Last fall I wrote about a Confederate attack on the contraband farm at Camp Beckwith in Lewinsville. The contraband camps in Northern Virginia made inviting targets for Confederate guerrillas, who could surprise and overpower the small Union garrisons and ride away with horses, crops, and prisoners. Even before the Lewinsville raid in October 1863, the Confederates set their sights on another contraband camp close to Falls Church. The episode involved none other than the Gray Ghost, John S. Mosby, and his partisan rangers.
On May 30, 1863, the Union Army took Nutt's property for use as a contraband farm named Camp Rucker. The camp was one of five established across Northern Virginia during the same time period. The former slaves quartered on Major Nutt's land numbered 105 by the end of June 1863.
|Mosby and some of his Rangers (courtesy of Wikipedia). Mosby is seated in the center, with a plume in his hat.|
|Detail from 1862 Union Army map showing the general area of Mosby's raid of August 16 1863, including Falls Church, Maj. Nutt's property (Camp Rucker), Ft. Buffalo, and Bailey's Cross Roads (courtesy of Library of Congress). The Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike is the road running through Falls Church past Munson's Hill to Bailey's Cross-Roads.|
Mosby stopped when he got to Camp Rucker. The Gazette reported what happened next:
Mosby and six men dismounted and approached the contraband camp, when the guard halted him; he gave some reply and moved on, when the guard shot and one of the Union prisoners made his escape. Moseby [sic] then fell back and moved through Falls Church up the turnpike to a little tavern, where they stopped, and was telling the keeper of the hotel where they had been, and that they could go where they pleased, when a detachment of the California cavalry came up and drove them beyond Difficult run four miles from Dranesville.***Assuming the Gazette had the story right, Mosby and his band went on quite a ride the night of August 16. The article doesn't report much in the way of booty aside from what the Confederates seized when they attacked the sutler train earlier in the day. Mosby obviously had a raid on Camp Rucker in mind when he stopped at Maj. Nutt's place, but quick action by an alert Federal guard foiled the potential disaster and allowed one prisoner to escape. Only a few months later, Elijah White and his men would have a bit more success in attacking another contraband farm at Camp Beckwith.
*Nutt's farm was somewhere in the vicinity of the modern-day East Falls Church Metro Station.
**Some sources indicate that Nutt entered the Confederate military. I have not uncovered Nutt's service record. At the very least, Nutt worked for the Confederate Treasury Department based on information contained in Confederate citizens files in the National Archives.
***This unit was likely the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, which was comprised on some troopers from California. The 2nd Massachusetts was doing duty in the Department of Washington at the time.
Alexandria Gazette, Apr. 11, 1861, May 11, 1861, Jan. 10, 1863, Aug. 19, 1863; Bradley E. Gernand, A Virginia Village Goes to War: Falls Church During the Civil War (2002); James O'McClure, "The Old Twenty-First: Interesting History of the 'First Buffalo Regiment,'" Western New Yorker, Jan. 21, 1897; J. Harrison Mills, Chronicles of the Twenty-First Regiment, New York State Volunteers (1863); Beth Mitchell, Fairfax County in 1860: Property Owners (original map book available at Virginia Room, City of Fairfax Regional Library); N.A.R.A., Files for William D. Nutt in Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-65 (available at fold3.com); New York Times, Aug. 9, 1863; Oliver Willcox Norton, Army Letters, 1861-1865 (1903); "2nd Massachusetts Cavalry," Civil War in the East (website);