By Val Merlina, ’14
Individuals from around the world travel to the region punctuated by suburban sprawl nestled between Dulles Airport and Washington, D.C. They weave their way through the abundant traffic to reach a piece of ground that somehow managed to remain preserved. While some seek knowledge, or a way to entertain their children for the afternoon, others come merely to stand in the places where great armies and famous commanders stood 152 years ago. This is the essence of Manassas National Battlefield Park.
With a small, capable, and close-knit staff, Manassas plays host to historic structures, cemeteries and monuments, offering guided walking tours and visitor information to those who seek it. My role at Manassas follows the needs of the park: the main duties of an intern here include working at the visitor information desk, leading walking tours on Henry Hill, and operating the historic Stone House building.
Interpretation at Manassas is unlike many other Civil War sites. Along with the typical discussions of armies, commanders, civilians, and the aftermath, this site has not just one, but two battles to interpret, ones that occurred only thirteen months apart. Not to mention the fact that the battles have different names depending upon the visitor’s preference. It is not uncommon to have guests wondering whether or not Bull Run and Manassas refer to the same engagement, solely on the geographical viewpoint from which they received their initial Civil War education.
As an intern, I spend a lot of time researching the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas and giving the walking tour of the Henry Hill. Henry Hill is the best spot to interpret the first battle because of the commanding view from atop the hill. From there, both Union and Confederate infantry positions, as well as the corresponding artillery positions are visible. Also pertinent is the presence of the reconstructed Henry House, which stands near to where the foundation of the original structure stood. The original house witnessed the mortal wounding of 85 year old widow, Mrs. Judith C. Henry. Her death marked not only the first known civilian casualty of the war, but it is also symbolic of a national ‘loss of innocence’ that began with the bloodshed at Bull Run.
On the Henry Hill stands the iconic Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson monument. The larger-than-life depiction of Jackson leaves visitors in awe and many a Jackson-admirer speechless. Though it isn’t just the Jackson monument, which stands watchingly in rain or shine – well, like a “stonewall” – that warrants attention from visitors, but also the sturdy Stone House just at the base of the hill.
The Stone House is one of my favorite locations in the park. Duty there is a chance to provide some informal interpretation. Though visitation there can sometimes be low, to have the chance to work in the historic structure is well worth it. The building itself is original and refurnished to its former use as a tavern along the Warrenton Turnpike (modern Route 29) where it was a wagoners’ stop. During the war, though, the nature of the tavern changed dramatically. Located between the firing lines for both battles, the Stone House found new use as an aid station. Wounded soldiers received some basic care there and then either returned to their regiments or were paroled.
When I open the Stone House in the morning, raise the red aid station flag from a second story window, it isn’t the story of the tavern I’m yearning to pass along. It is the story of two men from the 5th New York regiment (Duryee’s Zouaves). The 5th NY, donning bright red bottoms, white gator leg wrappings, a blue coat, and a red fez-like cap, was distinctive on the battlefield. They soon became known as effective soldiers, and were self-proclaimed “red legged devils.”
Their bright uniform design worked also to make them targets to enemy marksmen, especially here during the Second Battle of Bull Run. Both Eugene P. Geer, 17, and Charles Brehm, 21, were wounded during the fighting. They were taken to the Stone House to recover and to be paroled. What is remarkable about their story, however, was that both of these soldiers also left something behind for us to remember them by – their names. Geer and Brehm both carved their names into the wood of a small upstairs bedroom that had been used to house the wounded and dying. The tangibility of these engravings allows for a connection to be drawn not only to Civil War history, but to two specific men, whose names we can read plainly in the wood. How their stories end, however, I will leave for you to find out during your own visit to Manassas.
It is a great honor to have the opportunity to work at a site like Manassas. The rich history of the region, the interest in the American Civil War, and the absolutely stunning natural landscape truly draws me to this place. There is a certain charm to the park itself, being an oasis in the center of development. The forests, clear of undergrowth, and vividly colored after a rain, add yet another element of contentedness to temporarily calling this place home for the summer. The battlefield and its preserved lands especially are a treasure of northern Virginia. I am honored to have the chance to help to advance the great name of this park, and the National Park Service through this internship. It is with pride that I relay the name of Gettysburg College, and the opportunities cultivated through the Civil War Institute and its staff. What’s more, it is humbling to be included for a second summer in the Brian C. Pohanka Fellowship, where a dedication to educating the American public has blossomed into a truly wonderful experience.
