Showing posts with label Robert E. Lee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robert E. Lee. Show all posts

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Commemorating the 150th of Spotsylvania Court House

This past Monday I headed to Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park to attend the Sesquicentennial commemoration of the Union attack on the Mule Shoe Salient during the Battle of Spotsylvania. The fighting on May 12, 1864 was some of the most intense and brutal combat of the entire Civil War. An early morning Federal attack by the Union II Corps on Gen. Robert E. Lee's lines at the salient led to an initial breakthrough. The Confederates threw in reinforcements to beat back the Union onslaught. The fighting lasted for twenty-two long hours and resulted in a stalemate. The infamous "Bloody Angle" was the scene of a particularly ferocious struggle. All told, both sides suffered around 17,000 casualties that day.

Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP has offered a myriad of events to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Work has been pretty busy in recent weeks, so I had to be selective. Given the prominent place of the Bloody Angle in the narrative of the Overland Campaign, I opted to attend some of Monday's activities at the battlefield.

I headed down I-95 under an early morning sky. Arriving at the battlefield, I couldn't help but notice the difference in weather compared to the same time 150 years ago. The combat at the Mule Shoe Salient took place in foggy, rainy, and muddy conditions. By contrast, the sun on Monday was strong and bright as the day got underway. I was also struck by the number of cars parked along the road around the Bloody Angle stop. A couple hundred hardcore enthusiasts had already come to participate in the pre-dawn hike covering the Union attack, and high turn-out also characterized the tours that I attended. Don't let anyone tell you that the Sesquicentennial is suffering from a lack of interest!

Until Monday, I had never before visited Spotsylvania. I immediately felt chills as I looked out over the ravines and remnants of the earthworks at the Bloody Angle. Here I stood to ponder the enormity of what was happening at that very moment on that very ground 150 years ago. As I have come to learn during the Sesquicentennial, nothing can surpass the feeling of commemorating a battle on the anniversary day.

Red and white carnations covered the remains of the Confederate earthworks at the Bloody Angle.

The National Park Service maintained a "silent sentinel" for 22 hours, May 12-13, to commemorate the 22 hours of non-stop combat at the Mule Shoe Salient.
I attended a two-hour tour at 8 a.m. covering the famous "Lee to the rear!" episode and the Confederate response to the initial Union attack at the salient. We even stopped at the supposed spot where the Rebel commander was urged to turn around and get out of harm's way. At 12:30 I participated in a two-hour hike examining the lesser-known fighting at the east face of the salient, including the site of the Union IX Corps engagement with Confederates under Gen. James Lane. The Park Rangers on both tours were highly informative and helped visitors to make sense of what happened and where. I am always impressed by their knowledge and their professionalism.

Cars lined both sides of the road around the Bloody Angle.

Eric Mink discusses the role of Col. Simon Griffn's brigade (Potter's Division, IX Corps) in the Union attack on the east side of the Mule Shoe Salient. This picture gives a good idea of how large the tour groups were on Monday.
Luckily I found some time to see other sites at Spotsylvania, including the location of Col. Emory Upton's May 10 attack on the Mule Shoe Salient. Following the afternoon hike, I also toured the Wilderness battlefield, where I had the opportunity to visit Saunders Field, the Tapp Field, the site of James Longstreet's wounding, and other well-known spots. I was particularly interested in seeing the Brock Road-Orange Plank Road intersection due to some personally meaningful connections. Everywhere I went on both fields I came across flags and flowers from recent Sesquicentennial commemorations, reminding me that yesterday's sacrifices have not faded from our memory despite the passage of time.

Throughout my personal Wilderness and Spotsylvania tours I relied on the Civil War Trust's Overland Campaign Battle App, which I just installed on my iPhone last week. The app's GPS-enabled map was indispensable to making sure I didn't miss anything I wanted to see.

Monument to Gen. John Sedgwick on the Spotsylvania Battlefield. The Union commander of the VI Corps was killed near here by a Confederate sharpshooter on May 9, 1864.

A visitor placed this lone flower on the monument to Union Gen. Alexander Hays, who fell here on May 5, 1864 during the first day of the fighting in the Wilderness.

The critical intersection of the Brock Road and Orange Plank Road on the Wilderness Battlefield. My ancestor, William Baumgarten, first experienced combat near this spot on May 5, 1864. His regiment, the 102nd Pennsylvania, was part of Gen. Frank Wheaton's brigade of Gen. George Getty's VI Corps division. Getty's men played a key role in defending against Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill's advance on the intersection during the first day of the battle.
Monument dedicated to the First Vermont Brigade at the Wilderness Battlefield. In October 1861, the Vermont Brigade established Camp Griffin near the area where my home now sits in McLean, VA. The men spent the first winter of the war there before heading off to the front. At the Wilderness, the brigade, under the leadership of Col. Lewis A. Grant, also fought as part of Getty's Division at Brock Road. The unit experienced over 1,200 casualties in the battle.
Sesquicentennial events are also social occasions, and this one was no exception to the rule. I had a chance to meet fellow blogger Damian Shiels, who came all the way from Ireland to visit Civil War battlefields and attend the 150th commemorative events at Wilderness and Spotsylvania. I also had the pleasure of meeting John Cummings, who maintains the Spotsylvania Civil War Blog. My friend and Civil War expert Todd Berkoff and I walked together on the first tour, and I appreciated his insights on the battle. I also got to catch up over lunch with Robert Moore, another friend and fellow blogger. He and I joined Damian on the hike of the east side of the salient.

My visit to Spotsylvania on Monday was one of my most meaningful Sesquicentennial experiences. I am pleased that I could walk the hallowed ground at the Mule Shoe Salient to learn about and honor those who fought there 150 years ago. The personal side tour of the Wilderness also allowed me to commemorate the sacrifices that my ancestor made on that battlefield. All told, it was a trip to remember. And now on to Cold Harbor....

Monday, May 5, 2014

Washington City's Newspapers Report on the Opening of the Overland Campaign

The 150th anniversary of the Overland Campaign has officially begun. On this day in 1864 the Union and Confederate armies fought each other in the dense woods and thick underbrush of the Wilderness. I recently looked at some articles in the Washington papers from the corresponding time period, curious as to news residents of the nation's capital were receiving about the battle. What I found was an unusually long time lag, as well as inaccuracy, confusion, and contradiction. Perhaps this is not entirely surprising. The Union Army started removing telegraph lines once the spring campaign got underway, and even the Lincoln Administration was straining to learn news of the Army of the Potomac.

