Friday, September 20, 2013

In Search of the Contraband Camps of McLean, Virginia, Part II: Camp Beckwith

A few weeks ago I wrote about the location of one of the contraband camps in the McLean, Virginia area. The Union Army established Camp Wadsworth on property belonging to local Confederate sympathizers near Langley on May 30, 1863. Just one week later, the Federal authorities decided to organize yet another contraband farm in the same general vicinity. This week I turn my attention to the possible location of this second camp, which was situated near Lewinsville. The historical evidence is somewhat less definitive than in the case of Camp Wadsworth, but I wanted to present my preliminary conclusions based on the documents and other sources I have reviewed since starting my research.

As D.B. Nichols, Superintendent of Freedman, noted in his July 1863 report on the newly-established contraband camps:
[W]e organized . . . Camp Beckwith, on MCVAY's and JACKSON's farms, near Lewinsville. (N.Y. Times, Aug. 9, 1863.)
According to a map of land ownership for Fairfax County in 1860, property belonging to both Dr. William Harvey McVeigh and Townsend McVeigh sat very close to the crossroads at Lewinsville. There is no record of a "McVay," so presumably Nichols misspelled the last name. Moreover, farmland under the name of Susan M. Jackson was located adjacent to William McVeigh's land near Lewinsville. Jackson was the widow of the infamous James W. Jackson, who gunned down Col. Elmer Ellsworth of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves at the start of the war. James Jackson's mother also had extensive acreage in the vicinity, but farther from Lewinsville and the McVeigh property. Both the McVeigh and Jackson families had reason to attract the attention of Union authorities, so it is perhaps not surprising that their abandoned land became the target for a social experiment involving the resettlement of contrabands.

Wartime view of Lewinsville, Virginia, from Harper's Weekly, Dec. 14, 1861 (courtesy of As I noted in a previous post, this depiction of the village is somewhat fanciful.
The McVeigh Property

Townsend McVeigh was born in Virginia in 1800. He owned land in Fairfax County close to Lewinsville (grid square 30:1, 1860 Map), but resided with his family in Loudoun County. In 1859 Townsend conveyed 95 acres near Lewinsville to his son William, a physician born in 1828 (grid square 30:1). This land comprised part of the Windy Hill Farm, which is today listed on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites.

According to 1860 Census, William McVeigh lived in Fairfax with his wife and three small children. He raised hay, oats, and potatoes. William also owned some dairy cows and cattle. Presumably this farming took place on William's property in Lewinsville. Tax records from 1861 indicate that McVeigh had three slaves.

Mason Shipman leased William's farm or otherwise raised crops there under contract.* The exact start and end date of this business relationship remains uncertain. Shipman's name appears on an 1862 Union Army map of Northeastern Virginia at or near the location of William's farm (see below). According to historian Chuck Mauro, Shipman was farming on William McVeigh's land when the Union Army confiscated his hay in 1863.

Map-1,detail of an 1862 Union Army map of Northeastern Virginia ("McDowell map") showing Lewinsville, Langley, and vicinity (courtesy of Library of Congress). The Shipman residence sat to the northwest of Lewinsville in an area along Scott's Run where William McVeigh's land bordered Susan Jackson's property.
William became active in the local community. He sat on the Board of Trustees for the Strawberry Vale Institute for Young Ladies near Peach Grove (today's Tyson's Corner).** William also served as one of the commissioners in the Lewinsville precinct for the vote on the Ordinance of Secession. William cast his ballot for ratification along with thirty-eight others, but in the end, Lewinsville was one of three precincts in the county to reject the Ordinance on May 23, 1861. Like other secessionists, William likely left his farm in 1861 before the Federal occupation of the neighborhood that fall. He died at his father's home in Middleburg in 1864.

The McVeigh family had its fair share of encounters with Union authorities. On April 10, 1863, the Alexandria Gazette reported that a "Dr. Wm. H. McVeigh" was one of several civilians arrested for disloyalty and brought to Washington by Union forces under Gen. Julius Stahel. Townsend McVeigh, William's father, also appears to have been arrested for his anti-Union sympathies and placed on a prison barge opposite Alexandria in June 1863. When he refused to take the oath of allegiance, Townsend was sent to Old Capitol Prison in Washington and later released.*** Records indicate that William's brother, Townsend Jesse (or T.J.) McVeigh likely served as a chaplain of the 2nd Virginia Infantry. T.J. was captured in early 1862 and sent to Old Capitol Prison. He was released on parole in March of that year.

When the Union authorities began to look for a place to locate a contraband camp outside of Washington, they surely wasted no time in setting their sights on the McVeigh lands. According to Shipman's claim before the Southern Claims Commission, Camp Beckwith was established on William's farm near Lewinsville. (Sprouse, Vol. 4, 1349.)**** It is altogether possible that some or all of the neighboring land owned by his father was also used for the same purpose, but I have yet to find any proof. Today the McVeigh properties are occupied by residential housing. The green area on Map-2 below represents William's property superimposed on the current-day map of McLean. Townsend McVeigh's land is shown in blue.

