History of Hickory Farms - The Civil War
By Bob Cosgriff (Cotton Farm Rd - 1994)
The Early Years
The disastrous campaign of General Braddock, which began in Fairfax County, was not the last major event to occur here. We are all familiar with the legacy of such early "Founding Fathers" as George Mason and our Number One Citizen, George Washington. However, since the focus of British military efforts was aimed elsewhere (New York, Philadelphia and later on, the Carolinas), our immediate area was not much affected by the Revolution. Great personages acted out their great events elsewhere. For more drama, we must jump ahead to 1861 and the American Civil War.
Place yourself at the Fairfax County Court House on Thursday, May 23, 1861. This building still stands at the corner of Rt. 123 (Chain Bridge Road) and eastbound Rt. 236 (Main Street). A vote is being taken on the weighty issue: "An Ordinance to Repeal the Ratification of the Constitution of the United States by; the State of Virginia, Adopted in Convention at the City of Richmond on 14 April, 1861." The vote was 151-6 to adopt the Resolution, that is, to secede from the Union. Most of Virginia (with the exception of many western counties, now in West Virginia) followed suit. I have not had the time to track down whether any of the voters lived on what is now Hickory Farms; however, the one-sided vote shows that "secession fever" surely prevailed in this immediate area. It would also be interesting to determine what became of the six men who voted pro-Union.
By the time the vote was taken, there were already Confederate troops stationed at Fairfax Court House and Fairfax Station. The troops here comprised two cavalry and one rifle company, about 150 men, essentially untrained and untested county militia, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Richard S. Ewell, late a Captain in the U.S. Army. Nicknamed “Old Baldy,” Ewell went on to command the Second Corps in General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia after the death of the legendary Gen. Thomas (“Stonewall”) Jackson. He lost a leg at Groveton, one of the fierce opening engagements in the Battle of Second Manassas. His performance in command at Gettysburg and later at the battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House are still the subject of scholarly debate. But this was all in the future. Today, the fighting hadn’t really started, even though the Union had forces in Virginia, from Alexandria to Falls Church. A clash was inevitable. On the night of 31 May, only a little more than a week after the secession vote, a Union cavalry detachment set out from near Falls Church to reconnoiter the area near Fairfax Court House. About a mile below the town, on the "Falls Church Road" (I believe this to be near Fairfax High School on present-day Old Lee Highway, route 237; I'll have to do a bit more digging), this force captured some dozing Confederate pickets, one of whom escaped to warn the forces at the Court House. At approximately 3:00 a.m., the Union forces proceeded on and maneuvered into column onto Little River Turnpike, then - as now - the main east-west street of Fairfax, and commenced a charge, firing wildly. The surprised and understandably disorganized Confederates were unable to stop the charge, which pushed some of the Southern troops back to the creek west of the Court House (this creek runs across Main Street at the cemetery, near Judicial Drive). The Confederates rallied and set up a line across the road about at Truro Church. The Union commanding officer, probably realizing that he had allowed himself to let the enemy get between him and his best escape route, wheeled his forces about and charged back in the opposite direction. The Confederates managed a few volleys, and the battle was over, as the Federals withdrew. The Union commander's report stated that he faced perhaps 1,000 enemy troops—an excellent example of the "fog of war." Total casualties were light: Federals—1 killed, 4 wounded, 1 missing and 3 captured; Confederates—1 killed, at least one wounded (Col. Ewell) and 5 captured (although some Union reports mentioned 'heavy' Confederate casualties). The one person killed was Captain John Quincy Marr of the Warrenton Rifles, who was the first Confederate officer killed in the Civil War. A monument to Captain Marr stands on the site of the original Fairfax County Court House, although he was killed a few hundred yards south of the site, near the Legato School in front of the County Judicial Complex.