As the first day of the battle raged less than 100 miles to the south, readers of the Washington Daily National Republican were greeted with a headline that the Union Army was "[a]cross the Rapidan." (DNR, May 5, 1864.) Already Gen. Robert E. Lee "has been compelled to fall back from the strong position where he has held us at bay all winter," and "[e]very hour may now bring us news of a battle. . . ." (May 5, 1864.) Likewise, the Washington Evening Star informed readers:
The belief is expressed by parties from the front that Lee has suddenly evacuated his position; and there is a report coming through Rebel sources that he is marching rapidly to meet a Federal force believed in Richmond to be moving up the peninsula under General [William F.] Smith. 
Good military judges about us however, believe that Lee means to confront [Ulysses S.] Grant directly. . . .
We may be certain from Grant's past history that his movements will be rapid and telling. (ES, May 5. 1864.)
"Major-General [James] Wadsworth Fighting in the Wilderness," Harper's Weekly, June 4. 1864, after a sketch by A.R. Waud (courtesy of This illustration depicts fighting on May 6. Wadsworth was mortally wounded during the battle.
The next day, the hard fighting continued in the Wilderness, but the citizens of Washington were left guessing as to events at the front. According to one report in the Evening Star, "Lee's intention is to retreat to Richmond or to make a stand near Hanover C.H." (ES, May 6, 1864.) The Daily National Republican had little additional information, but offered some commentary:
We shall be very much disappointed if the first official dispatch from Gen. Grant is not dated from the victorious plains of Spotsylvania or before the defences of Richmond. 
The killed in the battle already fought, or to be fought, in Virginia we cannot serve, but the wounded we all can help, and it behooves the citizens to prepare themselves to render all the aid in their power.  
The number must be great in such a terrible conflict as will take place whenever the armies of Grant and Lee meet. (DNR, May 6, 1864.)

Washington Daily National Republican
, May 7, 1864

Finally, the May 7 papers carried news of the recent battle in the Wilderness based on a dispatch from a New York Tribune correspondent who had made his way behind the lines. The Daily National Republican, which also cited government sources, loudly proclaimed, "Grant Victorious. . . THE REBELS DEFEATED." (DNR, May 7, 1864.) The Evening Star was more cautious and spoke of "RUMOR RUN WILD":
A contemporary publishes this afternoon as information received by Government, statements that a great victory was achieved by General Grant. . . . 
We should be very glad to be able to confirm this news, but have to say that after diligent inquiry we are satisfied that Government has received no such information, or any information of more decisive results than that furnished by the Tribune dispatch elsewhere.
The fact that [Gen. George] Meade was able to stand the brunt of the Confederate onset with a portion of his command is considered a hopeful indication, and we hope soon to be able to announce a decisive victory, but we shall not trifle with our readers by manufacturing bogus victories for an hour's sensation. (ES, May 7, 1864.)
The next day, the Evening Star had reason for optimism:
The Chief Quartermaster has made a requisition for grain for the animals. This imports an advance by General Grant. . . . 
There seems to be no doubt that, although nothing decisive has yet occurred, the enemy has been foiled in his confident expectation of driving General Grant back before his operations could be fully developed, and that Lee has been compelled to give way. (ES, May 8, 1864.)
Finally, on May 9, three days after the battle had ended, the Evening Star declared Grant "VICTORIOUS" and informed readers that "Lee retreats 12 miles, leaving his dead and wounded in our hands." (ES, May 9, 1864.) By this time, however, news of another battle was starting to trickle in:
Parties in Alexandria County, yesterday, heard firing as from heavy siege guns, in the direction of Spotsylvania Court House, from 11 to 1 o'clock a.m. The distance is over 60 miles, but the day was quiet and the wind from the southwest, making it not improbable that the firing was from a battle going on yesterday between Grant and Lee. (ES, May 9, 1864.)
The Daily National Republican again rushed to declare another win:
There is reason to believe, from dispatches already received since our first extra to-day, that Lee was forced to fight at Spotsylvania on Sunday [May 8], and was again repulsed and compelled to retreat. (DNR, May 9, 1864.)
Of course, the engagement at Spotsylvania would drag on for days and prove just as inconclusive as the fight in the Wilderness had been. Grant, however, pushed onward in pursuit of Lee. Throughout the remainder of May and into June, Washingtonians continued to read about mounting casualties while praying for that ever elusive final victory over the Army of Northern Virginia. The papers would have no shortage of war news for the days and months to come.


Noah Andre Trudeau, Bloody Roads South: The Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May-June 1864 (1989); Washington Daily National Republican, May 5, 6, 7 & 9, 1864; Washington Evening Star, May 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9, 1864.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Historian Jimmy Price at the McLean Historical Society, November 12 -- "Experiment in Freedom: Arlington’s Freedman’s Village, 1863-1900"

This week I am pleased to announce that my pal and fellow blogger Jimmy Price will be speaking to the McLean Historical Society on Tuesday, November 12. Jimmy is the Historic Site Manager for Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park and Ben Lomond Historic Site in Price William County. He has worked at such other sites as Arlington House: The Robert E. Lee Memorial, Richmond National Battlefield, and the American Civil War Center at Tredegar. Jimmy maintains the blog, Freedom by the Sword: A Historian's Journey through the American Civil War Era. He has earned high praise for his first book, The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will Be Theirs By the Sword.  Jimmy's second book, The Battle of Deep Bottom: Grant vs. Lee North of the James, 1864, will be published by The History Press in 2014.

Detail of engraving from Harper's Weekly, May 7, 1864 (courtesy of Library of Virginia)

Jimmy will be discussing the Freedman's Village at Arlington. He provided me with the following description of his talk:
While many Americans are familiar with the story of how Robert E. Lee’s beloved Arlington estate was converted into our nation’s most hallowed ground during the Civil War, fewer people are familiar with the tale of a 37-year experiment in African-American freedom that took place on the very same grounds. Known as Freedman’s Village, this “experiment” was a collection of houses, schools, hospitals, and churches designed to house thousands of former slaves, train them in skilled labor, and provide them with a basic education. The village remained in operation long after the Civil War and was eventually consumed by Arlington National Cemetery, but its descendants live on today in the communities of Hall’s Hill and Nauck. This talk will focus on the village’s Civil War history, highlight some of the notable personalities associated with the site such as Sojourner Truth, and discuss the legacy of this overlooked experiment in freedom and citizenship.
Jimmy is a great historian, and I hope you will come out to hear him talk about this fascinating topic in Northern Virginia Civil War history.


Date & Time: Tuesday, November 12, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Avenue, McLean, VA

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact me at ronbaum@yahoo.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Commemorating the 150th of Bristoe Station

This past Monday marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bristoe Station. I'll be the first to admit that my knowledge of the Bristoe Campaign isn't on par with some of the other periods during the Civil War, so I was really looking forward to learning more while attending some Sesquicentennial events related to the battle and campaign. The activities that I selected satisfied my initial curiosity and left me yearning for future trips to study the ground where the armies fought.