Map-2, showing the probable location of Camp Beckwith (view Camp Beckwith in a larger map)

The red pin  indicates the location of Lewinsville at the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and Great Falls Street. The Windy Hill farmhouse is indicated by the blue pin. The home, built around 1827, survives today but is barely visible behind trees.

Looking down Lewinsville Road along the southern edge of the former William McVeigh property. A housing development now sits on the heights above the treeline. The Windy Hill farmhouse is also located in the same neighborhood.
The Jackson Property

The Jackson family's land became the target of Union authorities for obvious reasons. James W. Jackson was born near Lewinsville in 1823 to Richard and Jane Donaldson Jackson.***** His father died when he was about six months old. Jane wanted her son to attend Georgetown College, but in the end she sent James to live with his brother, John, in Kentucky. While residing in the Bluegrass State, James met and married Susan Maria Adams of Washington County. He returned to Fairfax with his wife sometime before 1850 and spent a few years farming a tract of land around Lewinsville. In 1858 James became the proprietor of the Union Hotel in Fairfax Court House. By 1860, the Jackson family owned four slaves. Around the start of 1861, James moved his family to Alexandria, where he signed a five-year lease on the Marshall House at the corner of Pitt and King Streets. On January 19, the Alexandria Gazette reported that Jackson's inn and tavern were open for business.

James W. Jackson (courtesy of Johnson County Community College).
Jackson became an ardent secessionist and defiantly flew the stars and bars from the roof of the Marshall House to demonstrate his allegiance. As Union troops occupied Alexandria on May 24, Col. Ellsworth entered the hotel and tore down the flag. Jackson, a combative person by nature, confronted Ellsworth and killed him with a musket blast to the chest. Jackson was immediately shot dead by a Union soldier. The young innkeeper left behind his wife and three daughters. Soon after his death, Jackson was hailed throughout the Confederacy as a martyr for the cause of Southern independence.

James Jackson's wife owned over 120 acres near Lewinsville (grid squares 20:4, 21:3, 29:2, & 30:1). She acquired most or all of  this land in 1859. Susan was living in Alexandria with James when he was killed, and it is unclear whether she ever resided on her property in Lewinsville after his death. Susan and her children may also have visited or stayed with her mother-in-law in Lewinsville sometime during the summer of 1861.******

Jane Jackson lived on over 600 acres along the Leesburg-Georgetown Turnpike near Langley and Lewinsville (grid squares 20:2, 20:4, 21:1, & 21:3) Her home is indicated on Map-1 to the west of Prospect Hill. In October 1861, soldiers from the 10th Pennsylvania Reserves raided Jane Jackson's house upon learning that she had furnished sensitive information to the Confederates about Union troop movements and positions. They placed her under arrest and sent her to Washington. The soldiers also found "two arms-full of important papers." (Ltr. from Anon. to Lancaster Express, Oct. 16, 1861.) According to one contemporary account, the Union troops "took all her negroes which could be of service to them, and gave the others away." (Anonymous 45.) They also "destroyed her furniture, and appropriated a quantity of house-keeping stores which she had laid up." (Anonymous 45.)

Jane and Susan, like other Confederate sympathizers, may have left the area at some point during the war, but more research is needed to determine their whereabouts. In June 1863, the Union Army established part of Camp Beckwith on property that had been abandoned by the Jackson family. Federal authorities likely selected Susan's tract, given its immediate proximity to Lewinsville and William McVeigh's land, where the other half of the camp was located. Jane Jackson's land was farther away, although I have not found evidence that would definitively exclude her property as a possible site.

Susan Jackson's property is indicated in orange on Map-2 above. Suburban housing developments now cover the land. The Capital Beltway (I-495) also cuts through the eastern edge of Jackson's former property near Scott's Run.

Photograph west looking along Lewinsville Road in McLean towards land that once belonged to Susan Jackson. The landscape has been dramatically transformed since the 1860s. Notice the bridge over I-495. 
Based on available sources, we generally know where the Union authorities placed Camp Beckwith. My research over the last several months has raised even more questions that it has answered. Work remains to be done, such as a thorough examination of the Shipman claim. I'd also like to find soldiers' letters and other primary source documents that contain possible clues confirming the camp locations. Another big unknown is the story of the contrabands who lived at Camp Beckwith and neighboring Camp Wadsworth. Other topics include the experiences of the Federal troops who protected the camps and the aid society workers who taught and assisted the contrabands. In the coming months and years, I hope to find more information, and I plan on returning to this topic to share my discoveries.


*William McVeigh's arrangement with Shipman is mentioned in a few secondary sources. (See Mauro 111; Sprouse, Vol. 4, 1349.) These sources rely on the Shipman's claim for damages before the Southern Claims Commission (SCC). Unfortunately, the SCC file is not available on-line, and I have not yet independently verified the content of Shipman's claim. An examination of the SCC file is likely to uncover additional details about both Shipman and McVeigh.

