published Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Civil War battle’s 150th anniversary in Manassas offers clues about tourists


by Andy Johns
Civil War re-enactors perform at a re-enactment of the First Battle of Bull Run in Manassas, Va. (Associated Press)
Civil War re-enactors perform at a re-enactment of the First Battle of Bull Run in Manassas, Va. (Associated Press)
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MAJOR ANNIVERSARIES

2012

* April 6-7 — Battle of Shiloh

* April 12 — Great Locomotive Chase from Kennesaw to Ringgold

* Aug. 29-30 — Second Bull Run/Manassas battle

* Sept. 17 — Battle of Antietam

* Dec. 13 — Battle of Fredricksburg

2013

* Jan. 1 — Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation

* May 1-4 — Battle of Chancellorsville

* July 1-3 — Battle of Gettysburg

* July 4 — Vicksburg falls

* Sept. 19-20 — Battle of Chickamauga

2014

* June 27 — Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

* Sept. 2 — Union Gen. Sherman captures Atlanta

2015

* April 9 — Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

Sources: National Park Service, historyplace.com

In July 1861, when Union and Confederate troops clashed for the first big battle of the war near Manassas Junction, Va., both sides learned important lessons about tactics, strategy and logistics of the new war.

After the Manassas area handled an onslaught of tourists for the battle’s 150th anniversary last weekend, areas around other battlefields, including Chickamauga, learned less-bloody lessons for their upcoming anniversaries.

“Go ahead and stock up on water, stock up on food, make sure you have plenty of everything,” said Juan Veloso, manager at Old Towne Sports Pub in Manassas, giving advice to local eateries.

Many hotels and restaurants such as Veloso’s had their tables and rooms full of Civil War enthusiasts in town for the anniversary, re-enactment and other events.

“For the most part, everybody was busier,” Veloso said, adding that he spoke to visitors from several other states, including Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Amanda Neff, who manages the Hampton Inn in Manassas, said the hotel gave out free bottles of water and postcards to guests in town for the events. While it’s not unusual for the hotel to be full a couple of weekends each summer, she noticed guests booking rooms unusually early for the anniversary weekend.

“Most of the business that weekend was from the anniversary,” Neff said. “We were sold out, so that was good for us.”

Debbie Haight, executive director for Historic Manassas Inc., a local visitors organization, said she met tourists from Ohio, Wyoming and Great Britain during the events. She said she talked to one shop owner who said Saturday was her best sales day since she opened eight years ago. Almost every hotel in a 45-mile radius was booked solid, she said.

“They were coming from everywhere,” Haight explained.

Overall, the weekend went fairly smoothly, aside from a last-minute scare that the state health department might not approve the camping permits for re-enactors. She urged businesses and tourism agencies around Chickamauga and other battlefields to think ahead and find ways to meet tourists’ needs.

“Plan now, get it going,” she said. “Make your big plans now.”

John Culpepper, chairman of the Georgia Civil War Commission, expects as many as 8,000 re-enactors to participate in the weekend’s events at Chickamauga in September 2013, which he called “the largest re-enactment in the Deep South.”

State and local governments are working with merchant associations from Marietta to Chattanooga to Huntsville, Ala., to gear up for the crowd, he said.

“They’re involved in it right now. They know what’s coming, and they know what to expect,” he said. “By the time it gets here, everybody will have all of their ducks in a row.”

But not everyone has been impressed by the crowds. Colin Ahern, manager at Foster’s Grille in Manassas, said the response was underwhelming and the road closures may have scared away some of the locals.

“It was a little busier, but it wasn’t what we thought it was going to be,” he said.

Overall, he said, communication could have been better. He dealt with some frantic re-enactors who didn’t know where they were supposed to be for the mock battle.

“You want to tell people where everything is if things change,” Ahern said.

On the Carolina coast, Jeff Webster, spokesman for the Charleston Place Hotel, said the Fort Sumter anniversary in April didn’t have as big of an impact on the hotel because it usually is full throughout that month anyway.

“April’s just a busy time in Charleston,” he said.

But anecdotally, he heard that loads of visitors shopped, ate and stayed in the city.

“I know it was a boon because there were a lot of folks who definitely came down,” he said.

MORE: Civil War Anniversary - So long ago... So with us still...

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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