For the unfamiliar, the Bristoe Campaign was Robert E. Lee's last full-blown strategic offensive during the war. Starting on October 9, 1863, Lee moved to outflank Gen. George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac, which was positioned along the Rapidan River. Meade, however, was no John Pope, and a replay of Second Manassas was not in the making. Instead, the Union commander got wind of Lee's plans and ordered his forces back to the defenses at Centreville. On October 14, Gen. A.P. Hill, commander of the Confederate Third Corps, spotted the Union Fifth Corps across Broad Run near Bristoe Station and sent Gen. Henry Heth's division in pursuit. Heth was instead surprised by elements of Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren's Second Corps, who assumed a strong position along the embankment of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad to the south. The Confederates wheeled about and marched to face this unexpected threat. Following a relatively short but bloody engagement in which four Second Corps brigades beat back Hill's men, Warren continued to Centreville. Total casualties amounted to nearly 2,000 (540 Union; 1,380 Confederate).

After the battle, Lee blamed Hill for making an ill-advised attack on the Union forces. When Hill went to apologize, Lee rebuked him, saying "Well, well, general, bury these poor men and let us say no more about it." Bristoe Station effectively stalled Lee's offensive momentum and by the start of November, both armies were back where they began.

Exhibit sign on lawn of Manassas Museum
Given the government shutdown, I had some free time on my hands, so last week I visited "There Was a Want of Vigilance," the Bristoe 150th exhibit at the Manassas Museum. Staff at the museum and the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division teamed up to assemble a small collection of artifacts related to the 1863 Bristoe Campaign. Objects are on loan from Gettysburg National Military Park, the Maine Historical Society, the Museum of the Confederacy, and the North Carolina Museum of History. I particularly enjoyed seeing A.P. Hill's cape and silver spurs. Other artifacts include a Second Corps Hospital guidon, swords belonging to battle participants, and the epaulets of Confederate Gen. Carnot Posey, who was mortally wounded at Bristoe Station. The exhibit runs through November 3. Make a day of it like I did, and visit Civil War-related sites in and around Old Town Manassas. For more information, see here.

This past Monday -- the 150th anniversary of the battle -- I traveled to Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park to take part in a special bus tour of local sites related to the engagement. I also planned to join a "real-time" tour on the battlefield later that afternoon, but a last minute sickness in the family required me to leave earlier than I would have liked.  Nevertheless, I still managed to find a little time to hike the battlefield trail, read the interpretive markers, and study the ground both before and after the bus tour. Lucky for me, I ran into Todd Berkoff, a local expert on the battle, who led an impromptu tour for me and Craig Swain, a friend and fellow blogger.

Back in the early 2000s, the Civil War Trust worked with a real estate developer and Prince William County to save the battlefield land that comprises today's park. The property not only saw action during the 1863 Battle of Bristoe Station, but was also the site of a Confederate encampment in 1861-62 and the Battle of Kettle Run in August 1862. Talking with Todd and Craig, I learned that the county has made tremendous strides in developing the site over the last several years. Additional plans include the construction of a visitor center in an existing 20th century structure on the battlefield and the removal of a non-period silo. Sadly, the surrounding area is still marked by residential housing that detracts from viewsheds and undermines the 19th-century sense of place.

Looking down at Broad Run from Milford, the first stop on the bus tour. This out-of-the-way site sits next to a Chick-fil-A parking lot in a shopping mall along Rt. 28 (Nokesville Road). The bridge across the stream is visible behind the trees to the left. At the time of the battle, the Union Army's Fifth Corps crossed Broad Run here, where the 18th-century Milford Mill once sat. The soldiers drew some Confederate artillery fire but continued towards Centreville. Prince William County plans a Civil War Trails marker and walking trail for this site at some point in the future.

Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park Historic Site Manager and fellow blogger Jimmy Price explains part of the battle at the location of Capt. Thomas Brown's Battery B, 1st R.I. Light Artillery (stop no. 2 on the bus tour). The battery sat on land to the east of Broad Run where the trees now stand. From this point, Brown's guns fired on the Confederate lines near the railroad at Bristoe. Prince William County owns this property and has plans to install a marker and cannon here.
Looking towards the position of Capt. William Arnold's Battery A, 1st R.I. Light Artillery from the parking lot of the Bristow Post Office (stop no. 3 on the bus tour). The battery occupied the distant cleared ridge line towards the middle of the picture. From this commanding position, Arnold's men were able to rake the Confederate lines near the Orange & Alexandria Railroad on the other side of the ridge.
The bus tour concluded at the spot where Gen. William Kirkland's brigade of North Carolinians, including the ill-fated 26th N.C., engaged in a desperate fight against Col. Francis Heath's brigade of Gen. Alexander Webb's division. The 26th N.C., which had fought on the first and third days at Gettysburg, lost its colors at Bristoe. The Union soldiers were positioned on the other side of the railroad, which at the time was six feet lower and single-tracked. Here Jimmy Price (r) is assisted by Prince William County Historic Interpreter Bill Backus (l). Congrats to Jimmy, Bill, and all the staff who made the 150th commemoration, including the bus tour, a success!
Another view of the area where Kirkland's brigade fought along the railroad.
Prince William County recently installed handsome new markers along the battlefield trail, just in time for the 150th anniversary. This marker discusses the opening phase of the battle. Note the unfortunate intrusion of a residential development at the park's boundary.
Site of Maj. David McIntosh's Battalion, which was ordered to provide artillery support for the Confederate attack along the railroad at the bottom of the hill. As the Confederate infantry retreated and counter-battery fire took its toll, the artillerymen abandoned their pieces. Men from the 19th Massachusetts eventually seized five of McIntosh's guns and dragged them back the Federal lines.
North Carolinians from Gen. John Cooke's brigade advanced down this slope to attack the Federal line along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. There they met men from Col. James Mallon's brigade of Webb's division, as well as Gen. Joshua Owen's brigade of Alexander Hays's division. Cooke was wounded in the fight, and Mallon was mortally wounded. The Bristoe Battlefield preserves the portion of the ground pertaining to Cooke's advance and attack.
I left Bristoe Station with a desire to learn even more about the 1863 battle and campaign. In looking through the commemorative program, I noticed that one of the speeches at Saturday's events was entitled, "After Gettysburg, Before Grant." Perhaps that explains why Bristoe Station is often overlooked. The battle lives in the shadows of one of the most popular and controversial engagements in the entire Civil War and is seen as a mere prequel to the famous struggle between Grant and Lee during the last year of the conflict. Not much at all has been written about Bristoe. I hope the 150th commemoration served as a teachable moment and raised the interest level in the battle among Civil War enthusiasts. In my case, I am sure that it did.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Walking Tour of Mosby's Raid on Fairfax

This week marks the 150th anniversary of John S. Mosby's famous raid on Fairfax Court House.  A couple years ago, I discussed the event and the impact it had on the defenses of Washington.  During the night of March 8, 1863, Mosby set out for Fairfax with twenty-nine men.  The group slipped through the Union lines and entered the town early on March 9.  Mosby hoped to bag his nemesis, Col. Percy Wyndham, but the Union cavalry officer had gone to Washington for the night.  Not one to leave empty-handed, Mosby located the headquarters of Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton, commander of a Union infantry brigade.  He boldly entered the home, woke the general from his drunken slumber, and arrested him.  Mosby and his fellow rangers also made off with two captains, 30 enlisted men, and 58 horses.   The daring raid behind enemy lines gave the Federals in Washington quite a fright and won Mosby the praise of Robert E. Lee and Jeb Stuart. 

