A cannon depicting the Union position points toward the statue of Stonewall Jackson on Henry House Hill at Manassas.

To better understand what your Civil War soldier ancestor went through, walk a mile or two on the ground his shoes walked on.

That’s how I spent last weekend, walking the battlefields of Manassas, Harper’s Ferry and Antietam—all within a short driving distance of each other.

On the Manassas Battlefield on July 21, 1861, Francis M. Poore and his comrades in the 13th Mississippi arrived at Henry House Hill where the unmovable Thomas Jackson stood. In the above photo, a cannon depicting the Union position points toward the statue of Stonewall Jackson on Henry House Hill.

Francis and his fellow rebels continued past Henry House Hill to the right of the above scene until they reached the men under Joseph B. Kershaw. Here around 4 p.m. Francis and his fellow Mississippians quickly made ready for battle. They fixed bayonets and loaded their muskets, old flintlocks altered to use percussion caps. Spotting the federal line through drifting cannon smoke, the rebels fired off a volley and then charged the federals.

For the first time at Manassas, and then at many battlefields afterward, the bluecoats heard the unearthly wail of the rebel yell.

By the time Francis and the men of the 13th Mississippi reached the crest of Bald Hill, the enemy had left in what came to be called “the great skedaddle.”

Visiting Manassas helped me understand the hard marches fighting men had to make over undulating hills and across streams. Have you come away with any new insights from visiting your ancestor’s battlefield?

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