Monumental Questions: 1860s Civil War Monument Vandalization at Manassas

By Ryan Bilger ’19

On October 4, 2017, I awoke to the news that the Stonewall Jackson equestrian monument at Manassas National Battlefield Park had been vandalized. Having worked there as a Pohanka intern during the summer of 2016, I was saddened to hear this. Now, I have no great love for the Jackson monument. It makes the Southern general look like Superman atop a horse that appears to have had a good amount of steroids mixed with its oats and hay. Yet, I believed then, as I do now, that covering the monument in colored paint was an extremely inappropriate act of vandalism.

The incident raised questions in my mind. In this era of tense controversy over Confederate monuments, vandalization seems to have become a common occurrence. Is it a particularly new one, though? How much of a history is there of defacing Civil War monuments? I still remember the outrage that I felt, even at nine years old, when another band of anonymous cowards vandalized three of Gettysburg’s monuments in 2006, inflicting damage that took years to fully repair. How much further back do these stories go? As I pondered these questions, two examples from the battlefield at Manassas came to mind. One took place during the Civil War itself, while the other happened in the years following the war. Both constituted malicious acts that influenced the memory of those who fought and died in the two battles that took place on those hallowed fields. This phenomenon, then, does indeed have a history, one that stretches all the way back to some of the earliest days possible.

On July 21, 1861, as Union forces streamed up the side of Henry Hill in the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), Confederate defenders desperately attempted to push back the onslaught and earn an important victory. One of these units responsible for defeating the oncoming Yankees was a brigade of Georgia regiments under Colonel Francis Bartow. The Colonel stood as a father figure for his men, who referred to themselves as “Bartow’s Beardless Boys.” Sadly, their time with their beloved commander proved short, as he fell mortally wounded in the chest leading them in a counterattack across the hill. The soldiers of Bartow’s brigade decided almost immediately after the battle that they wished to honor their slain commander on the field on which he fell, and officers in the 8th Georgia set about ordering a monument to fulfill that purpose. According to Melvin Dwinell, a second lieutenant in the regiment and editor of the Rome Tri-Weekly Courier, the original Bartow memorial was a rounded column of “plain white marble, six feet long, four feet above ground, and about eight inches in diameter at the top.” The monument was dedicated on September 4, 1861, just over six weeks after Bartow’s death, at a ceremony attended by thousands of Georgia soldiers. These Confederates had erected one of the very first Civil War battlefield monuments, but unfortunately for them, it was not destined to last long as a reminder of the lost Bartow.

Bartow Monument
Artist’s rendering of soldiers standing by the Francis Bartow monument. Library of Congress, via

In the months after the construction of Francis Bartow’s monument, the marble shaft fell victim to a multitude of vandals. Observers noted that some visitors to Henry Hill, tourists interested in seeing the site of the great battle, had chipped away pieces of the memorial to keep as souvenirs. Others had damaged Bartow’s column by inscribing their names on it in pencil, perhaps to make memories or leave their mark on the battlefield; one correspondent wrote in December 1861 that it had been blanketed in writing to the point of “not so much space being left as one might cover with his finger nail.” The monument remained in this decrepit state until March of 1862, when Union troops took possession of the fields of Manassas, including Henry Hill. The site of a monument to a dead Rebel general surely galled many of these Federal soldiers, and one regiment took matters into their own hands. According to a New York soldier, members of the Fourteenth Brooklyn became “so exasperated at the treatment of their fallen companions as to break the marble monument erected over the remains of a secesh General who fell on that field.” They destroyed Bartow’s memorial in order to reclaim the memory of that space, and to deny it to Confederates like the fallen general. Georgia soldiers attempted to find the monument they had so lovingly dedicated after Confederates reclaimed Henry Hill in the Second Battle of Manassas in August 1862, but they discovered only shattered fragments. The Francis Bartow memorial had thus fallen victim to two types of vandals: memory-making tourists and angry Federal troops. Even as the Civil War was still being fought, the memory of those who fell during its course became a flashpoint for controversy.

The impulse to memorialize the fallen of the two battles at Manassas evidently remained alive in the minds of many Northerners. Shortly after the Grand Review in May 1865, the U.S. Army approved the construction of two memorials on the Manassas battlefields. One was erected on Henry Hill near the remains of the Henry House, while the other was constructed at the Deep Cut, the sight of a fierce Union attack during the Second Battle of Manassas on August 30, 1862. The men of Colonel William Gamble’s cavalry brigade built the monuments, using red sandstone from the battlefield’s famous unfinished railroad, in about three weeks, and dedication ceremonies took place on June 11, 1865.

Photograph by Alexander Gardner of the Groveton Monument, taken shortly after its dedication in 1865. Wikimedia Commons.