The hapless Gen. Edwin Stoughton (courtesy of National Archives)

Several buildings that are associated with the raid survive to this day.  Late last summer, I stopped in Fairfax after a morning trip to Ox Hill Battlefield Park.  I found a parking spot near the courthouse and walked to the Mosby-related sites, which are all located within a few blocks of one another. 

The Fairfax Courthouse was my first stop.  This iconic structure, dating to 1800, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  During the raid, the courthouse square served as the rendez-vous spot for Mosby's men, who broke into squads to round up prisoners and horses around town.  The Union telegraph operator was captured as he slept in his tent on the square.

The Fairfax Courthouse. A Civil War Trails marker out front tells the story of the courthouse during the conflict.  Both Union and Confederate troops occupied the building at one time or another.  The trappings of a construction site detracted from an otherwise picture-perfect scene!
A few blocks away along Chain Bridge Road sits the Moore House (c. 1840).  In 1863, the building belonged to Thomas Murray.  Mosby believed that Wyndham was using Murray's house as his headquarters.  He and several of his men descended on the home, but they soon learned that their intelligence was faulty.  Murray informed Mosby that Wyndham was saying at Judge Henry Thomas' house on the other side of the courthouse.  Mosby sent a small group to the Thomas residence, but Wyndham had already left for Washington City.  The raiders consoled themselves with taking the Union officer's "fine wardrobe and several splendid horses that they found in the stables."  (Mosby, Belford's Monthly, 125.)

The Moore (Murray) House, where Mosby unsuccessfully sought Sir Percy Wyndham, the officer who had called him a horse thief.  According to a marker outside the home, Mosby retorted that "the only horses he had every stolen had Union troopers on their backs armed with two pistols and a saber."  After the war, the house belonged to R. Walton Moore, a Congressman and State Department counselor under President Franklin Roosevelt.  The building is now used for commercial purposes.
The highlight of any Mosby-related tour of Fairfax is the Dr.William Gunnell House.  Be aware that the building is tucked away on the grounds of the Truro Anglican Church, a short distance from the main strip; I almost walked right past it!  On the morning of March 9, Mosby learned from a captured guard that Stoughton was quartered at Gunnell's residence.  The commander and a few men rode out to the house, where they entered and mounted the staircase to Stoughton's bedroom.  Mosby described what happened next:
There were signs in the room of having been revelry in the house that night. Some uncorked champagne bottles furnished an explanation of the general's deep sleep. He had been entertaining a number of ladies from Washington in a style becoming a commanding general. The revelers had retired to rest just before our arrival with no suspicion of the danger that was hovering over them. The ladies had gone to spend the night at a citizen's house. . . . As, the general was not awakened by the noise we made in entering the room, I walked up to his bed and pulled off the covering. But even this did not arouse him. He was turned over on his side snoring like one of the seven sleepers. With such environments I could not afford to await his convenience or to stand on ceremony. So I just pulled up his shirt and gave him a spank. Its effect was electric. The brigadier rose from his pillow and in an authoritative tone inquired the meaning of this rude intrusion. He had not realized that we were not some of his staff. I leaned over and said to him: "General, did you ever hear of Mosby?" "Yes," he quickly answered, "have you caught him?" "No," I said, "I am Mosby—he has caught you." (Mosby, Belford's Monthly, 126-27.)
A couple of markers around the house commemorate the general's capture. 

The Dr. William P. Gunnell House (c. 1835).  Stoughton was sleeping in a bedroom on the left front side of the second floor.  The part of the home to the right of the front door was added after the war.  The William Gunnell House is now a private residence.
Historical marker describing the significance of the William Gunnell House to Mosby's raid on Fairfax Court House.  (See here for more information on the marker.)

Marker commemorating Mosby's raid on Fairfax and the capture of Stoughton.  The United Daughters of the Confederacy placed the marker here in 1937.  The marker makes the exaggerated claim that Mosby captured 100 prisoners and horses.  The spire of the Truro Church is visible in the background.  (See here for more information on the marker.)
Mosby and his men made their last stop at the Joshua Gunnell House.  At the time of the raid, Lt. Col. Robert Johnstone of the 5th N.Y. Cavalry was staying here with his wife.  As the Confederates approached the house, Johnstone threw open the window on the second floor and asked their affiliation.  The raiders laughed, and Mosby dispatched some men to search the house.  While Johnstone's wife kept the Rebels at bay, Johnstone slipped out the back door in his nightclothes and hid under the outhouse.  Unable to find the Union officer, the Confederates left town with their prisoners and horses in tow.  Mosby tells the remainder of the story best:
[Johnstone] lay there concealed and shivering with cold and fear until after daylight. He did not know for some time that we had gone, and he was afraid to come out of his hole to find out. His wife didn't know where he was. In squeezing himself under shelter he had torn off his shirt, and when he appeared before his wife next morning, as naked as when he was born and smelling a great deal worse, it is reported that she refused to embrace him before he had taken a bath.  (Mosby, Belford's Monthly, 128.)
As a result of this unfortunate episode, Johnstone earned the embarrassing nickname of "Outhouse Johnstone."

Joshua Gunnell house (c. 1830) (courtesy of Historical Marker Database).  The site is now dedicated to commercial use.
The Federal authorities wasted no time in rounding up citizens suspected of aiding Mosby.  Among those arrested was Antonia Ford, a young woman who lived with her father, Edward, close to the courthouse in what is today known as the Ford Building.  The Ford family had hosted Stoughton's sister, mother, and three of the general's aides.  Stoughton and Ford had also spent time together, and an anonymous letter to the New York Times even went so far as to allege a "very intimate" relationship between the two.  Ford and her father were arrested on charges of spying and sent to Old Capitol Prison in Washington.  Although Ford helped the Confederates during the First Manassas Campaign, her role in Mosby's raid is somewhat uncertain.  After the war, Mosby claimed that she was "as innocent as Abraham Lincoln."  Incidentally, Ford was arrested by Maj. Joseph C. Willard, the Union Provost Marshall in Fairfax and an owner of Willard's Hotel in Washington. Willard allegedly lobbied for her release from Old Capitol and married her several months later in March 1864.

The Ford Building (c. 1835) on Chain Bridge Road, where Antonia Ford resided in March 1863 (courtesy of Historical Marker Database).  According to the marker out front, a search of the house by Union authorities after the raid  "revealed an honorary aide-de-camp commission to Antonia from Gen. Jeb Stuart."  The structure currently houses offices.
The Fairfax Raid played no small part in shaping the legend of the Gray Ghost of the Confederacy.  Anyone with an interest in the Civil War, or Mosby in particular, should visit Old Town Fairfax and check out the sites related to the partisan commander's bold venture behind Union lines.

