Tuesday, April 11, 2017

George C. Round and Manassas: Doing Small Things With Great Love

George C. Round

“We can’t all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.”  Do small things matter?  The life and career of George C. Round suggests a model for ordinary people in turbulent and contentious times.

During the Civil War, Union army Lieutenant George C. Round passed most of his service on southern soil. He became attached to the southern people. After the war, Round moved to Virginia to help build up the territory that he, as a soldier, helped in destroying.

In 1869, Round moved to Manassas, Virginia, the site of the first major battle of the Civil War, where he opened a law office. The area around Manassas was a scene of utter devastation.  The skeletons of ruined buildings and abandoned entrenchments crumbled in the weather.  Many families had moved away.  There was hardly a house, barn, or church that had not been used as a hospital.  Federal troops seemed to delight in using churches as stables and would often burn them when they left.  The population of surrounding Prince William County dropped by almost half and would not reach its prewar level again for nearly sixty years.

It was George Carr Round (1839-1918), a Union Army Signal Corps veteran and lawyer from New York, perhaps more than any other single person, who helped create the town of Manassas. He had shade trees planted all over the rapidly growing town. The courthouse was relocated to Manassas in 1894, largely through his efforts, and built on land given by him for the purpose.  This brought jobs and prosperity. He made it possible for Manassas to have the first public school in Virginia, which was established in 1869. It was through his solicitation that philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated the funds necessary for the creation of the town and school library in 1900.  He ensured that the town had one of the first public high schools in 1907.

Round was the driving force in making possible the golden anniversary of the first battle of Manassas, “The Peace Jubilee”, which was celebrated on July 21, 1911, “when a northern President, William Howard Taft, and a southern Governor, William H. Mann, of Virginia, shook hands during the exercises and, like the 1,000 veterans of blue and gray present, symbolized the cementing of the two sections.”  This was the first time in history when survivors of a great battle met fifty years after and exchanged friendly greetings at the place of actual combat.

Round was an early an ardent supporter of creating a national park at the site of the Manassas battlefield.  Round died before the establishment of the Manassas Battlefield National Park.

By his death in 1918, Round had become one of the town's most beloved citizens. The thriving modern community of Manassas is a living legacy to this tireless and compassionate man.

Judge Arthur Sinclair remarked at the  dedication of the Manassas Museum, 24 May, 1976, “Foremost to me, Manassas was its people….It must have been the only town in the country where the streets bore, as they still do, the names of gallant men who once opposed one another on the field of battle.  And it was done deliberately, and it was done, I’ve been told, by George C. Round, to signify that peace and unity prevailed where enmity once existed, thus proving that men can be bigger than causes.”

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