In July, 1861, Union forces passed nearby Hickory Farms on their way Manassas Junction; some of the forces retreating from the ensuing battle (First Manassas/First Bull Run) came through Fairfax Court House. In October, 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis met here with his generals to discuss a military strike against Washington, D.C. or an invasion of the North. The generals dissuaded him and the forces went into winter quarters in Centreville, leaving a small detachment at Fairfax Court House to watch for Union activity. The decision to invade would come a year later, following the Battle of Second Manassas. In the spring of 1862, the Confederates pulled out altogether and from then on, the Federals used the location as a lookout point and a station for patrols. On March 13, 1862, the commander of the Union’s Army of the Potomac, General George B. McClellan, met with his senior staff officers at the Fairfax Court House to plan what became the Peninsula Campaign against Richmond. The action then moved south for the spring and summer of 1862, as McClellan ponderously moved up the peninsula towards Richmond. Fairfax Court House wouldn’t be in the thick of things until the retreat from Manassas following the second battle in a year at Manassas. The Union Army, retreating in good order from defeat at the hands of Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson, poured through Fairfax Court House back to the defenses of Washington. The final act of this monumental battle (often overlooked because it was followed a few weeks later by Antietam) was the Battle of Chantilly, or more popularly, Ox Hill. This occurred in the area from about where the water towers on West Ox Road sit, down across modern Route 50 across land where the Fairfax Town Center now sits and also the area along Monument Road, with some units in the area of Fair Oaks Mall. A gallant defense by a greatly outnumbered Union force blunted an attack by Stonewall Jackson’s Corps and helped the Union troops to proceed north on Route 29 (then called the Warrenton Turnpike) into Fairfax and on to safety. The battle was fought in a driving thunderstorm and cost the Union two generals. There is a small five-acre park commemorating the battle at the intersection of West Ox Road and Monument Drive.
During the course of the Civil War, most of Northern Virginia was devastated by the occupying forces, both Northern and Southern, who cut down trees, commandeered livestock, and later, even burned barns and crops. The area comprising the Ravensworth estate was largely spared this destruction due to the resolute actions of its aged owner, Mrs. Anna Maria Fitzhugh, widow of the uncle of Robert E. Lee's wife. She was granted personal protection by the Union Generals commanding in Fairfax and thus suffered little property damage. I did not find any references to tell whether Hickory Farms was then under cultivation or remained forested. It does seem likely that, being so close to the Court House (and quite far from the Ravensworth manor house) that the normal wartime activities of cutting firewood, foraging, patrolling, etc. did take place on Hickory Farms. There were Confederate cavalry camps on Main Street (on property of the Fairfax Christian Church) and one unsubstantiated account of one on Burke Station Road. I would surmise that this camp would have been on high ground, near water, and near known roads, making the area near Sharon Ct. /Barbara Ann Lane, or at Fairfax Memorial Park two likely spots. Anecdotally, I recall a bulldozer operator tell me in 1979 that he unearthed two cannon balls on Hickory Farm, and showed them to me. They were probably Union, since their occupation was longer and in greater numbers. Were they dropped here to lighten a load during the retreat from the disastrous Battle of Second Manassas in August, 1862, or just overlooked by a careless artilleryman? With further research, it might be possible to find further documented links between Hickory Farms and the Civil War era.
This installment continues the chronicle of Civil War events in the immediate area of Hickory Farms. Fairfax Court House was an important location, since it was the county seat, and sat athwart important roads such as the Warrenton Pike (Route 29), Little River Turnpike (Rts. 50 and 236) and Ox Road (today's Rt. 123). It was about equidistant between two railroads: the Orange and Alexandria, to Manassas via Fairfax Station (the VRE uses this route today), and the Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire toward Purcellville through Vienna (the W & O. D. trail). We have already read in a previous newsletter of the nighttime cavalry raid on Fairfax Court House which occurred on 1 June, 1861. Following the Confederate victory at First Manassas (Bull Run) in July, 1861, General Beauregard established his headquarters here. In October 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis met with Beauregard to discuss further operations against Union forces. Here was made the decision not to attack Washington, D.C. General Beauregard then pulled his troops back to Centreville for the winter. This placed him closer to strategically important Manassas Junction. Union forces quickly reoccupied Fairfax. As noted in earlier accounts, the presence of headquarters garrison troops of both armies at Fairfax Court House indicates that various routine military activities occurred on what is now Hickory Farms.