For More Information. . .

Lucky for us, Mosby liked writing about his wartime exploits in Northern Virginia.  I'd recommend that readers check out these two accounts of the Fairfax Raid by the Gray Ghost himself:
Mosby certainly had a way of spinning a yarn!  Nothing can beat this first-hand description of the raid and Stoughton's ignominious capture.

The City of Fairfax has put together a map and description of the key historic sites in town, including the buildings connected to Mosby's Fairfax Raid.  You will find all of the relevant addresses here if you wish to follow my walking tour.

I also would like to mention two guidebooks that cover the Fairfax Raid, as well as a multitude of other Mosby sites across the region:

Sesquicentennial Event

The City of Fairfax will be hosting an all-day event on Saturday, March 9 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Mosby's Fairfax Raid.  Aside from the requisite reenactment, the event will feature interpretive stops outside Mosby-related sites, as well as Mosby scholars symposium, book signing, and film screenings.  More information on this event can be found here.

Additional Sources

Aside from the information cited above, the following sources were useful in compiling this post:

James A. Ramage, Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby (1999); Jeffry D. Wert, Mosby's Rangers (1991); Ashley M. Whitehead, Antonia Ford (1838-1871), in Encyclopedia Virginia.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Chain Bridge Defenses During the Maryland Campaign, Part III: Sigel Stays Put and Stands Guard

In the last couple of posts, I've followed the story of the Chain Bridge defenses around Washington in the days prior to Antietam.  During the first week of September 1862, Franz Sigel led his corps from Fairfax Court House to the vicinity of Ft. Ethan Allen.  As Gen. George McClellan moved his army across the Potomac to chase down the Robert E. Lee, he left Sigel's men, along with the corps of Fitz John Porter and Samuel P. Heintzelman, to guard the Virginia side of the river in front of the nation's capital.  By September 7, Sigel's line stretched from Ft. Marcy and Ft. Ethan Allen, near Chain Bridge, to Ft. DeKalb in present-day Arlington.

McClellan Tries to Extract Sigel and Other Reinforcements from Washington's Defenses

Before long, McClellan was asking Washington to send him reinforcements, including men from Sigel's corps and the other commands around the capital.  Generally inclined to overestimate Confederate troop strength, Little Mac was no different this time around.  He believed that Lee had "not less than 120,000 men" near Frederick, Maryland. (OR, 1:19:2, 254.)  In fact, the Army of the Potomac had around a two-to-one advantage over Lee.  (Sears, Landscape, 102.)

On September 10, McClellan wrote to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck:
At the time this army moved from Washington, it was not known what the intentions of the rebels were in placing their forces on this side of the Potomac. It might have been a feint to draw away our troops from Washington, for the purpose of throwing their main army into the city as soon as we were out of the way, or it might have been supposed to be precisely what they are now doing. In view of this uncertain condition of things, I left what I conceived to be a sufficient force to defend the city against any army they could bring against it from the Virginia side of the Potomac.  (OR, 1:19:2, 254.)*
McClellan, however, felt that "[t]his uncertainty . . . exists no longer."  (OR, 1:19:2, 254.)  The immediate danger to the capital had passed.  McClellan informed Halleck of the overwhelming number of Confederates at Frederick and warned that "if we should be defeated the consequences to the country would be disastrous in the extreme."   (OR, 1:19:2, 254.)  Little Mac pleaded for Halleck to send him more men:
Under these circumstances, I would recommend that one or two of the three army corps now on the Potomac, opposite Washington, be at once withdrawn and sent to re-enforce this army . . . . (OR, 1:19:2, 254.) 
The commander perceived little threat to Washington:
If there are any rebel forces remaining on the other side of the Potomac, they must be so few that the troops left in the forts, after the two corps shall have been withdrawn, will be sufficient to check them; and, with the large cavalry force now on that side kept well out in front to give warning of the distant approach of any very large army, a part of this army might be sent back within the entrenchments to assist in repelling an attack.  (OR, 1:19:2, 254.) 
McClellan seemed almost nonchalant about the possible capture of the nation's capital:
But even if Washington should be taken while these armies are confronting each other, this would not, in my judgment, bear comparison with the ruin and disaster which would follow a signal defeat of this army.  If we should be successful in conquering the gigantic rebel army before us, we would have no difficulty in recovering it. On the other hand, should their force prove sufficiently powerful to defeat us, would all the forces now around Washington be sufficient to prevent such a victorious army from carrying the works on this side of the Potomac, after they are uncovered by our army? I think not.  (OR, 1:19:2, 254-55.)** 
From his headquarters near Rockville on September 11, McClellan further urged Halleck:
Please send forward all the troops you can spare from Washington, particularly Porter's, Heintzelman's, Sigel's, and all the other old troops. Please send them to Brookville, via Leesborough.  (OR, 1:19:2, 253.)***
President Lincoln himself responded to McClellan's plea for additional soldiers from the defenses of Washington.  (OR, 1:19:2, 253.)  The President understood that the new recruits streaming into Washington were mixed with the three commands and worried that "[i]f Porter, Heintzelman, and Sigel were sent you, it would sweep everything from the other side of the river. . . ." (OR, 1:19:2, 253.)  Instead, he released only the remainder of Porter's Fifth Corps, which was ordered to cross the Potomac and join the Army of the Potomac in the field.  (OR, 1:19:2, 253, 255.)  Lincoln held out the possibility of future reinforcements: 
I am for sending you all than can be spared, and I hope others can follow Porter very soon.  (OR, 1:19:2, 254.)
In the end, however, Sigel's men would stay put near the Chain Bridge defenses while the Army of the Potomac tracked down and fought Lee.

"General McClellan Entering the Town of Frederick, Maryland--The Popular Welcome," Harper's Weekly, Oct. 4, 1862 (courtesy of
Sigel's Corps and Everyday Life in Front of Washington

During the Maryland Campaign, Sigel's corps underwent a few organizational changes.  Once McClellan took to the field with the main army, Sigel reported to Gen. Nathaniel Banks, whom McClellan had placed in overall command of Washington's defenses. (OR, 1:19:2, 202, 214.)  Under General Orders No. 129, dated September 12, the War Department officially re-designated the three corps of the former Army of Virginia, and Sigel's First Corps became the Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac.  (OR, 1:19:2, 279.) 

As McClellan battled Lee at South Mountain and Antietam, Sigel's men dealt with the mundane routine of camp life.  Soldiers spent the days drilling or on picket duty.  One regiment, the 27th Pennsylvania, changed camps around Chain Bridge several times throughout September and performed picket duty in Falls Church, a few miles in advance of the defensive line.  Gen. Robert Milroy, a brigade commander in Sigel's corps, used his free time to venture into Washington City and sit for his photograph at Mathew Brady's studio.