While the memorial on Henry Hill remained largely intact, the Deep Cut’s monument, often referred to as the Groveton Monument, suffered intense vandalism. The soldiers who built the monument had decorated it with shells and cannon balls found on the battlefield, as seen in Alexander Gardner’s photograph of it in June 1865. However, these artifacts presented attractive targets for relic hunters, and they soon set about picking the Groveton Monument clean to obtain them for themselves. These vandals pried the precious shells and balls out of the mortar with which they had been attached to the base, and some even took away pieces of the wooden fence surrounding it. By 1886, there was nothing left but an empty stone pylon, slowly becoming covered by the four trees that had been planted around it. The desire for personal gain and profit led to the vandalization of another Civil War monument, thereby disrespecting the legacies and the memory of the soldiers who had fought and died at Second Manassas.

These stories from the Manassas battlefield remind us that Civil War monument vandalization is not a new phenomenon. Instead, it unfortunately has a long history, stretching back as far as the 1860s themselves. Each of these types of vandals acted on their own individual attitudes towards the war and its legacy; the relic-hunters saw it as a get rich quick opportunity, the soldiers of the Fourteenth Brooklyn felt that there was no place for Confederate memorialization, and the tourists used Bartow’s monument as a way to remember their trip. In effect, all of these vandals, based on their personal viewpoints, worked to alter and reshape popular memory of the war by altering monuments from their original, intended state or even destroying them entirely. The motivations may have shifted over the last century and a half, but the impact remains the same on the war’s memory: a destructive act that shows disregard for those who gave their lives in the conflict. The sad truth appears to be that as long as there have been Civil War monuments, there have also been those who wish to destroy them.


Adelman, Garry. “The Deep Cut’s Missing Piece.” Civil War Trust. Accessed April 2018.

Panhorst, Michael W. “‘The first of our hundred battle monuments’: Civil War battlefield monuments built by active-duty soldiers during the Civil War.” Southern Cultures no. 4 (2014): 22. Literature Resource Center, EBSCOhost.

Pope, John. “The Second Battle of Bull Run.” Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine vol. 36 (1886): 441. Google Books.

Stonewall Jackson Monument Vandalized at Manassas National Battlefield Park.” INSIDENOVA.COM. October 04, 2017. Accessed April 23, 2018.

Zenzen, Joan M. Battling for Manassas: The Fifty-Year Preservation Struggle at Manassas National Battlefield Park. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.

Looking Ahead to the 2018 Pohanka Internship Program

By Ryan Bilger ’19

This summer, 21 Gettysburg College students will head to the front lines of public history through the Brian C. Pohanka Internship Program. From Andersonville National Historic Site to Minute Man National Historical Park, these interns will carry forward the legacy of the late Brian C. Pohanka, while also developing their own skills in the field of public history. Brian Pohanka was an avid student of the Civil War who shared his love of the past through presenting and reenacting, as some of the interns who bear his name will do this summer. They will work at some of the sites most dear to him, including Gettysburg National Military Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, and Richmond National Battlefield Park.

To preview this summer’s experiences, I reached out to three of the 2018 Pohanka interns, each with different backgrounds and positions this summer. I asked them about what they expect to be doing at their sites, what they think they will gain from the experience, and how it will fit into their plans for the future.

Laurel Wilson ‘19

Site: Special Collections & College Archives at Gettysburg College’s Musselman Library

Majors/Minors: History and studio art/Civil War Era Studies and public history

Past Pohanka Experience: Antietam National Battlefield, 2017

What will you be doing this summer?

Work in archival research, processing, and digitizing materials, including creating a finding aid for a collection and transcribing Vertical File Manuscript materials

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

“I hope to gain valuable archival skills and to learn how Special Collections takes care of it’s amazing collection of historical artifacts and other resources. I am also excited to have the opportunity to work with the artifacts and manuscripts directly, as it is not something that everyone gets to do every day.”

How will this internship fit into your plans for the future?

“I hope to go into some kind of curatorial or archival work in the future, so the experience that I will gain from working in Special Collections will definitely be incredibly valuable for that. This internship will provide me with a basis of knowledge to continue building upon in the future, which is incredibly exciting.”

The author giving a walking tour of Henry Hill at Manassas National Battlefield Park last summer. Photo by Cathy Bilger.

Jared Barna ‘20

Site: Manassas National Battlefield Park

Major: History

What will you be doing this summer?

Working to orient visitors to the battlefield, through interpretive tour programs and answering questions at the Visitor Center desk.

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

“I will gain knowledge about how to engage individuals with major questions about history and become a better public orator.”

How will this internship fit into your plans for the future?

“This internship will help me decide as to whether I wish to work in the park service full time or if I want to become a high school history teacher.”

Cameron Sauers ‘21

Site: Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park

Major: History

What will you be doing this summer?

Develop and deliver educational programs and activities to K-12 students and families at Harpers Ferry

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

“I think Harpers Ferry will give me the chance to see how the public, especially young people, interact with our nation’s history.” The long and varied history of the site will also help in these observations.

How will this internship fit into your plans for the future?

“I have a desire to either work in the NPS system or continue on to graduate school. I would love to be able to teach students at the high school or college level.”