By Bryan Caswell, ’15
Three weeks of training. Just the thought of what awaited me in my first days as an intern at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park made me want to groan. Yes, yes, I realized that we all needed to be introduced to the National Park Service and walked through the policies of the park, working the information desk, assisting visitors, and other administrative trivialities. But could that not be accomplished in a few days? When would we get to what I was really interested in, what I couldn’t wait to do and what (I thought) I didn’t need any preparation for? When would I start giving walking tours?
Now, as I sit in my quarters almost two weeks later after another day of training with our supervisor Greg Mertz, I have come to realize how much preparation my fellow interns and I truly needed. Ask me before I came to Fredericksburg what made a good walking tour, and I would confidently reply that such a tour consisted of the relation of the events of a particular battle in a knowledgeable and engaging manner. This of course is part of a walking tour, but only a part. As we began our training in interpretation and putting together our own walking tours, I began to glimpse parallels between what Greg was leading us through and my Historical Methods class in the autumn of 2012. I was once told in that class that it is the duty, not the goal, of an historian to be accurate in his or her use of historical facts; true history lies with the analysis of those facts and conclusions drawn therefrom. It became increasingly clearer to me in our sessions with Greg that the same rings true with battlefield tours. The relation of the facts and events of a battle is not the ultimate objective of interpretation; it is but a springboard for the interpreter to provoke the visitor to greater thoughts about what they have seen and to reach higher revelations of their own with information they have been given. Yet one question remained unanswered: how?
Enter the concept of a theme. I had previously thought that the theme of a tour, if it could be called a theme, was simply the battle that formed its subject matter. Oh, for the ignorance of the uninitiated. In the parlance of interpretation, a theme is deceptively simple. It is the guiding thread of your narrative, the idea that ties a tour together. The trick is thinking of a good theme, one that both fits with the guide’s obligation to relate the events of the battle and can be supported well-enough to affect the thoughts and view-points of visitors. In order to improve our understanding of the concept, Greg had us each take a balloon, inviting us to think of it as our theme. Un-inflated, the “theme” was unimpressive and limp. Yet as we began to add air, or the concrete elements of the battlefield tour, our themes grew more impressive with their support. The clouds of my frustration lifted and the sky cleared: when I saw the word theme, I now read a word infinitely more familiar: thesis! Armed with this new understanding, my walking tours seemed to very nearly write themselves as I worked like I was simply writing another paper, albeit one grounded in landmarks and geography. Now all that remains is to practice my tours as I walk the ground I will give them on, and with June 8th and the opening of the summer season, I will finally begin to fulfill my purpose in coming to Fredericksburg: at long last, I will begin to give walking tours.
by Heather Clancy, ’15
As the Pohanka summer intern at the Andersonville National Historic Site I had the immense honor of taking part in Memorial Day at the Andersonville National Cemetery. Let me just tell you, there’s just something about 20,000 U.S. flags rustling in the breeze. The cemetery was ablaze with red, white, and blue this past weekend, both on flags and on visitors’ clothing, as our way of paying homage to our fallen troops. The cemetery was at its most jubilant and colorful as hundreds of citizens celebrated this holiday at the stone rostrum among green grass and blue skies. On Memorial Day weekend, the national cemetery becomes Andersonville’s crown jewel, but in addition to the cemetery, the five hundred acres that make-up the park also includes the ground upon which Camp Sumter Military Prison operated during the Civil War.
For those of you uninitiated to the horrors of Andersonville, this means that the land on which I now live and work was from February 1864 to May 1865 a landscape of overcrowding, disease, starvation, and, ultimately for 12,920 Union soldiers, death. Standing in the national cemetery for the park’s Memorial Day service this past Sunday, surrounded by flapping flags and patriotic music and smiling faces, it was easy for me to forget all this, if only for a moment. During Monday’s flag straightening and Tuesday’s flag pick-up, though, I paused. While passing each headstone and each name, each one representing one of 20,000 men buried here who have served in wars spanning four centuries, I remembered.
The purpose of this little anecdote is to highlight for you the dualities and dichotomies that make Andersonville so unique, for the story that the National Park Service tells here—the one that I, too, will now struggle to tell—is a complicated one. Really, it would be more accurate to say that we tell multiple stories here. Andersonville is a place where ideas of race, nationhood, freedom, suffering, loyalty, politics, memory, and patriotism are irrevocably intertwined, complicating an already complicated tale of suffering and enriching the way in which many visitors learn about and understand this nation’s civil war.
