Historic America

Ambush at Vienna, Virginia

A peaceful biking trail in Northern Virginia was once the scene of a deadly Civil War ambush.

The Engagement at Vienna was fought on Monday, June 17, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Robert C. Schenck and Confederate forces commanded by Col. Maxcy Gregg in Fairfax County, Virginia. This unplanned encounter caused enough Union casualties to halt their advance cold, and it was the last engagement in northeastern Virginia until the two main armies squared off along Bull Run in mid-July.

On May 24, 1861, Union troops crossed the Potomac River into northern Virginia and brushed aside a token defense at Arlington Heights and Alexandria. A few days later, on June 1st, a Union cavalry patrol was chased out of Fairfax Courthouse and a small skirmish erupted at Arlington Mills. Though minor, these incidents convinced Union war planners to proceed more cautiously. They would not advance deeper into this part of Virginia until mid-June.

Early in the morning on June 16th, Confederate Col. Maxcy Gregg of the 1st South Carolina Infantry Regiment left Fairfax Courthouse with 575 men from his regiment to conduct a reconnaissance toward the Potomac River. He linked up with a cavalry troop and Capt. Delaware Kemper with two 6-pdr guns from his Alexandria Light Artillery, then scouted the area. They made camp for the evening having observed only a few Union troops.

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Today, what remains of the Loudoun & Hampshire Railroad is a bike path (officially the Washington and Old Dominion Trial), and the ambush site is near the Vienna Community Center at 120 Cherry Street SE. There are several interpretive signs describing the engagement, but they are severely weathered and difficult to read.

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