As for myself, I will be returning to the Pohanka program for my second summer as an intern, this year at Antietam National Battlefield. I expect that my duties will also include orienting visitors to the Antietam battlefield through programs and work at the front desk. I hope to continue refining my skills as a public historian and interpreter, and to bring the history of Antietam to the general public in an interesting and engaging way. This fits into my future goals of working in public history, whether in the National Park Service or at another historic site or museum.

This summer is shaping up to be an exciting one for the 2018 Brian C. Pohanka interns! Stay tuned throughout the summer, as we’ll be posting reflection pieces from the interns on their individual experiences!

Provocation and Personalization: Sharing the History of Manassas Battlefield

By Jeff Martin ’18

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series. 

When I first read Freeman Tilden’s “Principles of Interpretation”, I was surprised to find that provocation was considered essential for effective interpretation. I reread it, to make sure I hadn’t read it wrong or misunderstood. Provocation? Why would the National Park Service want to provoke people? As an intern at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park last summer, I learned that Tilden didn’t mean angering visitors; he meant inspiring the public to want to learn more on their own. To paraphrase, Tilden wrote that instruction and information are not the same thing as interpretation. Interpretation is not a fact-based lecture. Effective interpretation uses information to make broader points. However, the end goal of an interpretive site or program should not be the communication of information, but cultivating an interest among the public. Hence, provocation is key.

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Ten Weeks at Manassas

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Kevin Lavery ’16

My heart was pounding, my breath was shallow, and I wanted nothing more than to begin so that it would all be over sooner.

No, I was not preparing to jump from a plane. Nothing so dramatic. I was preparing myself to give a tour of Henry Hill detailing the position’s salient importance in the First Battle of Manassas.

The Bull Run Monument on Henry Hill. Photo via Wikimedia Commons (Manassas NBP).

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Yonder Stands Jackson Beyond Reproach

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Kevin Lavery ‘16

Yonder, he stands, a lone sentinel of stone amidst the fallow fields of Henry Hill. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, his nom de guerre earned here on the fields of First Manassas, rides tall in the saddle of his steed. The statue’s commanding presence on Henry Hill anchors a memory of that battle that emphasizes the triumph of Jackson, his brigade, and the Confederate army in the defense of Southern soil. It is an embodiment of idealized notions of Southern courage, honor, and martial spirit. At the same time, the monument serves to depoliticize Jackson and the Confederate war effort—yet in doing so, specifically projects its own politicized memory of the war that delegitimizes what the conflict meant to so many people.

Lavery 1.jpg
Photo credit Ryan Bilger

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Interpretive Decisions at the Stone House

By Thomas Nank ‘16

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

In her article “The Birthplace of a Chief: Archaeology and Meaning at George Washington Birthplace National Monument,” author Joy Beasley discusses the complex history of the birthplace of our first President. Beasley traces the evolution of the interpretation of the site as influenced by many diverse groups and individuals. I have seen similar interpretive confusion recently during my internship at Manassas National Battlefield Park centered on the historic Stone House.

Little definitive information survives on the specific uses of the Stone House during the two battles fought at Manassas, thus giving rise to interpretive confusion surrounding the building. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Little definitive information survives on the specific uses of the Stone House during the two battles fought at Manassas, thus giving rise to interpretive confusion surrounding the building. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Pohanka Reflection: Sean Hough on Manassas National Battlefield Park

By Sean Hough ’16

This post is part of a series on the experiences of our Pohanka Interns at various historic sites working on the front lines of history as interpreters and curators. Dr. Jill Titus explains the questions our students are engaging with here. 

After working at the Manassas National Battlefield Park for about a month, I can readily accept the findings laid out in Thelen and Rosenzweig’s survey without any surprise. Having the opportunity to work the information desk, give guided tours, and conduct research for various purposes has given me the privilege to see how excited the general public is about history. The various forms through which people interact with the past at Manassas include instruction through our guided tours, the museum, the hourly movie, or the junior ranger program; individual learning or self-discovery through self-guided tours; physical interaction through firing demonstrations and hands on exhibits such as the artillery display; and ancestral research.

Hough 1

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Telling their Stories: My Memorable Summer Internship at Manassas National Battlefield Park

By Katy Rettig ’15

As the days in Virginia grow hotter and the summer begins to come to a close, most of us only having a mere few weeks with our parks, I have found myself reflecting on my experience here at Manassas National Battlefield Park. My summer has been more fulfilling than I ever thought it was going to be when I accepted the internship position.


When I arrived at the park in late May I immediately started my weeklong training. By the end of that week, I felt like there was no way I was ever going to present all of the information surrounding the First Battle of Manassas to visitors in a tour. To say the least, I was overwhelmed. I was faced with the task of developing a Henry Hill walking tour covering the events of the first battle which I introduced to my very first visitors just a week after arriving in Manassas. The first tour was rough but after a couple of weeks I had worked out the kinks and finally felt comfortable with my narrative. Over the next six weeks, I found myself truly enjoying giving tours and talking with visitors, whether at the front desk or down at the Stone House. Continue reading “Telling their Stories: My Memorable Summer Internship at Manassas National Battlefield Park”

Manassas Musings

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.

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