In the organized chaos of Memorial Day planning, my role at the park has primarily been that of basic interaction with the visitor. Don’t let my use of the word “basic” mislead you, though; my interactions with park visitors over the past two weeks have been surprisingly varied, unique, and meaningful. There was the biker in the cemetery on Memorial Day who spotted “Tennessee” on a Civil War headstone and assumed that the man buried thereunder was a “good Confederate boy.” He was quite taken aback when I explained that all Civil War burials in the National Cemetery are Union men, save one Confederate whose later re-interment here probably would have made him livid if he had known about it. There was also the Vietnam veteran who entered the National POW Museum for only a few minutes before reemerging in tears, admitting to me that it was all too much for him. I confessed to him that sometimes it’s too much for us, too. And there were the parents who had only the day before picked their son up at the airport as he returned from a tour in Afghanistan; standing only 100 yards from the deadliest landscape of the Civil War, I was one of the first people to say “Welcome home” to him. Finally, I had the chance to analyze myself as a visitor. As I walked the silent rows of graves, I found among them Clancys, Kidds, Mimses, Owenses, and Philbrooks—people who might be kin, however distant, to me.
These are simply a handful of small events and exchanges of which I have already been a part; in the upcoming months, their ranks will certainly grow. I look forward enthusiastically to my adventures here—to the connections that I will make, the people who I will meet, and the meaningful relationships that I will surely forge.
By Tiffany Santulli, ’13
In her book War Stories Frances Clarke outlines the importance of being seen as a man in Victorian society. For a soldier and his family it was important to know that if he should meet a tragic end, his death would be seen as a triumphant one. These concepts can be found in the story of Frederick H. Kronenberger, a young clerk who enlisted in the Second New Jersey Volunteer Regiment during the Civil War.
Frederick was only eighteen years old when he enlisted in December 1863. He was dead less than a year later due to a wound he received in a small skirmish while on picket duty. An analysis of the journal and letters he left behind reveals his desire to be seen as a man of courage. In his journal, Frederick wrote only short entries, some as simple as “Sewed buttons on my coat.” Frederick seemed to avoid any emotional statements in his journal as to whether he was happy, despondent, or scared. He may have done so to avoid looking weak if he were to die and his journal was found and read. He liked baseball games and he talked about watching them on several occasion. Like many other young men, he was interested in women, and he devoted an entry to say that six women had passed by when he was on picket. What these entries lack is an indication of how these events made him feel. Regardless of this, the fact that he chose to include this information is important in constructing the image of Frederick Kronenberger.
There are a few times when Frederick’s journal comes close to emotion, such as when he wrote about his tiredness or soreness from campaign. Frederick did not complain in these entries, but instead it seems that he was trying to show that he worked hard. For example, after walking six miles, Frederick wrote the next morning: “My legs were so stiff that I could not get up and attend roll call.” While Frederick may be revealing some sort of weakness in this entry, he was also showing that he pushed himself to the point of physical collapse and that he took his great physical discomfort in stride by not complaining. A more significant event was when he lost a tooth, undoubtedly causing significant pain. He wrote: “Was very windy all day broke chimney/had my tooth extracted.” His tooth seems like an afterthought to the collapse of the chimney despite the fact that a tooth extraction is very painful.
More importantly, Frederick had little to say even when he sustained the wound that would later kill him in May 1864. He wrote: “Was on picket yet and was firing at the rebs I was wounded in the knees was sent to the division [hospital].” This lack of complaining can be attributed to his desire to be seen as a man, a notion that is supported by a letter he wrote to his parents in February 1864. “Tell Mother that when I go in to battle I will do my duty/ do not be alarmed about me if every soldier feels like me they will not feel down hearted in the presence of Rebels.” Frederick’s emphasis was on honor, that he would stand brave in the face of the enemy. He proved his courage not only in battle but also in a letter he wrote to his parents. In this letter, Frederick chose to comfort his family rather than burden them with his fears of his impending death: “I am in good spirits and the doctors say my wound isn’t dangerous so I hope you won’t worry about me.” Five days later he was dead.
Despite his insistence that he was fine the nurse that treated Frederick, Bell Robinson, had a much different view on his death. She wrote to his family: “Freddy’s sufferings were great/ I don’t think he ceased groaning a moment/ his mind wandered very much when he was sleeping.” With these two descriptions of Frederick’s death we see the need for a young man to die with courage, to die by the standards of a man held by Victorian society. Frederick recorded courage through his journal which lacks any notion of fear or complaining and in the letters he sent home which comforted his family, ones where he ignored his own troubles. The nurse Bell Robinson would crack the image which Frederick tried to construct, but it does not take away from the courage and fortitude he portrayed as he came face to face with death.
Clarke, Frances M. War Stories: Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011.
Kronenberger, Frederik H. “MS-015: Frederik H. Kronenberger, Company G, Second Regiment New Jersey Volunteers.” Gettysburg College Special Collections.