Manassas National Battlefield Park (Virginia) was established to preserve the scene of two significant Civil War battles: the First Battle of Manassas, fought on 21 July 1861, and the Second Battle of Manassas, fought 28–30 August 1862. The park also serves as important wildlife habitat in the region. For Manassas and the other 10 parks of the National Capital Region Network, intense land use is a pervasive influence and tends to result in systems dominated by external stressors. The significance of these parks as natural resource refuges likely will increase as urbanization in and around Washington, D.C., leads to continued land conversion of adjacent habitats. Development is rapidly usurping natural areas in northern Virginia, and Manassas National Battlefield Park retains a regionally significant source of intact forest habitat (fig. 1).
Figure 2. Cannon fire along the flank of the attack was instrumental in turning back the Union advance at Manassas. Battle conditions at the time allowed clear line of sight for these cannons, which now face into a regenerating forest. To re-create these historic conditions, the National Park Service is considering a 124-acre (50 ha) cut of forest to the north of this position.
During the Civil War, Manassas National Battlefield Park was a patchwork of open fields and woodlots scattered across gently rolling hills. Much of the landscape has retained its battlefield character, but secondary forests have replaced open fields in some geographically significant areas. For instance, several skirmishes occurred before the Second Battle of Manassas on 326 acres (132 ha) of farmland rented by John Brawner at the time. This area is now situated along the far northwest corner of the park and has not been maintained since the battles. Current vegetation consists of a mix of mature basic oak-hickory forest interspersed with Virginia pine–eastern red cedar successional forest (Fleming and Weber 2003). These nonhistorical woodlands directly impact interpretation of the battles because forest vegetation now blocks the lines of sight that dictated troop movements and cannon fire (fig. 2, above). Open fields were a historically significant factor in shaping the outcome of much of the fighting.
Nonhistorical woodlands directly impact interpretation of the battles because forest vegetation now blocks the lines of sight that dictated troop movements and cannon fire.
The need to maintain a historic battlefield setting within a piedmont-forest ecosystem creates two potentially opposing management strategies. The National Park Service must consider the effects of its management actions on internal park dynamics and regional-scale ecological processes. Park staff must continually balance natural resource protection (e.g., protecting large tracts of native forest) with cultural landscape preservation (e.g., preventing regeneration to preserve battlefield scenery). In order to restore historic battlefield conditions, the National Park Service plans to clear approximately 124 acres (50 ha) of timber bordering the Brawner Farm (see fig. 6). Harvesting at Manassas provides a case study of how analysis of potential changes in land cover and use (landscape dynamics) can be used to evaluate competing cultural and natural resource factors as a precursor to management action. Monitoring of landscape dynamics can be an extremely valuable source of information for natural resource managers working in mixed land use settings (Gross et al. 2006) and is currently the single most common “vital sign” monitored by the Inventory and Monitoring Program across the country (257 parks in 24 networks).
The need to maintain a historic battlefield setting within a piedmont-forest ecosystem creates two potentially opposing management strategies.
Lookingbill, T. R., S. L. Carter, B. Gorsira, and C. Kingdon. 2008. Research Report: Using landscape analysis to evaluate ecological impacts of battlefield restoration. Park Science 25(1):60–65.
Available at https://www.nature.nps.gov/ParkScience/archive/PDF/Article_PDFs/ParkScience25(1)Summer2008_60-65_Lookingbill_et_al_2595.pdf.