemoration of the war's 125th Anniversary, back in the late '80s. The Civil War had captured my interest from an early age--since as long as I can remember--and my parents would do everything to help foster this interest. I remember every two months getting a new volume of TimeLife's Civil War series (those large hardbound, silver books, which still occupy an entire shelf in my office) and I remember how every Christmas from 1986-1990 I would unwrap the Classic Images collection of Civil War battle reenactments, produced for the 125th. And I well remember all the visits to National Battlefield Parks, listening to various ranger programs, and thinking how much I would love to one day do that. . .to work as a ranger at a Civil War park.
Well, that dream came true in May 2006. And as I have said many, many times before, there are few days that have gone by over the past five years that I did not think about how lucky I am to work at Antietam, alongside some of the best rangers the Park Service has to offer, interpretating one of the most significant battles in American history. It is truly an honor to wear that gray and green of the Park Service everyday. Over the years, though, I have also had some "can't wait to tell the grand-kids" kind of moments, such as delivering special hikes and tours on Anniversary weekends, working the 2009 Presidential Inauguration and the 2009 White House Christmas Tree Ligthing Ceremony. . .all very neat experiences.
But this week, I will have the great, great honor of working at Manassas Battlefield during the Sesquicentennial commemoration, something that is still difficult for me to believe.
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On Thursday, July 21 and Friday, July 22, I, along with several of my colleagues from Antietam, will be roving the battlefields of Manassas, providing interpretation on this important battle. Keith Snyder, in charge of the interpretation for the event, assigned me and my friend/colleague Mannie Gentile to Henry House Hill. The forecast for Thursday and Friday places the temperatures in the high 90's; we might even get to 100 degrees! And working ten-hour shifts in the heat will be sure to catch up with us (as Mannie said, it would be the exact opposite of the Inauguration, when we stood out for twelve hours in 10 degree weather!) Still, I can think of no other place I would rather be than right there, in the uniform of the Park Service, on Henry House Hill on the 150th Anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas.
Today is crunch time in preparation for the event. . .Already I am reading up on as much of the battle story as possible. . .books, articles, websites, Bullrunnings, etc. It is also packing day (I cannot forget the sunblock and sunglasses. . .the coolers and the bottles of water). And, yes, it is also laundry day. Because of the expected heat, I plan on taking no less than four uniforms! Then, tomorrow is travel day, leaving here early in the afternoon. . .heading south to Boonsboro, where I will pick up Mannie, and then further south on 15, through Leesburg, past Oatlands, and finally to the Manassas Visitor Center for a 6:00p.m. briefing. Hotel check-in will follow. . .but I have a feeling Mannie and I will be out on the battlefields until dusk. But we will not be out too late: we must then report for duty at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday morning for what promises to be a couple of long, hot, but thoroughly memorable and unforgettable days.
And, yes, I already have the camera packed. . . with a new battery and blank SD card.