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Civil War Anniversary Is Manassas Battlefield's Time To Shine

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Park staff prepare the stage where Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will address dignitaries during Thursday's commemorative ceremony at the Manassas battlefield.
Jonathan Wilson
Park staff prepare the stage where Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will address dignitaries during Thursday's commemorative ceremony at the Manassas battlefield.

Brothers Kai and Beckett Takata-Thiel, 7 and 5 years old, respectively, have climbed atop one of the cannons at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

"Okay, here we go! Fire!" Beckett cries.

The boys are visiting from Boise, Idaho, for a family reunion.

Their uncle, Chase Thiel, who's from Oklahoma, says he's actually discovering the battlefield for the first time himself.

"To tell you the truth, we didn't even know until today that Manassas had a battlefield," he says.

Park superintendent Ed Clark doesn't know why Manassas doesn't have the same name recognition as sites such as Gettysburg or even Appomattox.

But he's pretty confident things will change over the next four years as the country remembers the war that tore the nation apart.

Though the number of casualties in the First Battle of Manassas -- less than 5,000 total -- pale in comparison to later battles, the toll of the war's first true battle shocked Americans on both sides of the conflict.

"What happened here really reverberated, and really showed both sides that this was not going to be a quick and relatively bloodless war," Clark explains.

Over the course of the four day commemoration, which starts Thursday, visitors will see thousands of reenactors portraying both Union and Confederate soldiers and families.

Inside the visitors center, several items never before seen by the public are now on display, including a flag carried into the battle 150 years ago.

Kai and Beckett's parents say they'll be back at the battlefield for another dose of history this weekend. Creating these new -- albeit young -- history buffs could be this weekend's most important legacy, Clark points out.

"Just as the centennial events in the 1960s engaged a new generation of historians, the sesquicentennial will engage future historians, and will spark interest that will last their life," he says.

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