Of all the skirmishes and minor battles around the Washington area during the Civil War, Dranesville has attracted its fair share of attention. A quick search on Google reveals plenty of material about this engagement on December 20, 1861. The Friday after Thanksgiving, my Dad and I set out to explore the area around Dranesville. The battlefield is now marred by the suburban D.C. development, but a few historical markers recall the encounter, and Fairfax County has preserved an old tavern there.
The hamlet of Dranesville sat just west of the crossroads of the Leesburg & Alexandria Turnpike (today's VA Route 7/Leesburg Pike) and the Leesburg & Georgetown Turnpike (VA Route 193/Georgetown Pike). In December 1861, Dranesville occupied "debatable ground" between the Union and Confederate lines in Northern Virginia, characterized by heightened tensions among local inhabitants. The Union Army learned that enemy cavalry was operating in the region and threatening Union sympathizers. Brigadier General George A. McCall, commander of the Pennsylvania Reserves, instructed Brigadier General E.O.C. Ord on the evening of December 19 to set out the next morning with his brigade to drive back Confederate pickets and collect forage from secessionist farmers. Another brigade commander, Brigadier General John F. Reynolds, was instructed to move to Difficult Run, where he was to wait and provide support to Ord if necessary. Early on the morning of the 20th, Ord left Camp Pierpont in Langley with his brigade of the 6th, 9th, 10th, and 12th Pennsylvania Reserves, along with the "Bucktail" regiment (13th Pennsylvania Reserves), four guns under Captain Hezekiah Easton of Battery A, 1st Pennsylvania Artillery, and two squadrons of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry. All told, the force comprised about 5,000 men.
|Brigadier General E.O.C. Ord (courtesy of Georgetown University Library)|
|"The Battle of Dranesville -- Sketched by an Officer Who Was Present," Harper's Weekly, Jan.11, 1862 (courtesy of sonofthesouth.net). This print depicts a view from the position of Easton's battery. Ridge Road is to the left of the artillery. The Thornton House, occupied by the Bucktails, is immediately to the front of the artillery, on the right.|
|State historical marker on the "Action at Dranesville," along Leesburg Pike heading west towards the Dranesville intersection of VA Routes 7 & 193. More information can be found on the Historical Marker Database.|
|Dranesville Tavern (c. 1824), located west of the Dranesville intersection. This historic site is owned by Fairfax County, which restored the tavern to its 1850 appearance. The tavern was moved about 125 feet southwest of its original location. During the time of the Civil War, the tavern was considered "one of the best roadside inns in America," according to the Virginia Gazette. The tavern's role in the Battle of Dranesville is not known. However, a Civil War Trails marker in front of the tavern commemorates the action at Dranesville.|
A Note on Sources:
I found several sources useful in learning more about the Battle of Dranesville.
The Glories of War: Small Battles and Early Heroes of 1861, by local historian Charles P. Poland, Jr. has a detailed chapter on the battle.
The Official Records, Series I, Volume V contains official reports of the battle by Union commanders and Confederate General Stuart.
"The Battle of Dranesville, Va." by William S. Hammond in the Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXXV, Richmond, Jan.-Dec. 1907 (available here) provides a concise account of the engagement.
Craig Swain, over at To the Sound of the Guns, does a great job of describing troop positions in relation to the current lay of the land in Dranesville.