Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Adding to the Newspaper Collection: Munson's Hill & Bailey's Crossroads in 1861

As frequent readers know, I am an avid collector of antique Civil War-era newspapers.  I often search for editions containing wartime scenes from across Northern Virginia and Washington.  Not too long ago I spotted a September 30, 1861 edition of the New York Illustrated News on eBay.  I was immediately drawn to the full-page engraving of Bailey's Crossroads and Munson's Hill.*  I am familiar with other period illustrations of these landmarks from Harper's Weekly, but I had never seen this particular engraving from the lesser-known Illustrated News.

New York Illustrated News, Sept. 30, 1861.  The cover illustration shows Federal vessels driving back an iron-plated Confederate steamer at Newport News, Virginia.  I purchased the paper from eBay dealer lindastevea.
I've written extensively about both Munson's Hill and Bailey's Crossroads.  (See here and here.)   In August 1861, Confederates under James Longstreet pushed the Confederate lines in Northern Virginia closer to Washington.  The advanced position stretched beyond Falls Church to Munson's Hill and other locations.  The Confederates erected earthworks at the top of Munson's Hill, where they could see the unfinished Capitol dome in the distance.  The Union Army moved towards Bailey's Crossroads, not far down the Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike (today's Rt. 7) from Munson's Hill.  The picket war in and around Bailey's became quite heated at times.  Recognizing the vulnerability of the advanced line, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston finally withdrew his forces from Munson's Hill at the end of September 1861.

"Munson's Hill, as Seen from Bailey's Cross Roads."  Union forces seized Munson's Hill on September 28, 1861.  Given the date of publication (Sept. 30, 1861), it is likely that this engraving was sketched during the time of the Confederate occupation and only printed after the evacuation.
The engraving depicts Bailey's Crossroads looking northwest up the Leesburg Turnpike towards the Confederate earthworks on Munson's Hill.  The Columbia Turnpike runs perpendicular to the Leesburg Turnpike.  A Union picket stands to the right of the picture, while two soldiers survey the Rebel position in the distance.  The sketch artist was B.C. Kidder of the 2nd Michigan.  Incidentally, pickets from this regiment clashed with Confederate infantry around Bailey's Crossroads at the end of August and start of September 1861.  (See here.) 

Close-up of the engraving showing the Confederate earthworks at the top of Munson's Hill.  The Confederate flag flying above Munson's Hill was visible all the way from Washington.  The "News and Notes" section of the Illustrated News reported: "A young lady residing in the upper part of Georgetown has just received a letter from her brother in the Rebel army, in which he states that from his post, near Munson's Hill, he can see the lights of his own home every night. . . . He had made great exertions to accompany the advance guard, in order that he might be among the first to enter the Capital, and rejoin his family at the earliest moment."
Today the same ground, covered with strip malls, chain restaurants, and residential development, bears little resemblance to the area during the Civil War.  (See here for a contemporary map.)  The engraving from the New York York Illustrated News takes us to a different time, beyond the traffic congestion and big box stores.  Such old newspaper images bring the past alive and remind us of how Northern Virginia once sat in the middle of a war zone. 


*At the time of the Civil War, the location was spelled "Bailey's Cross Roads."


Robert Moore said...

Great pieces! I've tried to keep myself from going overboard with similar works... especially those that have been hand-colored. Fantastic collectibles, and very addictive.

Ron Baumgarten said...

Thanks, Robert. The hobby is indeed very addictive. I suppose the only upside (from my wife's POV) is that they don't take as much space as books!