“Hands-On History Profile:” Isaac Pasette interns at the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park

“Hands-On History Profile:” Isaac Pasette interns at the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park
Isaac telling visitors about the story of “Lincoln’s Christmas Gift” by the pond

Where was your internship and how did you find it?

My internship was located at the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park, and I found it through an event we had with my fraternity. One of the members of the fraternity set up an event in which the group would go to Bristoe Station to volunteer. We worked on what is known as “Park Day” and cleaned out an overgrown fence line. After that, I was able to get in contact with the park supervisor, Kevin Palwak. Since I was already interested in the Civil War, I figured that I would ask if there were any other opportunities at the park for me to volunteer. Eventually, what I would do at the park would become my internship for the fall semester.

What were your main responsibilities on the job?

My main responsibilities on the job depended on the month. In the first couple of months, my responsibilities were to create a “Furnishing Plan” for the Winter Quarters that are at Bristoe Station, and researching various encampments at Bristoe Station and in its vicinity. The “Furnishing Plan” will be utilized at the park and I was able to find several encampments that were not previously documented or discovered. The last couple of months I focused on developing the Christmas in a Civil War Camp tour program. This included researching information about the Pennsylvania Reserves encampment, who were stationed there during Christmas in the winter of 1863-1864, researching the daily lives of soldiers during their stay in winter quarters, and researching various events and stories of Christmas time during the Civil War that happened at  Bristoe Station. The other part of my job was to show up on the volunteer weekends, which were the second and fourth weekends of each month, and I would help and give tours on those days. 

The Winter Quarters waypoint set up - the log cabin, fire pit, and the accoutrement table

What were the most rewarding aspects of your internship?

The most rewarding aspects of my internship were the ability to create a meaningful impact on the park itself and the visitors of the park. I was able to create several documents and a new program that will be utilized in future events at Bristoe Station, which means the work I did will be used in the future. Through my research, I was able to find new information about the encampments at Bristoe Station, and I was able to discover a couple of previously unknown or undocumented ones. However, the biggest impact for me would have to be the interactions I got from visitors. It was an amazing feeling to see someone’s face light up when you tell them about the facts about and the history of what happened at this place. In one instance I was showing a man from North Carolina where his ancestors likely were positioned on  the battlefield. According to the man, they were captured by Union troops and taken as prisoners of war during that battle. After showing him where this exact event took place, he was extremely appreciative and we later became friends.

What was your biggest accomplishment?

The biggest accomplishment from this internship was definitely developing the tour program, “Christmas in a Civil War Camp.” This project took information from the “Furnishing Plan” that I developed, stories and experiences from the encampments I had researched, as well as new information about Christmas during the Civil War in general. This was my time to create a wonderful project suitable for all ages to enjoy. After researching for countless hours, developing a project that would engage the public, and taking on a leadership role and coordinating volunteers to assist with the project, my hard work translated into a successful day.  On the day of the event, I was extremely nervous to present my final project in front of so many people. However, once I got the ball rolling, my nervousness went away and was replaced by a desire to tell people about the research I conducted in a passionate way. Overall, the event was a huge success, with over 80 people coming to attend the program. There was 100% positive feedback from the volunteers and staff as well as the guests who came to enjoy the tour. 

Hardtack hanging up as ornaments on a tree near the log cabin

What did your internship teach you about being a professional historian?

This internship showed me what it was really like to be a professional historian. In my case, I’m majoring in public history, so I wanted this to be an introduction to what I may be doing in the future. This allowed me to get a sense of what my career may be like, and it reinforced my decision of wanting to become a public historian. This program helped me to understand how to research relevant information, place it into a program accordingly, and interpret history so that people of all ages and all familiarities of the subject could learn something informative, and find the subject material that was both entertaining and interesting.

Did anything surprise you?

The most surprising thing to me was how a park of this historical magnitude is so underfunded and unknown. Bull Run and Manassas overshadow Bristoe Station due to their own importance and close proximity. However, this is  the second largest preserved historical battlefield in the county and unfortunately, there is very little funding within this place to help upgrade it. This reduces the number of visitors this park rec and reflects the limited amount of research that has been done here. I was surprised to have found Civil War encampments that have never been documented in the park. I feel like these were just as important as the battles that were fought on these grounds, and they should be mentioned in more detail. There was very little information about the various Union encampments on interpretive signs in the park. I discovered many of these Union encampments through researching for the internship, which shows how overlooked this aspect of the park is. Hopefully in the future, thanks to my project,  more light can be shined on the many encampments that were here at Bristoe Station.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your internship experience?

I cannot emphasize enough how life-changing and important this experience was for me.

It allowed me to give my interests a real purpose and I feel like this was a great way for me to provide something for the community. This certainly cemented my interests in becoming a public historian and educating the public about various historical events. I feel honored to have been able to work and learn at Bristoe Station to make an impact on the community as a public historian.