Not surprisingly, the presence of thousands of Union soldiers from Sigel's corps had an impact on the surrounding community.  Jospeh Sewell lived in Langley, just down the road from Forts Marcy and Ethan Allen where Sigel's men stood guard.  The farmer, like other locals, was no stranger to the Union Army.  Soldiers from Gen. "Baldy" Smith's division lived on and around Sewell's farm during the first winter of the war and had taken their fair share of crops and timber from him.  In September 1862, troops from Milroy's brigade entered Sewell's property and seized thirty barrels of corn.  They also took around three acres of garden vegetables and potatoes.****  Other civilians in the area likely experienced similar losses at the hands of the Union defenders.

Gen. Robert Milroy, from the Brady National Photographic Art Gallery (courtesy of Library of Congress).  Not long after sitting for his photograph, Milroy was sent with his brigade to western Virginia.
After Antietam: Sigel Advances to Centreville and Fairfax Court House 

As the Maryland Campaign drew to a close, Sigel's men were moved forward from the defenses near Washington.  Concerned about a possible Confederate attempt to reoccupy the railroad junction of Manassas, Banks ordered Sigel to send Gen. Julius Stahel's division to Centreville on September 21.  (OR, 1:19:2, 340-41, 344-45, 351.)   A few days later, on September 25, the remainder of Sigel's corps was dispatched to Fairfax Court House to cover an expedition being made to recapture several railroad engines at Bristoe.  (OR, 1:19:2, 356, 359.)  Banks, anxious about Confederate intentions, ordered that Sigel exercise "[g]reat caution. . . to prevent surprise," keep the cavalry "well to the front and on the alert," and "report frequently the state of affairs."  (OR, 1:19:2, 356.)

Banks originally intended to have Sigel's corps "fall back to its former position" following the expedition.  (OR, 1:19:2, 359.)   Sigel's men, however, remained in and around Fairfax Court House and Centreville to act as a "corps of observation."  (OR, 1:19:2, 425, 428.)  In this new role, Sigel kept an eye on Confederate activity in Northern Virginia, but Banks made sure to tell Sigel that "if menaced by a superior force of the enemy," he was "to fall back to the lines of defense."  (OR, 1:19:2, 425.)

The Eleventh Corps eventually ended up in Stafford Court House for the winter.  Although the soldiers missed the bloody encounter at Antietam, as well as the slaughter at Fredericksburg in December, they would go on to experience their fair share of brutal combat during the remainder of the war.  The soldiers of the Eleventh Corps became a scapegoat for the Union defeat at Chancellorsville, where they earned the derisive nickname of the "Flying Dutchmen."  Their reputation also suffered at Gettysburg.  During the tense days of September 1862, however, the corps served a necessary, yet unheralded role, in guarding the nation's capital as McClellan confronted Lee.


*Stephen Sears demonstrates that this correspondence was likely sent on September 10, even though the OR indicates that it was sent the next day.  (Sears, McClellan Correspondence, 446.)

**In correspondence dated September 13, Halleck rebuked McClellan:  "[Y]ou attach too little importance to the capital. I assure you that you are wrong. The capture of this place will throw us back six months, if it should not destroy us. Beware of the evils I now point out to you. You saw them when here, but you seem to forget them in the distance. No more troops can be sent from here till we have fresh arrivals from the North."  (OR, 1:19:2, 280-81.)

*** Earlier on September 11, Halleck had even suggested to McClellan that he send forward either Sigel's or Porter's corps when another division that Little Mac had requested was unavailable. As Halleck said, "Why not order forward Porter's corps, or Sigel's?  If the main force of the enemy is in your front, more troops can be spared from here." (OR, 1:19:2, 253.)

****The Southern Claims Commission files indicate that Sewell was not granted compensation for the claims he made concerning the taking of this property by Milroy's men.  The Commission considered that the $150 claim for corn rested solely on Sewell's testimony.  The $300 claim for garden vegetables and potatoes was considered a "depredation."


Aside from the citations to the Official Records above, the following sources were useful in compiling this post:

Samuel P. Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865, Vol. I (1869); Stephen D. Engle, Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel (1993); Bradley Gottfried, The Maps of Antietam (2012); Charles V. Mauro, The Civil War in Fairfax County: Civilians and Soldiers (2006); Johnathan A. Noyalas, "My Will is Absolute Law": A Biography of Union General Robert H. Milroy (2006); Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, Sept. 29, 1862; Stephen W. Sears (ed.), The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865 (1989); Stephen W. Sears, Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam (1983); Southern Claims Commission File of Joseph Sewell, available at

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Chain Bridge Defenses During the Maryland Campaign, Part II: Sigel Adjusts His Line While the Confederates Demonstrate at Pimmit Run

Last week I examined the withdrawal of John Pope's defeated Union force following Second Manassas.  Franz Sigel's First Corps of the Army of Virginia, along with the corps of Edwin V. Sumner and Fitz John Porter, moved from Fairfax Court House to Langley.  By September 3, 1862, Sigel's men occupied the ground closest to the strategic crossing at Chain Bridge.  Porter sat not far away, around Hall's Hill, while Sumner crossed the Potomac and took up a position at Tennallytown.

As Gen. George B. McClellan divined Robert E. Lee's next move, he sent instructions through his chief of staff, Randolph B. Marcy, to ensure the adequate safeguarding of Washington's defenses.  On the morning of September 4, Sigel was told to "draw in the main line of his forces. . . so as to run from Ft. Ethan Allen toward [Porter's] right."  (OR, 1:51:1, 789.)  This shift would shorten Sigel's line and close any gaps between the two corps.  (OR, 1:51:1, 785, 789.)  

That same day, a small fight erupted about a half a dozen miles from Sigel's force near Chain Bridge.  As Lee prepared his army to invade Maryland by crossing the Potomac near Leesburg, Confederate cavalry was ordered to make a demonstration in front of the Federal lines near Washington.  On the morning of September 4,  Gen. Beverly Robertson led the 7th and 12th Virginia Cavalry and three guns from Capt. R. Preston Chew's horse artillery down the Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike towards Falls Church.  Between Vienna and Lewinsville, the Confederates ran into Union pickets from Gen. Alfred Pleasonton's cavalry command and drove them back "after a brisk skirmish."  (OR, 1:19:1, 828.)  Robertson sent one gun and part of his cavalry to a point "near Lewinsville to prevent surprise" and proceeded with the rest of his force to a hill above Pimmit Run along the pike.  (OR, 1:19:1, 828; see also OR, 1:19:2, 176.)*  Two of Chew's guns opened on the Union troops, and the Federals soon returned fire with two guns of their own.  Around six that evening, Marcy alerted Sigel to the attack and cautioned him:
Your pickets should be on the alert, and your command at once drawn into the new position indicated to you this morning.  (OR, 1:51:1, 785.) 
Robertson's fight with the Union troops lasted until about sundown, when the Confederates spotted several regiments advancing from the direction of Falls Church.  Robertson deemed "the object of the reconnaissance. . . fully accomplished" and withdrew his men "at dark."  (OR, 1:19:1, 828; see also OR, 1:19:1, 814; OR, 1:19:2, 176-78; Harsh 67.)  Pleasonton dismissed the action as a mere "show of force to conceal [Lee's] movements on the Upper Potomac," and McClellan agreed.  (OR, 1:19:2, 178; OR, 1:51:1, 785.)

