Manassas National Battlefield Park | DEEP CUT LOOP TRAIL

Second Manassas Monument can be seen on the Deep Cut Trail

Second Manassas Monument can be seen on the Deep Cut Trail


Note: The trails at Manassas National Battlefield Park are poorly marked, so be sure to bring a trail map with you for navigation purposes. The best is the Trail Guide, a tri-fold map that is free at the Henry Hill Visitor Center. For planning purposes, you can download the map here, but be sure to pick up a full-color version before you begin your hike.

Manassas Trail Map (PDF)


Length: 1.25-mile loop
Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: Moderate

Deep Cut was the scene of a bloody battle in the late afternoon of August 30, 1862, the last day of fighting during the Second Battle of Manassas. Confederate soldiers had taken a defensive position along an elevated railroad bed that has since become known as the Unfinished Railroad due to the fact the project was abandoned and the tracks were never laid. To keep the tracks out of the water during times of flood, the rail bed was elevated by digging a ditch on either side of the route and piling the dirt in the middle. Soldiers could spend days digging a trench and building a similar earthen wall—here was one already completed. The term “deep cut” refers to the area where the rail bed was elevated higher than normal. As a defensive barrier, Union soldiers had a much higher hill to climb before they could head back down the other side to attack the Confederate line.

The trailhead for the Deep Cut Loop Trail is located at a parking lot on Featherbed Lane for the Deep Cut stop on the Second Manassas Battlefield Automobile Tour. As you start the hike you will be crossing an open field and heading uphill towards the rail bed. Union soldiers under General Fitz John Porter followed this same path, only they started their march all the way back at the Matthews Hill and Groveton areas. The Deep Cut parking lot is therefore located closer to where the fighting actually began. Union soldiers were taking artillery fire from the Brawner Farm area during the entire quarter-mile march across the open field.


The Deep Cut Loop Trail starts out on a path made from a recycled rubber material before it becomes a mowed swathe through the tall grass, a favorite habitat for ticks. While I didn’t pick up any on this hike, I did on some of the other trails. I suggest wearing long pants treated with Permethrin when hiking anywhere in Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Start of the Deep Cut Loop Trail

Start of the Deep Cut Loop Trail

Also, much of the trail is out in the open, so if avoiding the sun is important to you, be sure to wear a hat and apply sunscreen.

Typical terrain of the Deep Cut Loop Trail

Typical terrain of the Deep Cut Loop Trail

A tenth of a mile from the parking lot the trail crosses a small creek via a footbridge and immediately dead ends into a gravel road. A left takes you back to Featherbed Lane, so hang a right. No sooner do you turn than you come to a second intersection where the loop portion of the trail begins. I took a left, hiking the loop in a clockwise direction simply because heading straight went up a steep hill. I later realized that clockwise is the way the trail is meant to be hiked, so I made the correct decision.

Start of the Deep Cut Loop (take a left towards the sign)

Start of the Deep Cut Loop (take a left towards the sign)

At the intersection is a wooden post with a sign marking the spot where sharpshooters from the Wisconsin Company 1st Regiment of Berdans were pinned down by Confederate fire. The sharpshooters arrived on the scene long before the rest of the army and shot it out with Confederate skirmishers before becoming trapped. After the war, one of the sharpshooters came back to the battlefield and marked this position. The sign standing today is not the original, but it is in the same spot. (Skirmishers are light infantry or cavalry soldiers positioned out in front of the main battle line).

Wisconsin Company Sharpshooter sign

Wisconsin Company Sharpshooter sign

The Deep Cut Loop Trail heads across the field and towards a forest. As it approaches the trees, the trail all but vanishes. Just follow the tree line until you come to a segmented boardwalk that spans a muddy area created by a small creek.

The Deep Cut Loop Trail disappears near the forest

The Deep Cut Loop Trail disappears near the forest

Boardwalk over a small creek and wet area

Boardwalk over a small creek and wet area

Once at the creek, the trail begins an upward climb to the Unfinished Railroad, and it becomes a little more distinct. In a tenth of a mile you will enter a brushy area and find yourself at an intersection with a trail that heads to the left. This is a connector trail that leads to the Brawner Farm Loop Trail. Continue straight to stay on the Deep Cut Loop Trail. There are two directional signs posted at the intersection.

