Visit this antebellum courthouse and site of an early Civil War skirmish, fought weeks before the Battle of Bull Run.
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The First Battle of Fairfax Court House was fought on June 1, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Lt. Charles H. Tompkins and Confederate forces commanded by Capt. John Q. Marr at Fairfax Court House, Virginia during the American Civil War. This small and inconclusive battle was the first land engagement of the war with fatal casualties, resulting in 24 total dead, wounded, or captured.
On May 31, 1861, Union Brig. Gen. David Hunter ordered Lt. Charles Henry Tompkins of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment to recon Confederate forces around Fairfax Court House. Early the next morning, June 1, his 50 to 86-man force ran into approximately 210 untrained and ill-equipped Confederate militia in the village, some of whom didn’t even have weapons or ammunition. The militia scattered.
Nearby, Confederate Capt. John Q. Marr attempted to rally his men, but he was shot and killed in a field west of the Methodist church. Lt. Col. Richard S. Ewell, a future Confederate general, was wounded as he emerged from a hotel, but escaped, and 64-year-old William “Extra Billy” Smith, a politician and another future general, helped him take charge. Together, their rag-tag force repelled several more Union attempts to ride through town.
I’ve read hundreds of articles over the past few decades claiming another American Civil War is right around the corner every time we’re faced with a contentious issue. All of them, thankfully, have been wrong (so far…). But it’s not the premise of Cohen’s article I’m concerned with–it’s his distorted retelling of American history, particularly its Civil War history.
“There are some troubling parallels” Cohen claims, between America today and America 160 years ago.
“Back then, the fractious 1860 election was essentially a referendum on slavery and states’ rights, with the northern and southern states at deep odds over the future of the nation. Lincoln, the Republican candidate, claimed an electoral landslide over the three other candidates, yet only won 40% of the popular vote. The election results caused a national rupture, and before Lincoln could be inaugurated, 11 southern states had seceded from the Union. Within weeks, the confrontation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina sparked the Civil War, and the rest is history.”
Unfortunately, Cohen’s summery of these events is almost entirely wrong.
After the war, he married 21-year-old Emily Norwood Martin, who died tragically of tuberculosis two years later. Emory was devastated by her loss, and never remarried. He committed suicide in 1881 after suffering severe headaches, possibly from a brain tumor. His biographer wrote, “History cannot furnish a brighter example of unselfish patriotism, or ambition unsullied by an ignoble thought or an unworthy deed.”
The deaths of two opposing generals underscore the fierce fighting that occurred in the shadow of southern Maryland’s idyllic mountain scenery.
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The battle for Fox’s Gap, part of the larger Battle of South Mountain, was fought on September 14, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill in Frederick and Washington counties, Maryland during the American Civil War. The battle was a Union victory, with Confederate forces abandoning the mountain pass and retreating toward Sharpsburg.
After General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia destroyed the Union Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Manassas, Lee saw an opportunity to invade Maryland, threaten Washington, DC, and possibly influence European powers to recognize Confederate independence. Lee divided his army and sent one wing to capture Harper’s Ferry, Virginia and the other into Maryland. A copy of his orders fell into enemy hands, however, and for once Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan acted swiftly to catch Lee off guard.
McClellan sent elements of his reconstituted Army of the Potomac to capture three strategic gaps in South Mountain, hoping to sever Lee’s army and destroy it in detail. The mountain passes were known as Turner’s Gap, Fox’s Gap, and Crampton’s Gap. Because of the distance between them, the Battle of South Mountain was actually three separate engagements, though they all took place in a single day.
A historic covered bridge, used as a barracks for Union troops, still stands at the scene of an early Civil War skirmish.
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The Battle of Philippi was fought on June 3, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris and Confederate forces commanded by Col. George A. Porterfield in Philippi, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The skirmish, which was the first in Virginia, was a Union victory that encouraged Western Virginians to secede and form their own pro-Union state. It resulted in 30 total casualties.
By the time Virginia voters ratified the decision of its secession convention on May 23, 1861, Richmond had already been proclaimed the Confederate capital and militia units were mobilizing. As commander of the Department of the Ohio, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan invaded western Virginia under the pretext of protecting unionists there. Western counties would later vote to secede from Virginia and form the state of West Virginia.
McClellan sent 3,000 volunteer troops into western Virginia under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris. Opposing them were approximately 800 poorly trained and equipped militia commanded by Col. George A. Porterfield gathered at the town of Grafton. Porterfield retreated to Philippi as the Union army advanced. Morris divided his force into two columns, which converged on Philippi and the Confederates camped there.
How a Victorian notion of chivalry led to the Civil War’s most consequential raid.
James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart (1833-1864) was an audacious Confederate commander who rose rapidly through the ranks from lieutenant colonel to major general. He emerged as one of the most legendary and well-known cavalry commanders of the Civil War, especially for the South. Wearing a dashing uniform complete with cape and plumed hat, he imagined himself as a chivalric knight adhering to a code of honor. It was his code of honor that led to his famous raid on Catlett Station.
Early in the morning on August 18, 1862, near Verdiersville, Virginia, Union cavalry caught Stuart and his aides off guard. Stuart rode off so quickly that he left behind a hat and cloak sent to him days earlier by Union Brig. Gen. Samuel Crawford. During a parley after the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Stuart bet Crawford that Northern newspapers would portray the Union defeat as a victory. Crawford, true to his word, sent a copy of the New York Herald along with the plumed hat.
Stuart’s ego was stung by the ‘loss’ at Verdiersville. “I intend to make the Yankees pay for that hat,” he promised his wife, Flora. On August 21st, after Union Maj. Gen. John Pope moved his army north behind the Rappahannock River, Stuart proposed to General Robert E. Lee an ambitious plan to ride around Pope’s flank and cut his supply line along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. The next morning, Stuart rode off with 1,500 troopers.