Thursday, August 9, 2007
Battlefield historians say it will bring a clearer understanding and vision of the Battle of Second Manassas. Environmentalists say it will reduce an already diminished amount of hickory-oak forest in Northern Virginia and further degrade the surrounding environment.
Nevertheless, the National Parks Service plans to cut down approximately 140 acres of timber in the western end of the Manassas National Battlefield Park beginning this month.
"The National Park Service cutting trees is not a common thing," said Manassas Battlefield Superintendent Robert K. Sutton.
However, re-creating historic battlefields is more in vogue since Gettysburg National Military Park won its battle with environmentalists to clear nearly 600 acres of its battlefield, while replanting about 120 acres and a few orchards, said John A. Latschar, the Gettysburg park's superintendent.
During the early years of battlefield protection, Civil War veterans were the caretakers, Latschar said. "When they heard the phrase, 'preserve the lines of battle' . . . obviously, that meant you had to preserve the fields of observation and fire," he said.
Work to re-create those fields will bring visitors "a much more accurate, much more emotional and, we hope, more meaningful" experience, Latschar said.
On the afternoon of Aug. 28, 1862, Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson ordered his troops to attack a Union column led by Gen. John Pope along Warrenton Turnpike, now Route 29. The battle, thought to be fought at a 50- to 80- yard distance, was waged on the open fields of Brawner Farm, north of Route 29.
Two days later, the fight returned to the area of Deep Cut, just east of Brawner Farm on Featherbed Lane. Union troops were working their way up a hill, but Jackson's army and artillery fired down on them. Visitors finding a heavily wooded hill might find it hard to envision the six cannons that were pointed at the Union troops, Sutton said.
Both areas will have the most dramatic deforestation. A 35-acre site on Matthews Hill, off Sudley Road, will be cut and a 25-acre site a few yards away will be replanted, said Bryan Gorsira, program manager for natural resources at Manassas Battlefield Park.
Several compromises were made for the cut, Gorsira said. There were three hickory-oak forests, totaling 13.2 acres, that officials from the Virginia Natural Heritage Program within the Department of Conservation and Recreation requested be left alone. The park plans left out less than five acres, Gorsira said.
"They wanted that part excluded, but that was right in the middle of the line of sight, and that would defeat the purpose" of the project, he said.
The land was cattle pasture during the war, but bringing cattle back would require a kind of park maintenance that officials are not prepared to undertake, Sutton said.