Gen. Beverly Robertson (courtesy of Wikipedia).  The cavalry commander had few fans among the top brass of the Army of Northern Virginia and was transferred to North Carolina soon after the skirmish of September 4.
Armed with intelligence on Lee's intentions, McClellan set his army in motion to pursue the Confederates in Maryland.  His entire force, however, would not go with him.  The Lincoln Administration wanted assurances that Washington would remain sufficiently protected.  For the time being, Sigel's corps would have the chief responsibility for guarding the key approaches to Chain Bridge. 

Late on the afternoon of September 6, Marcy sent an order to Sigel at Ft. Ethan Allen:
The commanding general directs that you at once place your corps in position to occupy the line extending from Forts Marcy and Ethan Allen to the vicinity of Fort De Kalb. General F. J. Porter's corps will occupy the line from Fort De Kalb to Hunting Creek, and General [Samuel P.] Heintzelman the line from Hunting Creek to the river below Fort Lyon. . . .  You will please post your pickets well out so as to give timely information of the approach of the enemy.** (OR, 1:51:793.)
Marcy emphasized in a postscript: "Forts Marcy and Ethan Allen will be intrusted to your charge, and you will please connect your pickets with those of General Porter."  (OR, 1:51:1, 793.)  The admonishment about tightening the line likely stemmed from complaints by Porter, who a few days earlier had advised Marcy to send "a staff officer along our lines, to establish the picket lines and the proper connections between corps."  (OR, 1:19:2, 179.)  Not long after Marcy sent the order to Sigel, he reassured Porter that "General Sigel will hold the forts at the Chain Bridge and connect with you."  (OR, 1:51:1, 791.)

Detail from 1862 Union Army map of Northeastern Virginia showing the area of Sigel's line from Ft. Marcy and Ft. Ethan Allen near Chain Bridge to the vicinity of Ft. DeKalb (courtesy of Library of Congress).  For a modern view of the same area, see here.
That night, the area around Chain Bridge buzzed with activity.  McClellan ordered the Sixth Corps under Gen. William B. Franklin to cross the bridge and march to Rockville via Tennallytown.  (OR, 1:51:1, 793; OR, 1:19:1, 38.).   Gen. George Sykes's division from Porter's corps was likewise instructed to proceed to Tennallytown.  (OR, 1:51:1, 791; OR, 1:19:1, 38.)  As the day dawned on September 7, the bulk of McClellan's army sat across the Potomac from Virginia.  Little Mac was on the move, and Sigel's men may have started to wonder when their turn would come.


*This fight likely occurred near the current-day location of the Whole Foods supermarket along Leesburg Pike (Rt. 7)  (See here for a map). 

**Ft. Marcy and Ft. Ethan Allen guarded the immediate approaches to Chain Bridge on the Virginia side of the Potomac above Georgetown.  For more on the two forts, see here and here.  Ft. DeKalb sat near current-day US-29 (Lee Highway) between N. Adams and N. Vance Streets in Arlington, Virginia.  It was later renamed Ft. Strong.  Hunting Creek is a tributary stream of the Potomac located to the south of Alexandria, Virginia near the present-day Woodrow Wilson Bridge.   Ft. Lyon was located beyond Hunting Creek to the southwest of Alexandria.  For a complete map of the defenses of Washington from the OR, see here.


Aside from the citations to the Official Records above, the following sources were useful in compiling this post:

Samuel P. Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865, Vol. I (1869); Benjamin Franklin Cooling III & Walton H. Owen II, Mr. Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington (2010 ed.); Stephen D. Engle, Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel (1993); Bradley Gottfried, The Maps of Antietam (2012); Joseph L. Harsh, Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee & Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 (1999); George Michael Neese, Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery (1911); Stephen W. Sears, Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam (1983).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

After Second Manassas: A Tour of Ox Hill and Other Sites

This past weekend I set out to explore some of the nearby sites in Fairfax County related to the tense days following Second Manassas.  I had long wanted to make this excursion, and the fast-approaching 150th anniversary of the battle provided the perfect opportunity.  The sites, which sit relatively close to one another, are easy to visit within a few hours and were a perfect compliment to my tour of the Second Manassas battlefield earlier this year.   

Ox Hill/Chantilly

I first stopped at Ox Hill Battlefield Park, which is located just off I-66 in the heavily developed Fair Lakes area of Fairfax.  The Battle of Ox Hill (or Chantilly in the North) was fought amidst a violent thunderstorm on September 1, 1862.  The engagement arose when Robert E. Lee attempted to cut off John Pope's line of retreat following the Union defeat at Second Manassas.  As Stonewall Jackson moved down Little River Turnpike (present-day US-50), however, Pope struck first.  Union divisions under Isaac Stevens and Philip Kearny attacked Jackson's much larger force at Ox Hill on the afternoon of September 1.  The short fight, which ended in a stalemate, cost both armies about 1,500 killed and wounded.  Stevens and Kearny were counted among the dead.  That night Union troops marched towards the safety of Washington's defenses.  Lee, meanwhile, had other ideas in mind, and within days his men were fording the Potomac into Maryland.

Little remains of the actual battlefield.  Residential and commercial development has tragically swallowed most of the landscape where the armies met.  Fortunately for us and future generations, men like Ed Wenzel fought hard to save a critical part of the battlefield from destruction.  The Fairfax County Park Authority now runs the 4.8-acre battlefield site.  As serendipity would have it, this same land happens to mark the spot where Stevens likely fell during the engagement.
The sign at the entrance to the battlefield along West Ox Road.  Note the commercial development and traffic congestion just outside the park boundary.

I was extremely impressed with Ox Hill.  The Park Authority has installed a series of interpretive markers along a stone loop trail.  The historical signage does a truly remarkable job of explaining and illustrating what happened there.  I found the maps on the markers particularly useful for understanding unit positions in relation to where I was standing.  I supplemented the markers with an excellent 25-minute audio tour that I downloaded to my iPod from the Park Authority website.  The recording features insightful commentary from Wenzel and other historians. 

A view across the field of the Union advance to the spot where Stevens was shot dead leading the 79th New York ("Highlanders") against the Confederate line at the edge of the woods.  After Stevens was killed, the Union soldiers pushed ahead and drove back Harry Hays' Louisiana Brigade.  A marker explains the attack and Stevens' death.