Intersection with the connector to the Brawner Farm Loop TrailIntersection with the connector to the Brawner Farm Loop Trail

Intersection with the connector to the Brawner Farm Loop Trail

Beyond the intersection the trail becomes rocky and the grass gets taller, which I suppose is because the National Park Service can’t run a lawn mower through here. Be sure to check yourself for ticks.

Rocky area of the Deep Cut Loop Trail

Rocky area of the Deep Cut Loop Trail

Just before reaching the top of the hill you will begin to see information panels that contain eyewitness accounts from men who fought in the battle. Union quote panels (blue stripe) are found along Union lines and Confederate panels (red stripe) along Confederate lines. The first panel, located just below the crest of the hill, is a Union panel that tells the story of how they were pummeled by Confederate musket fire and canister (metal balls shot from a cannon like a blast from a shotgun).

Union quote panel

Union quote panel

Once at the top of the hill you will find yourself just below the elevated plateau of the Unfinished Railroad. Confederate soldiers would have been on the other side.

View of the Unfinished Railroad elevated bed

View of the Unfinished Railroad elevated bed

The trail dead ends into the railroad bed and a set of stairs leads to the top. If you turn around, you will see that another trail merges with the one you came in on (you arrived on the path to the left and this second trail goes to the right). This trail is not on the map, but a satellite image shows that it leads down to the mid-section of the Brawner Farm Loop Trail. Along the way is an exhibit of four Confederate cannon aiming towards the Union soldiers. When I was at the artillery display at Brawner Farm, I noticed four bronze cannon in the far distance but had no idea how to get to them. Well, this is it. They are a tenth of a mile down the trail you want to take a detour. I would have done so, but at the time I did not know they were there.

Detour down to an exhibit of four Confederate cannon (right path)

Detour down to an exhibit of four Confederate cannon (right path)

Once on the elevated railroad bed, take a right and head towards the forest. A left takes you west on the railroad bed, and you will cross a bridle trail and eventually come to another connector to the Brawner Farm Loop Trail.

Walking along the Unfinished Railroad

Walking along the Unfinished Railroad

As you walk along the top of the Unfinished Railroad towards the forest, the Confederates would have been on your left and the Union on your right. A sign states that it was General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Stonewall Brigade that was positioned here. While reading the sign you are looking out at the terrain where they would have been.

Terrain where the Stonewall Brigade was positioned during the Union attack at Deep Cut

Terrain where the Stonewall Brigade was positioned during the Union attack at Deep Cut

Another set of stairs takes you down from the railroad bed and into the forest. This patch of trees isn’t very deep, and in five minute’s time you are back out in the open, still along the Unfinished Railroad. You will cross a bridge over a small creek along the way.

The Deep Cut Loop Trail passes through a forest

The Deep Cut Loop Trail passes through a forest

The Unfinished Railroad portion of the hike ends at the Second Manassas Monument (aka Second Bull Run Monument, aka Groveton Monument), which is very similar to the First Manassas Monument at the Henry House near the Henry Hill Visitor Center. The monument was dedicated on June 10, 1865, three days before the monument at Henry Hill, making it one of the earliest Civil War memorials in existence. It is interesting to note that the inscription reads, “In Memory of the Patriots who fell at Groveton.” Not Manassas, Groveton.

Second Manassas Monument

Second Manassas Monument

The last leg of the hike is down the steep hill that starts on the front side of the monument (side with the inscription). It is here that the Deep Cut Loop Trail merges with the Second Manassas Trail, and this is the only segment where the two trails overlap. The Second Manassas Trail comes in from the east where the Unfinished Railroad tour stop on the Second Manassas Battlefield Automobile Tour is located.

When I hiked the trail there were two downhill paths nearly side by side—one was mowed and one wasn’t. If you find this to be the case when you hike the trail, be sure to take the mowed one. When you get to the sign about the sharpshooters, keep straight on the dirt road for fifty feet and take a left over the footbridge to get back to the parking lot.

Two paths between the start of the loop and the Second Manassas Monument

Two paths between the start of the loop and the Second Manassas Monument

A park Ranger told me that the hiking trails at Manassas National Battlefield Park are mainly for exercise, but I find that statement to be as far from the truth as the sun is from the earth. Nearly all have loads of history along their paths, and when I am hiking on a battlefield I want the trails to enhance the battlefield experience. I highly recommend the Deep Cut Loop Trail because it passes plenty of history and allows you to see the terrain with your own eyes, for only then can you understand the hardships of the battle.

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Last updated on April 9, 2020
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