In 1862, the Union made a strategically bold attempt to end the war by moving a large army to the peninsula between the James and the York Rivers. The planning conference for this operation was held at Fairfax Court House in March, 1862 (just 133 years ago for those who are counting!) The Confederate forces at Centreville were withdrawn to the defense of the Southern capital. Due to the scope of the Peninsula Campaign, it is doubtful that very many Union troops remained behind in our area, since there was no immediate military threat to Northern Virginia. Following the Seven Days' Battle around Richmond (much of it in the area where I-295 passes east of the capital to intersect I-64), the Union adopted a different strategy, assigned a new general (Pope) and began to concentrate forces from the Shenandoah Valley and the Peninsula in Northern Virginia, again aiming at the Manassas Junction area. In the ensuing campaign, the events of primary impact on this area occurred after the Battle of Second Manassas (Bull Run) in late August, 1862. Following the bloody three day battle (28 - 30 August), the thoroughly defeated Union Army retreated on a broad front back from the Manassas battlefield. St. Mary's Church on Ox Road (Rt. 123) became the center of a large field hospital where Clara Barton, among others, helped to tend to the hundreds of casualties brought there to await train transportation to Alexandria and Washington. There is anecdotal indication that the mansion house in Aspen Grove, across from Hickory Farms, was used for a similar purpose. Although the house that stands there now includes additions since the Civil War, it is likely that if the then-existing house was of any size, it probably was used, since accounts of other major battles verify that it was common practice to commandeer virtually every available structure to serve medical purposes. I have not yet been able to determine whether there were any buildings on Hickory Farms in the Civil War. If so, they too would likely have been used after Second Manassas, since the Union forces suffered nearly 8,500 wounded, out of over 14,000 casualties.
Another little-known, but significant event occurred just after the Battle of Second Manassas and can rightfully be considered part of the overall campaign. Upon delivering the crushing defeat on Pope's army, General Robert E. Lee decided to attempt to cut off the Union retreat, regroup his own Army of Northern Virginia and perhaps strike a knock-out blow against the Union Army and/or Washington, D.C. After weighing his alternatives, Lee decided to aim at Fairfax Court House in an attempt to get behind General Pope's forces, which were heading there via Centreville. Forces under General 'Stonewall' Jackson began moving north and east from the Manassas battlefield to outflank the retreating Union Army. Bad weather and his soldiers' fatigue hampered the usually fast-moving Jackson. Advance cavalry units under General J.E.B. Stuart reached the area around Kamp Washington (probably around the K-Mart/Montgomery Wards shopping centers) and fired on Pope's supply wagons and ambulances moving north on the Warrenton Pike (modern Rt. 29) toward Fairfax Court House on 31 August. This appears to be the approximate limit of the Confederate turning maneuver; certainly the cupola on the courthouse itself could be seen from the Confederate position. The pivotal battle was fought in a late-afternoon thunderstorm on 1 September, 1862 at Ox Hill. There is a small Fairfax County Park marking the site, just off West Ox Road. Part of the battle was fought on what is now Fair Oaks Mall and the large townhouse and apartment complex along Monument Road. The costly Union victory saved Pope's army, and most likely preserved the nation's capital from the threat of attack or siege. Lee subsequently received approval to launch an invasion of the North by way off Maryland. The historical road marker at the intersection of Route 50 and Jermantown Road (where the former Hechinger's is being converted into a Gourmet Giant) indicates where the famed Army of Northern Virginia turned north. The bloodiest single day in American history lay just a few weeks ahead along the Antietam Creek.
