"Manassas was site for the 1911 peace reunion"
by Karen Fojt published
October 5, 1996 in The Washington Times.
In the spring of 1911, the residents of Manassas invited all surviving
veterans of the Civil War to a reunion. July 21 would mark the 50th
anniversary of the war's first great battle, fought five miles from
Manassas. The hosts wanted a celebration not of the memory of that
war, but of the peace resulting from it.
"What scene can approach
in sacredness and impressive grandeur the peace reunion of veterans
feeble and old upon the field where, in strength and youth, they
met in deadly combat 50 years ago?" the Manassas Democrat editorialized.
No other event, the town believed, could better unite the South
and North. The impetus for the National Peace Jubilee was a South
Carolina veteran's letter to a newspaper suggesting the anniversary
to commemorate reconciliation.
A prominent Manassas resident, George
Carr Round, read the letter. A signal officer with Gen. William
T. Sherman's army in 1865, Round had announced Gen. Joseph Johnston's
surrender by setting off his rockets with the message: "Peace on
earth and good will to men." Remembering his declaration, he mobilized
the people of the town where he'd settled after the war.
inspired by a passage in the Bible, in Leviticus, stating that the
Hebrews met every 50 years to cancel their debts and settle their
Realizing a peace jubilee would be of international
interest, Manassas planned a week of events. Rallying to the newspaper's
exhortation that they prove the name Manassas was synonymous with
Southern hospitality, nearly every one of the town's 1,200 residents
They formed committees, issued invitations and
sought the cooperation of the Grand Army of the Republic and the
United Confederate Veterans.
During the next three months, they
hired a decorating company to hang flags and bunting from the windows
and arches over the main streets. W.A. Buckley wrote the poem "The
Blue and the Gray," and Dr. H.M. Clarksonwrote "The Southern Flag."
Railroads offered reduced fares, and the locals arranged wagon and
motorcar shuttles between the town and the battlefield. People arranged
lodgings and prepared food. A museum of war relics was set up. The
choir and the orchestra rehearsed. The town hired a photographer
and a movie-picture company.
At twilight on Jubilee Sunday, July
13, 1,000 people assembled outside the courthouse to hear the chaplain
of the U.S House of Representatives open the celebration. The Rev.
H.M. Couden graphically illustrated the jubilee's purpose - he had
been blinded in battle during the Civil War.
The concert that followed
included one of the celebration's most prominent features, a chorus
of 48 girls, each wearing a white gown and a star on =her head,
representing the states. Their most important song was "United,"
the anthem composed for the jubilee.
Every day was crammed with
events. One day, the visitors toured Blackburn and Union Mills fords,
the next day they toured Bristow's battlefields. The Daughters of
the Confederacy dedicated a pavilion at Groveton.
Two troops of
the 15th U.S. Cavalry, based at Fort Myer, camped on the battlefield
and held drill exhibitions. The Fort Myer Army Band gave a recital.
Every evening the veterans told war stories around campfires on
the courthouse lawn. The crowds grew larger as the week went on.
By Friday, more than 10,000 people, a huge assembly at that time,
had gathered in the small town. It is believed 1,000 were Civil
On Friday, July 21, the visitors mustered at Henry
House, where much action had occurred during both battles that had
taken place near Manassas. They spent the morning listening to speakers
such as Lt. Col. Edmund Berkeley of the 8th Virginia Volunteer Infantry;
Sen. Thomas S. Martin of Virginia; and Gen. John E. Gilman, commander
in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic. Gen. George W. Gordon,
grand commander of the United Confederate Veterans, had intended
to speak but suddenly too k ill and sent his regrets.
were handed out. The cavalry and two Virginia militia units, the
Warrenton Rifles and the Front Royal Guards, formed honor guards.
At noon the veterans moved to the top of Henry Hill. The Confederate
veterans formed a double line facing north. A dozen yards away,
the federal veterans faced south in a single line.
The signal was
given. The veterans paced toward one another, hands outstretched.
For five minutes they shook hands. The audience watched solemnly,
while the photographer and filmmaker recorded the historic moment.
After a picnic, the crowd returned to the city for the final ceremony,
featuring the week's most prominent speakers. The governor of Virginia,
William Hodges Mann, arrived that morning, and President William
Howard Taft was due to arrive at 4.
The week, of course, could not
go without a hitch. The president was late.
Taft and his entourage
of senators, Secret Service agents and newspaper reporters had set
out from Washington shortly after noon, as scheduled. As the motorcars
traveled southwest, rainstorms swept across the region.
between Fairfax and Centreville became torrents. Three cars stalled
fording the streams. At 5:30, only the president's White Steamer
motored into Manassas.
Taft spoke briefly to the crowd. He brought
tears to the veterans' eyes as he referred to the lives lost and
the suffering caused by war. Then he turned to the subject of peace.
For two decades, the industrialized countries had been seeking ways
to ensure a permanent peace. Some believed that war could be abolished.
They argued that men had evolved beyond their savagery and a process
to settle all differences was possible.
Taft used the occasion to
announce that the United States was signing an arbitration treaty
with England. France was preparing to sign it, as were three other,
"This news I bring to the veterans of a real war,"
Taft said, "because I know they will most appreciate a permanent
The president spent a half-hour shaking the veterans' hands.
Then he returned to Washington, this time by train.
The peace the
jubilee so hopefully celebrated was shattered three years later
as the nations of Europe started World War I.
Karen Fojt serves on the board of directors of the Friends of Manassas
National Battlefield Park. She lives in Manassas. This week, the
town has been holding the Manassas International Peace Jubilee,
inspired by the 1911 event. Final ceremonies will take place from
3 to 5 p.m. today at the Prince William County Courthouse in Manassas,
where a Japanese soldier and an American soldier from World War
II will shake hands.
Copyright © 1996 News World
Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The
Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any
or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.
Visit the Washington Times web site at: