At the Battle of Second Manassas, the arrogant Union Gen. John
Pope declared, "My headquarters are in the saddle." Upon hearing
this, and tired of Pope's boasting, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee
quipped, "He has his headquarters confused with his
MANASSAS, Va. -- A trip to Northern Virginia brings visitors
into an America that still bears the scars of the Civil War. In
Prince William County -- one of five counties considered part of
metropolitan Washington -- the war's impact was felt most strongly
in Manassas, the site of two battles.
Prince William can be toured as a side trip from Washington or
taken on its own. Either way, although there are many attractions
in the county, the Manassas battlefields are the main event. And
although many tourists will have no desire to visit a battlefield,
it's one of those things that everyone should do at least once --
it's almost a civic duty.
More than 130 years later, the War Between the States continues
to have a considerable influence on the people and culture of
Northern Virginia -- from the battlefields and headstones that
serve as constant reminders of the war, to the many tourists who
come by bus and by car to learn about the conflict. Many streets,
restaurants and hotels are named after famous generals. In Prince
William County, the name of Robert Edward Lee is still spoken with
The battlefields of Manassas, like many Civil War parks, now are
peaceful, rolling fields dotted with occasional cannons and
On the main battlefield, Henry Hill, there are a large statue of
Stonewall Jackson and a few small monuments. The tree line from
which Jackson and his men emerged to join the battle is still
To mark the anniversaries of the battles, Civil War weekends are
held every year (roughly the third weekend in July and last weekend
in August). There are guided walking tours and special lectures
throughout the weekends.
Civil War reenactments can be a treat. Reenactors dressed in
blue and gray (often other colors as well) march, shoot, camp and
eagerly share information with tourists.
The reenactors have a passion for what they do and are
knowledgeable about what they're reenacting, from the exact type of
ammunition used to the subtle strategies of the battle. They even
assume the identities of real Civil War soldiers. The result is a
valuable lesson, a living history book.
The visitor center at Manassas presents a 13-minute slide show.
The small museum inside is currently under renovation.
Town of Manassas
Beyond the battlefield, Manassas is a historic town as well.
There are walking and driving tours of the Old Town that show
visitors buildings, sites and homes that figured in the Civil War
and area history.
The Manassas Museum is a modern building displaying Civil War
weapons and uniforms, tools, Victorian dress and other historic
For a park of a different kind, there is the 17,000-acre Prince
William National Park, the largest national park in the Washington
area (Prince William counts 50 city, state and federal parks). Only
32 miles south of Washington, it's an antidote to the crowds of the
capital, with camping sites and 37 miles of hiking trails.
The hiking paths there were traveled by no less than George
Washington. Naturalists may see deer, wild turkey and the rare
beaver, plus many bird species.
There is a visitor center with information and exhibits. Group
tours are available.
Leesylvania State Park, off the Potomac River, is 508 acres,
with six miles of hiking trails. Robert E. Lee's father, "Light
Horse Harry" Lee, grew up here when the property was owned by the
Lee family. The park, open daily year-round, contains the remains
of a Civil War Confederate artillery battery. There also are
boating and bird-watching; picnicking is an option for lunch.
A river cruise on the Potomac to Occoquan Bay brings visitors to
the small town of Occoquan, listed on the National Register of
Historic Places. Although it may best be known for the people who
used to live there -- supposedly ghosts at every turn -- it's a
nice place to visit for the living.
Dozens of homes and buildings are said to be haunted, with
colorful stories behind each. For one, there's a ghost who
reportedly rips down wind chimes: The noise disturbs him.
For a guided Ghost Tour of Occoquan or for group tours of the
town, contact the Occoquan Merchants Association. There is also a
Prince William County information center in the town.
The remains of an 18th century gristmill houses the small Mill
House Museum containing exhibits on the town's history.
Many historic homes and buildings can be viewed. The small-town
charm is evident in antiques shops, crafts stores and other
Shopping is on a busier scale at the Potomac Mills Value Outlet,
30 minutes south of Washington. Stores include Ikea, Nordstrom Rack
and the Off 5th/Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet. There are 23
For serious fun, the place to go is the clean and well-organized
Splash Down Water Park, featuring 11 acres of water slides, lap
pools, diving boards and tennis and volleyball courts. In short,
this is a place you wish existed when you were a kid. The park can
be chartered for group events year round.
The normal operating season is Memorial Day to Labor Day. Some
activities are limited to kids over 48 inches tall. It's about 30
minutes, traffic permitting, south of Washington. Group rates are
Contact informationPrince William/Manassas Conference & Visitors Bureau, 14420
Bristow Road., Manassas, Va. 20112; (800) 432-1792; (703) 792-6680;
www.visitpwc.com.Prince William County Tourist Information Center, 200 Mill St.,
Occoquan, Va. 22125; (703) 491-4045.Prince William Forest Park, Box 209, Triangle, Va. 22172, (703)
221-7181.Splash Down Water Park, 7500 Ben Lomond Park Drive, Manassas,
Va. 20109; (703) 361-4451.Harbor River Cruises, P.O. Box 724, Occoquan, Va. 22125; (703)
385-9433.The Occoquan Merchants Association, (703) 491-1736.Manassas National Battlefield Park, (703) 361-1339.