One of the most famous incidents of the Civil War took place just little over one mile from Hickory Farms. To set the stage, we must pick up the narrative following the Battle of Antietam in mid-September 1862. Lee returned to Winchester following the failed invasion of the North. The Union army did not immediately pursue its foe, but finally crossed the Potomac and slowly began to push south into Virginia. The upshot of all the subsequent maneuvering was the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862), which was a disaster for the North. The two armies went into winter quarters in January, 1863, separated by the Rappahannock. Farther north, the Federal forces defending the approaches to Washington, D.C., were deployed in a long arc from Dranesville through Centreville to the southern reaches of Fairfax County. Because of its strategic location, Fairfax Court House became a headquarters town once again.
While this was going on, an obscure young Confederate officer named John Singleton Mosby (originally from Nelson County, VA) was given command of a unique independent force, operating under the authority of the famed cavalry leader, General J.E.B. Stuart. The mission of this small band of horsemen was to operate unconventionally, to probe and harass the Union outposts, slip through the lines to capture men and materiel and gather intelligence. In time, this unit would be mustered as the 43rd Battalion of Partisan Rangers. This official designation was very important, since it gave legitimate military status to its members. Otherwise, if captured, they would have been treated under the laws of war as guerrillas, and subject to summary execution. In fact, the Union considered them to be irregulars, although they were always officially a part of the Confederate States Army.
Mosby launched a series of annoying raids, which elicited a predictable response. He and his troops became wanted men. Union officers boastfully predicted they would soon capture these hit-and-run soldiers. A British soldier of fortune, Sir Percy Wyndham, made some particularly strong public statements about Mosby the horse thief. As recounted by the well-known Northern Virginia historian, Virgil Carrington (Pat) Jones, this prompted Mosby, who had been a lawyer before enlisting in the Confederate Army, to comment that the only horses he had stolen had riders armed with a saber and two pistols. Mosby decided to stage a daring raid to capture Wyndham.
On the cold drizzly night of 8 March, 1863, he set out with 29 men from Aldie, some twenty five miles northwest of Fairfax Court House on the Little River Turnpike (modern Route 50). Already familiar with the area, Mosby had skillfully scouted it in preparation for this raid. In his intelligence gathering, he was aided by a young woman, Antonia Ford, who enjoyed easy access to the staff officers gathered around Colonel Wyndham and also Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton. Mosby also had the services of a Union deserter, dubbed "Big Yank Ames," who knew the locations of the Union outposts. Guided by Ames, the force slipped through the lines between Centreville and Chantilly, then became separated before joining up along the Warrenton Pike (modern Route 29). According to Mosby's memoirs, they then swung south and proceeded into town "from the direction of the railroad station." This refers to Fairfax Station; his actual path was on or parallel to Fairfax Station Road and Ox Road (modern Route 123). It is possible that he came close to Hickory Farms on this approach, since his goal was to come from a direction where the Union pickets would not suspect an attack.
Mosby obtained complete surprise, although did not capture Wyndham, who had gone into Washington that evening. However, he did capture two of his staff officers, his horses and his uniform. Learning that Brigadier General Stoughton was residing in a house (still standing) next to the Truro Church, Mosby decided to bag him instead of Wyndham. Mosby recounted the event by noting that he pulled back the blankets and slapped the dozing and somewhat hung-over Stoughton on the backside and announced that he was a prisoner The surprised General angrily asked: "What is this?! Do you know who I am?!” Mosby then asked if he knew Mosby, to which the general said "Yes." The Pat Jones version goes on to state that Stoughton asked, "Have you captured him?" to which Mosby replied, "No, but he has captured you!"
Mosby and his men were able to lead all their captives (34) and horses (58) away back toward Fairfax Station and then through the lines to safety in Loudoun County. The news scandalized the North and prompted Lincoln to say, when informed of the capture, "Well, I'm sorry for that. I can make new brigadier generals, but I can't make horses!"
