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Top 10 stories: the countdown of 2011

Not even the record-breaking heat wave that swept the area this summer could stop visitors from walking the fields that held the Civil War’s first major land battle on July 21, 1861.

So, 150 years later, the grounds around Henry Hill Visitor Center at Manassas National Battlefield Park held a small city of visitors, state and county officials, dignitaries, park authority and media crews to capture the opening ceremony of the 150th (sesquicentennial) anniversary of the Civil War. The mercury climbed above 100, but that may have been nothing compared to what the 60,680 men who fought on those fields faced during the actual First Battle of Manassas.

People came by the busloads to witness the anniversary of that battle, which resulted in a Confederate victory with 2,950 Union and 1,750 Confederate casualties. The commemoration was hosted by the National Park Service and the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, one of several speakers, talked of how walking the battlefield offers a sense of what really happened that day. “There were 122 battles on Virginia soil, but it all started today, 150 years ago. Slavery degraded people to property; that institution left a stain on our nation’s soul. But now we must grow stronger together as [the] United States,” he said.

Keynote Speaker Dr. Edward L. Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, noted that more than 2,000 people in the Manassas area once lived in slavery. “Manassas mattered,” Ayers said, “because of [the railroad at] Manassas Junction, which connected to Richmond and helped bring supplies and reinforcements.”

The July 21 opening ceremony was the beginning of four days of commemorations at Manassas National Battlefield Park and other venues including several historic properties in Prince William County and within the City of Manassas.

Read the full story in the print edition of the Observer.

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