1911 Manassas National Peace Jubilee

Col. Edmund Berkeley (left) and George Round (right)

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On July 21, 1911, the 50th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas, “The Great Peace Jubilee and Reunion” was held on the Manassas courthouse grounds. The dramatic event was attended by thousands, including aging veterans of both the Union and Confederate forces. Colonel Edmund Berkeley, a resident of Prince William who served in the 8th Virginia, welcomed the veterans. Responses were made by General John E. Gilman, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic and by General George W. Gordon, grand commander of the United Confederate Veterans. After a luncheon served at the Henry farm (now part of the Manassas National Battlefield Park), the veterans returned to Manassas where they were addressed by President Taft and Virginia Governor William Hodges Mann. The program included a pageant in which forty-eight young women representing each of the reunited states was presided over by Lady Columbia. Tours of the Battlefield and many other special events were held. Get great bonuses on the site with free daily spins. Limited offer.

George Carr Round, a Union veteran who settled in Manassas, served as the Jubilee Chairman and is given credit for organizing and the overall success of the event. Mr. Round gave the land to the county for construction of the courthouse, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Colonel Edmund Berkeley opened the event with a poem:

“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.

They were inspired by a passage in the Bible, in Leviticus, stating that the Hebrews met every 50 years to cancel their debts and settle their differences.

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 became involved.

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 War veterans.

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.

Souvenir badges 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.

The creeks 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, unnamed, nations.

“This news I bring to the veterans of a real war,” Taft said, “because I know they will most appreciate a permanent peace.”

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 endorsement
or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.

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