As for the local color associated with this event, Stoughton's headquarters still stands on the grounds of Truro Church and is marked by a plaque just opposite Vinnie’s Seafood and Steaks. Antonia Ford, the attractive spy, lived in the Joshua Gunnell House (which once housed the Bailiwick Inn), on the corner of Sager and Chain Bridge Road (Rt. 123), opposite the original court house. Two streets off Burke Station Road remind us of this event: Mosby Road, the dead-end street just north of Laurel, and Stoughton Road, just at the top of the Burke Station Road hill. Although I did not find any proof that it is named after the disgraced general, it seems like too much of a coincidence not to be. Mosby is also recalled by the Mosby Woods subdivision in the City of Fairfax, while his commander, the famed cavalier “Jeb" Stuart is the eponym for a high school near Seven Corners. There is also a Mosby Heights subdivision in Herndon (with a Mosby Court and Mosby Hollow Road) and a Mosby Ridge subdivision in the City of Manassas Park. On New Braddock Road, between Union Mill Road and Route 28, there are the following streets: Singleton’s Drive, William Mosby Drive (John's brother), Montiero Drive (named after one of Mosby's officers), Antonia Ford Court, Hoskins Hollow Lane and Big Yankee Lane. “Big Yank” Ames was killed in an ambush in 1864 on U.S. 17 between Delaplane and Paris (near Sky Meadow State Park) in Fauquier County.
The main area of Mosby's guerrilla operations included Loudoun, Fauquier, Culpeper and parts of Prince William and Fairfax Counties and occasionally the Shenandoah Valley. Route 50 (Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway in Fairfax County) becomes the John S. Mosby Highway at the Loudoun County line and runs through the heart of this area, which was dubbed “Mosby's Confederacy” during the Civil War and is now an official Virginia Heritage Area. There is a Gray Ghost vineyard on Route 211 in Amissville (Rappahannock County) and, according to the vineyard website, it sits on one of the routes used by Mosby and his men, as well as being in the heart of the area that furnished many of his recruits. As for the Fairfax Court House raid, it was the subject of a dramatic painting by the well-known Civil War artist Mort Kunstler. Another highly-regarded artist, Don Troiani, painted an equally dramatic picture of Mosby and his men somewhere in the Piedmont. You can find view these pictures on the Internet (or at my house!)
Colonel Mosby had one of the most successful and well-known commands of U.S. military history. His Rangers did help in diverting substantial Northern forces from other operations, such as the siege of Petersburg in 1864-65, but were not strong enough to prevent the ultimate Union victory. After the war, Mosby received parole, became a friend of General (and subsequently President) Ulysses S. Grant and served as envoy to Hong Kong. Mosby is buried in the Warrenton Cemetery, not far from Captain John Quincy Marr, killed at Fairfax Court House on 1 June, 1861 (see another article in this series).
From the number of roads and places named after him, it is clear that Colonel John Singleton Mosby still exerts a sense of fascination and respect after nearly a century-and-a-half after his exploits. As you drive around Fairfax and the outer counties of Mosby’s Confederacy, see what traces you can find of the famous “Gray Ghost.”
The June 1861 cavalry raid and the more famous Mosby raid were only two notable events of the Civil War in Fairfax County. The town of Fairfax Court House was a way station for Union troops on their way to the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run). It was a military target for Stonewall Jackson’s corps after the Battle of Second Manassas. His forces were stopped at the Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly), on the site of Fairfax Towne Center and the developments along Monument Drive (there is a five-acre park there). Paul Taylor’s 2003 book, He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning is the best, non-specialized treatment of this little-known, but very important battle, which cost the Union two generals killed in action. Farther south, along Route 123, historic St. Mary’s Church was used as a field hospital. Wounded Union soldiers were moved by wagon and train to Fairfax Station. Accounts indicate that hundreds, if not thousands, of wounded men lay all over the grounds of the church before they were treated and moved into Washington, D.C. Clara Barton was one of the many citizens who came out to do what they could for the injured men and her experience helped launch what eventually became the American Red Cross.
I have already noted in an earlier article that Ranger Mosby operated in the Fairfax Station area. His commander, General J.E.B. Stuart, attacked Burke Station in 1862, carrying off draft animals and supplies. He is reported to have sent a telegram to the War Department complaining about the poor quality of the mules.
