One of the treats of battlefield exploration is discovering something new – or at least feeling like you’re discovering something new. The summer of 2018 was my genesis into Civil War research. I was writing a novel about a Confederate soldier in the 7th Georgia Infantry. Though the book starts off the evening before the battle at Antietam, I wanted to understand where my soldier had been before that September day. That led me to following the Army of Northern Virginia all through the first two years of the war. And of course, it all started with Manassas.
I was shocked to find that the 7th Georgia, a relatively insignificant regiment under Georgie “Tige” Anderson, had its very own marker on the battlefield. There are massive monuments to Jackson, Bee, the Union soldiers, and even a marker just for Wade Hampton, but I would have never thought that “my” regiment would have a marker preserved on site.
What was even more astonishing that there are TWO! The first, situated amongst the 10-pounder Parrott rifles and limbers marking the position of Capt. James B. Ricketts’s Union artillery, is seen by everyone who walks from the visitor center toward Henry House. A tiny wayside gives it some context, explaining,
“Sometime after 1903 veterans of the 7th Georgia Infantry erected at least six markers on the Manassas battlefield to locate battle positions. Only this marker and one other approximately 350 yards southeast of here survive. Colonel Francis S. Bartow was killed while leading the 7th Georgia against Captain James B. Ricketts’ battery. During the battle, the 7th Georgia suffered 153 casualties out of 580 men present.”
Understanding the significance of taking Rickett’s Battery that day on July 21st, 1862, made this marker all the more special to me. But I wanted to know about the second one, the one that’s more hidden from park visitors. This one marks the 7th Georgia’s “5th Position” within the battle.
While it didn’t have much to do with my research for the novel – as there were tons of other resources to paint the picture of what happened to the regiment during the battle at Manassas – I wanted to sort of “pay my respects” whenever I made the decision to visit the battlefield itself.
Markers, monuments, and memorials don’t just come out of nowhere. They don’t simply pop out of the ground and back then, the government didn’t pay for much of it. The veterans, those who had survived the war, wanted to make sure that their efforts and sacrifice was not forgotten. It was these men who pitched in and funded their own monuments to be constructed on the battlefields. They, their families, and their communities, were solely responsible for raising the money.
You might notice that on most battlefields, the biggest of these monuments belong to the Union veteran regiments and companies. Think of the Pennsylvania monument at Gettysburg. Or the New York monument at Antietam. These are massive! And there are plenty of Ohio and Iowa monuments at Vicksburg to make you sick of them after a while. But then look at the smaller monuments. They often belonged to the Confederates. Understanding what happens after the war – and who won – answers for this drastic difference. The term “history is written by the winners” may come to mind, but that doesn’t always apply for this case. It’s because the south’s economy tanked after the war. They barely had enough money to feed themselves and rebuild their lives, let alone contribute to making monuments. It wasn’t until much later when all of these battlefield parks began popping up across the map, and well after the south began to stabilize after Reconstruction, that you begin to see bigger and newer monuments. The series of Georgia monuments at Chickamauga marking the Confederate line on the first day comes to mind, as well as the huge Confederate memorial at Shiloh (quite possibly my favorite monument of the whole collection).
But in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the south was still trying to get their footing again. Georgia was no exception, especially after Sherman’s march to the sea. The fact that they were able to erect these (comparatively) tiny markers across Manassas is impressive. They stand about 10 inches wide, 18 inches tall, and are thin like a headstone. Due to farming, vandalism, relic-hunting, and other unfair treatment of the land around Manassas and Henry House Hill, four of these markers are lost to time. One, as stated before, is noticed easily by park visitors. The other, I needed to find.
Thanks to American Battlefield Trust for their simple and easy directions, I was able to track down the “5th Position” marker. It wasn’t easy, and the story that goes along with it is amusing.
The easiest way to begin this short walk to the marker is to let the Jackson monument be your starting point. There’s a trail that leads to the east and you’ll come to a line of artillery just before a thin spread of cedar trees. This leads toward the Manassas Trail, which should definitely be walked down if you have the time.
Once you get through this curtain of trees, there will be a seeming fork in the trail that splits hard to the left, but that’s not the fork you need to take. It threw me off at first, but it only doubles back around to the artillery line. Keep going. You’ll hit another fork that’s deeper in the woods.
The sign will direct you to the right, which will take you down Manassas Trail, but you’re going to go left. This is a service road that leads to a horse trail, but it’s open to the public so there’s no risk of getting in trouble with the park rangers. This route will take a sweeping left along woods to your right, and open into a big grassy field, surrounded by woods on all sides.
If you were to go straight and follow along the wood, you’d be continuing down the service road that merges with the horse trail. To your left, however, there will be a little sign that marks the horse trail. Depending on when they last mowed this part of the park, you should be able to see it from this fork.
So, go to your left and now you’re following the trail that skirts around this big field – woods now on your left. It’ll curve around to your right and you’ll see a little cluster of 2-3 trees set apart from the main wood with the path dividing them. They’ll be on your right as you straighten from this curve and a little hard to miss.
Under the shade of these trees, you’ll find the 5th Position, 7th Georgia marker.
Why is the 5th position significant and what does it mean? While I can’t find the exact answer, I can say that the 7th Georgia regiment was part of Bartow’s brigade, which made up the right Confederate flank as it clashed with McDowell on the morning of July 21st. McDowell had just crossed over Bull Run River at Sudley Springs, a mostly unprotected portion of the river. They, along with Bee, did their best to hold the line and prevent the Yankees from approaching Warrenton Pike.
However, it quickly became a numbers game and they fell back from that position around 10:30am – 11:30am. They retreated toward Spring Hill Farm, now known as Henry House Hill, and reformed their position near Jackson along the eastern end of the high ground.
It’s at about 2:30pm that this “5th Position” can be estimated, some distance behind Jackson’s artillery. In the afternoon, they would charge forward to take Rickett’s Battery near Henry House, where the other marker stands today.
So, a funny story about my trip to Manassas Battlefield. When I first arrived, there was a party going on. From the bunch of pink balloons, I assumed it was a gender reveal party or perhaps a birthday party. I thought it was odd, but spent some time in the visitor center to let the crowds pass. I took my tour of Henry House, Jackson’s memorial, etc. but I was itching to put my detective skills to use and find this marker.
I came to the fork that split off between the service road and Manassas Trail, only to be stopped by a ranger. She explained to me that a naked man had been spotted in the woods on Manassas Trail, but they didn’t have eyes on him just yet. She told me to wait with her until they heard word. The man’s running shoes, shorts, and underwear were sitting near the service road entrance – the one I was supposed to go down. You can imagine how mortified I was. Namely because the park closed soon and I needed to head north soon to Sharpsburg, Maryland to check into my bed and breakfast. I didn’t want to be late.
Eventually, the ranger got the call that the man had been spotted and thankfully, he was nowhere near where I needed to go. So we parted ways at the fork and I went on to find my marker. On the way back, a SUV police cruiser rolled up to the line of artillery just before the cedars and asked if his vehicle could get through there. I told him it should and that they spotted the guy they were most likely after. I went back to the visitor center, got the battlefield park pin from the giftshop, and gave over my makeshift map to the ranger at the desk so anyone else who wanted to find the marker, now had a more detailed map and a printout of the instructions.
American Battlefield Trust’s 7th Georgia Marker Article – https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/hidden-marker-7th-georgia-infantry