Civil War anniversary covers Manassas Peace Jubilee

When the state of Virginia commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2011 there may very well be two camps of thought on observing the event.  One contingent sees the opportunity to acknowledge the many battles that took place within the state while others are afraid the emphasis on slavery’s part in the war will be understated.  Event planners have been working to avoid controversy.

Perhaps both sides should look back at the Manassas National Peace Jubilee, held on July 21, 1911, the 50th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas—the deadly initial conflict of the Civil War.

1911 Peace Jubilee

Banner from 1911 Peace Jubilee in Manassas

The 1911 Peace Jubilee was attended by thousands, including veterans of both the Union and Confederate forces.  Meeting not as foes but as men attempting to eradicate the scars of civil war, aging former soldiers lined up and shook hands in a dramatic gesture of unity.

This remarkable event will be brought to life during the 150th Civil War Commemoration on Thursday, July 21, 2011, at 4:00 p.m. More than 60 actors will perform the Peace Jubilee re-enactment on the same steps of the Old Courthouse in Old Town Manassas that veteran Civil War soldiers met with President Howard Taft.

Re-enactment of Peace Jubilee

Banner for re-enactment of Manassas Peace Jubilee

The performance was written and directed by Ken Elston of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, in his capacity as artistic director of Footsteps in Time, a non-profit organization that works to promote a deeper understanding of contemporary America through history and the arts. “I knew we had to mesh the two worlds of 1911 and 2011 in a way that people could understand the historical significance of the moment,” Elston says.

The Civil War had left Prince William County devastated, and communities like Manassas struggled to rebuild.  The railroad junction brought commerce and growth, so when a South Carolina veteran wrote to the Manassas newspaper suggesting an anniversary to commemorate reconciliation, a committee was formed to organize special events in 1911.

canons lined up for battle

Canons lined up on battle grounds in Manassas

As the site of two tragic battles, Manassas sought to de-emphasize the memory of war and instead celebrate the peace that resulted from those conflicts.  During a week that featured speeches, parades, concerts, and poetic readings, the city sought to envelop the nation in its hospitality. Every evening veterans told war stories around campfires on the courthouse lawn.  By week’s end the crowds had grown to10, 000 people, a sizeable gathering then, with 1,000 of them believed to be Civil War veterans.  President Taft’s speech left the veterans in tears as he recounted lives lost and suffering caused by the war.  Yet his theme was peace—including a lasting peace that the U.S. was hoping to forge through treaties with European countries.

Hopefully, this year’s event will capture the same positive emotions and feelings of reconciliation that spilled out from the Manassas National Peace Jubilee a century earlier.

Photos courtesy Asha Sedalia Brout Original scene: Manassas Museum    Re-enactment scene: Historic Manassas, Inc.

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