The Fairfax County Park Authority has recreated a cornfield and split rail fence that were located on the land at the time of the battle.  Kearny was killed when he accidentally rode into Confederate lines that stood in a part of the cornfield just outside the current park boundaries.

A white quartz stone and boulders marking the location of Stevens' death on the Ox Hill battlefield.  John Ballard, a Confederate veteran who owned the land after the Civil War, placed the markers here.  This photograph is taken from the area of the Confederate lines behind the split rail fence. 
Monuments to Stevens (l) and Kearny (r).  The plaque on the Kearny stone erroneously indicates that the general was killed on this spot, when in fact he fell 100 yards to the west (right of the photograph), outside the current park boundary. Two sons of the slain generals, Hazard Stevens and John Watts Kearny, attended the dedication ceremony in October 1915.  The monuments are probably the best known feature of the Ox Hill battlefield.  The white quartz stone and boulders are visible to the right, just beyond the monuments and the marker.

I felt moved to stand on the very ground where Stevens lost his life.  Readers may remember that I have written extensively about the Battle of Lewinsville.  On September 11, 1861, then-Colonel Stevens led the 79th New York and other Federal units on a reconnaissance of the neighborhood around Lewinsville, Virginia (present-day McLean).  A smaller Confederate force under J.E.B. Stuart attacked the Union troops as they prepared for the return to camp.  Stevens successfully withdrew his men under the cover of artillery fire.  I couldn't help but think that a little short of a year later and less than twenty miles from Lewinsville, Stevens would lose his life while bravely rallying the Highlanders in an attack on the Confederate lines at Ox Hill.   

St. Mary of Sorrows/Fairfax Station

The second part of my tour focused on Union efforts to treat and evacuate the wounded in the wake of Second Manassas and Ox Hill.  The Union Army sent thousands of wounded soldiers to Fairfax Station on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.  The men were laid on the ground around St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church and on the hillside near the railroad tracks.  Here the injured soldiers awaited transportation from Fairfax Station to the hospitals in Washington and Alexandria. 

The War Department asked for volunteer nurses to help with the large number of causalities at Second Manassas.  The roads and rails to the front were soon clogged with citizens responding to their country's call.  Unfortunately, many of the would-be Good Samaritans were more interested in drinking the supplies of medicinal alcohol than in helping the wounded.  Clara Barton, however, was anything but a pretender.  After procuring a load of supplies from the Sanitary Commission, the Patent Office clerk and future founder of the American Red Cross boarded a train on August 31, 1862 and headed to Fairfax Station.  Over the next few days, she and her fellow volunteers tirelessly cared for the wounded soldiers.  On September 2, 1862 Barton climbed aboard the last train of wounded to leave Fairfax Station.  As Barton described her narrow escape:
The conductor stood with a torch which he applied to a pile of combustible material beside the track. And we rounded the curve which took us from view as we saw the station ablaze, and a troop of [Confederate] cavalry dashing down the hill. (in Epler 46.)

The picturesque St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church was my first stop after leaving Ox Hill.  During the late 1850s, Irish Catholic immigrants came to this part of Fairfax to work on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.   Priests traveled all the way from St. Mary's in Alexandria and said Mass for local Catholics in boxcars.  The need for a permanent church building soon became apparent, and in 1858, the Bishop of Richmond laid the cornerstone for St. Mary's.  Railroad workers helped to build the church, which was dedicated in September 1860.  As I strolled through the now peaceful churchyard, I imagined Barton and her band of volunteers moving about and comforting the wounded soldiers.

St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church.  The original church, a one-room, clapboard building, was enlarged in the late 19th century.  After Second Manassas, Union surgeons operated on the wounded inside St. Mary's.  Soldiers who died from their injuries while in the Fairfax Station area were buried in the churchyard, but later moved to Arlington National Cemetery.

Historical marker at the entrance to St. Mary's commemorating Clara Barton's service there after Second Manassas and Chantilly.

I next drove a short distance to the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum, which is housed in the former railroad station.  Erected in 1903, the building sits across the street from its original location next to the railroad tracks. The first station, built in 1852, fell victim to the Second Manassas Campaign.   The Union Army rebuilt the depot after Antietam.  Other stations followed in 1873, 1891, and 1903.  The railroad closed the station permanently in 1973.  Unfortunately the museum is only open on Sundays so I could not check out the history displays and model trains.  I took the time to read a Civil War Trails marker in front of the station and talked with a history intern from George Mason who was preparing for an upcoming Sesquicentennial event at the museum.  A return trip, however, is in order.

The Fairfax Station Railroad Museum, located in the 1903 train station.  A Civil War Trails marker in front of the station describes Barton's feelings on arriving at Fairfax Station in August 1862: "We were a little band of almost empty-handed workers, literally by ourselves, in the wild woods of Virginia, with 3000 suffering dying men crowded upon a few acres within our reach."  The station at the time of the Civil War was a two-story building.  Union soldiers wrote about surgeons performing amputations on the station's first floor.

After touring Fairfax Station, I grabbed lunch in the City of Fairfax and then visited a few sites associated with other periods during the Civil War.  (More to come in future posts!)  Overall, I would recommend that visitors add Ox Hill, St. Mary's, and Fairfax Station to any itinerary involving Second Manassas.  The tour gave me a real feel for the days following the battle.  Ox Hill alone tells the powerful story of an engagement that resulted in the deaths of two rising stars in the Union Army.  The park also teaches an important lesson about battlefield preservation.  St. Mary's and the land around Fairfax Station speak to the hardships endured by ordinary Union soldiers, as well as the sacrifices of Barton and other courageous volunteers.  Although more obscure compared to places like Manassas National Battlefield, these sites certainly merit a detour in their own right.


Aside from the websites referenced in the main text, the following sources were useful in compiling this post:

David H. Burton, Clara Barton: In the Service of Humanity (1995); Percy H. Epler, The Life of Clara Barton (1915); Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Clara Barton: Professional Angel (1987); Stephen W. Sears, Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam (1983).

The books on Clara Barton provide incredibly moving descriptions of the conditions of the wounded at Fairfax Station and explain Barton's role in greater detail. I'd recommend reading these accounts before touring St. Mary's and the Fairfax Station area.

Additional Tourist Information & Sesquicentennial Events

Hyperlinks to the websites for Ox Hill Battlefield Park, St. Mary's Church, and the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum can be found in the main text above.

There are several upcoming Sesquicentennial activities related to Ox Hill and the aftermath of Second Manassas:

Ox Hill Battlefield Park will be holding an all-day commemorative event on Saturday, September 1, the 150th anniversary of the engagement.  More information can be found here.

This upcoming weekend, the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum will be hosting an event to commemorate the medical treatment and evacuation of the wounded after Second Manassas.  The focus on Civil War medicine and Clara Barton should make this an interesting event.  See here for more details.

St. Mary of Sorrows is holding a candlelight memorial service in memory of those soldiers killed and wounded at Second Manassas and Ox Hill.  Information on this unique event can be found on the church's homepage.