**The advertisement in the Alexandria Gazette for Aug. 20, 1860 lists McVeigh's address as Annandale in Fairfax County. It is unclear whether he resided there for a particular period of time before moving to Lewinsville, or maintained a residence in both places.

***Articles in the Alexandria Gazette refer to Townsend McVeigh as "Dr. Townsend" or "Dr. Townshend" McVeigh of Middleburg, Loudoun County.

****Again, a thorough examination of the Shipman SCC file may reveal additional details about the placement of Camp Beckwith.

*****Jackson's boyhood home, built in the mid-18th century, still stands along Swink's Mill Road in McLean. The house is listed on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites. The Jackson family sold the property in 1843.

******In an August 21, 1861 letter to the Pittsburg Gazette, a staff officer from the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves reported that some soldiers from the Reserves visited Jane Jackson's home and met one of James Jackson's daughters.


Alexandria Gazette, Aug. 20, 1860, Jan. 19, 1861, May 21, 1861, Mar. 7, 1863, Apr. 10, 1863, June 26, 1863, July 23, 1863, Aug. 15, 1863, May 10, 1864; Anonymous, Life of James W. Jackson: The Alexandria Hero, the Slayer of Ellsworth, the First Martyr in the Cause of Southern Independence (1862); Susan Collet Butler, "Windy Hill Farm," Yearbook of the Historical Society of Fairfax County, Vol. 11, pp. 63-74 (1971); Brian A. Conley, Fractured Land: Fairfax County's Role in the Vote for Secession, May 23, 1861 (2001); Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites Report: Windy Hill Farm (report and research notes of Susan Hellman, Dept. of Planning and Zoning,Sept. 2006, available at Virginia Room, City of Fairfax Regional Library); Carole Herrick, Images of America: McLean (2011); "Jackson Family Cemetery," Find-a-Grave (website); "James William Jackson (?-1861)," Find-a-Grave (website); "Jane Moore Donaldson Jackson (1796-1872)," Find-a-Grave (website); "Richard Jackson (1778-1823)," Find-a-Grave (website); Ltr. from "Alpha" to Pittsburg Gazette, Aug. 21, 1861 (courtesy of P.R.V.C. Hist. Soc.); Ltr. from Anon. to Lancaster Express, Oct. 16, 1861 (courtesy of P.R.V.C. Hist. Soc.); Ltr. from Nathaniel S. Falconer to Warren Ledger, Oct. 19, 1861 (courtesy of P.R.V.C. Hist. Soc.) ; Charles V. Mauro, The Civil War in Fairfax County: Civilians and Soldiers (2006); Hugh Milton McIlhany, Some Virginia Families (1903); "Dr. William Harvey McVeigh (?-1864)," Find-a-Grave (website); "Townsend McVeigh (1800-77)," Find-a-Grave (website); Beth Mitchell, Fairfax County in 1860: Property Owners (original map book available at Virginia Room, City of Fairfax Regional Library) ("1860 Map"); N.A.R.A., Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Virginia, available at fold3.comN.Y. Times, Aug. 9, 1863; Official Records, 1:29:1, 201-02, 2:2, 272-73"Mason Shipman (1828-1916)," Find-a-Grave (website); Edith Moore Sprouse, Fairfax County in 1860: A Collective Biography (1996) (7 vols. available at Virginia Room, City of Fairfax Regional Library); U.S. Federal Census Returns for the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1850 & 1860, available at; U.S. Federal Census Slave Schedules for 1860, available at


Nick Cimino said...


Do you have a copy of Mason Shipman's Claim? My step-mother is a Shipman descendant and I would like to pursue more information on the Shipmans for her.

Nick Cimino

Ron Baumgarten said...


Thanks so much for writing, and what an interesting connection. Unfortunately I haven't yet located the actual claim in the time since I wrote the post. I couldn't locate the claim on nor could I find a copy at the Virginia Room at the Fairfax Library. I have a feeling that the actual copy resides at the NARA. Please do let me know if you locate it, and I will do the same! And if you find anything about Camp Beckwith, I'd also be interested.



Anonymous said...

You need to check out the old earth works located in Timberlake Park. Maybe a camp boundary?

Unknown said...

Hi, Jim Carson's Book on Chasing Mosby, Killing Booth about the 16th NY Cavalry noted that Col Lazelle, CO of the 16th noted in his message to Gen Augur about contracting the early warning line, that Lewinsville was included in that line and a stockade with abati surrounding it existed. Have you read anything about a stockade existing at Camp Beckwith and the incident with Lt Keyes may have been against that structure?

I am writing an article about early warning line fortifications and trying to find information about Lewinsville.

Brian McEnany

Ron Baumgarten said...

Not familiar with those earthworks. Do tell!

Thanks, Brian. I don't recall reading about the stockade, but it is possibly mentioned. I believe my sources on the skirmish there may have some more detail if you haven't checked those out.