After 1862, the war moved south. Other than Mosby’s occasional forays, there was no more significant action in Fairfax County. The stress of the wartime occupation by both armies took its toll. After the Civil War, Northern Virginia was a devastated land. As the nation struggled to "bind up the wounds," Fairfax returned to a quieter way of life. I have not had time to research the records of occupation during Reconstruction, but obviously, there was a rapid demobilization after the war, so gone were the thousands of soldiers who had camped in the area around Fairfax Court House, including, possibly, on the grounds of Hickory Farms.
Post Civil War
After the Civil War, Northern Virginia was a devastated land. As the nation struggled to "bind up the wounds," Fairfax returned to a quieter way of life. I have not had time to research the records of occupation during Reconstruction, but obviously, there was a rapid demobilization, so gone were the thousands of soldiers who had camped in the area around Fairfax Court House. There are several questions which are of interest for the post-Civil War era up to the early 1900's:
- What military units maintained a garrison in and around Fairfax Court House?
- What was the civilian population and how did it grow?
- What were the social problems inherent in the freeing of slaves in the County? How many slaves were there? Where did they live after Emancipation? What jobs did they perform? Did any "freedmen" work or live on Hickory Farms? What were their names?
- What was the nature of the land? Was Hickory Farms a farm, a forest or a denuded piece of real estate?
- Who owned this land? Recall that what is now Hickory Farms was originally part of "Ravensworth," which came into the Lee family. During the War, the wife of the nephew of Robert E. Lee occupied "Ravensworth." Did she own all the way to the original boundary which angled across Roberts Road through modern George Mason Forest and across Braddock through the NVTC grounds, or had the land already been subdivided?
- What does a title search of the property show? I have only gone back to 29 March, 1972, when Christian Gunder Gilbertson and his wife Muriel L. Gilbertson sold 62.2227 acres,described as being bounded on the north by the Henry Hunt property, and Fair Oaks subdivision (on Burke Station Road), the Layman Rudolph property (where the Braddock Manor Cluster is today, south of the Harvester Farm Road cul-de-sac), and the Toole property (end of Glenmere, along Rabbit Run) and Ridge Manor subdivision (Glenmere Road). I recall that Rudolph Layman told me that his family owned the parcel of land from Burke Station Road Road down to the creek; he also said (as I recall) that his family owned the land that became Fairfax Memorial Park in 1957. The Layman's lived in the brick house on Burke Station Road just south of Hickory Farms. This house was demolished when the 7 home cluster (Braddock Manor) was built in 1994. I also recall a little farm house off what is now Country Squire Road, accessed by a lane which is now our "back path." Thus, I believe there were possibly three parcels combined to make Hickory Farms. There were three phases to the construction: Farm House, Still Meadow and Cotton Farm west of the creek; Cotton Farm, Harvester Farm and Tumbleweed (Layman property?) and then Country Squire and Wheatstone (the small farm house area). Also, the one property on Burke Station Road (where Chuck and Kathy Bethany live) was apparently a fourth acquisition. Anecdotally, that was where the eastern entrance to Hickory Farms was supposed to be, but it was too close to the curve; the County required a safer entrance, hence Cotton Farm Road. However, a title search is needed to determine all this for certain; the Main Deed of Trust only cites the Gilbertson parcel (62 + acres). If any reader is skilled at doing searches and would like to contribute to this history, your efforts would be greatly appreciated. Once we can put names with the ownership of the property at certain periods, it would be possible to research other records, including newspapers, to find out facts about the people who lived where we now live.
Until we can come up with answers to some of the above questions, the history of Hickory Farms between the Civil War and the present will remain in a sort of limbo. Certainly, the drama of the Civil War has never since been equaled here, yet there are undoubtedly many interesting events of local lore to report. If any reader can offer any facts, anecdotes or references about any phase of our history, I would be glad to receive them and blend them into the narrative. The Netherton book cited in earlier histories does give a good overview of the general development of the county into a productive agricultural and dairy farming area, until the burgeoning Federal workforces of WWII began the growth into bedroom communities and today's sophisticated urban county.
Last Update: January 15, 2020
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