Monday, March 17, 2014

Civil War Story of Brentsville, Virginia

“Came to Brentsville (Prince William County, Virginia), examined the place, found five houses occupied, including the jail. But two men reside in this town; the court-house has but a part of the roof remaining on; the houses are generally in ruins.”  So read, in part,  a letter of March 8, 1864, written by Captain Andrew H. McHenry of the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

Brentsville was the county seat during the Civil War. It was at the Brentsville courthouse that citizens met to vote on secession and where they came to enlist in the military. In response to John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859, the Prince William Cavalry (Co. A, Virginia Cavalry) was formed here on the courthouse lawn in January 1860. The Ewell Guards (Co. A, 49th VA Infantry), were also organized here and drilled on the courthouse lawn.

When Union General McClellan began his campaign to take the new Confederate capital in Richmond, southern troops were forced to evacuate their winter camps that were set up throughout much of Fairfax and Prince William Counties. Brentsville, then the seat of local government, was one of the first communities affected by invading Federal forces. Thousands of troops of both sides passed through Brentsville. Churches and private homes became hospitals after battles at Manassas and Bristoe Station. Many of the buildings were ravaged for bricks to build encampments. The roof of the courthouse was partially torn off and the adjacent clerk's office was totally destroyed. Most of the county's records were lost. A Union soldier wrote, “The documentary accumulations of more than two hundred years had been torn out of their files and scattered over the floors of the buildings to the depth of several feet.”

Brentsville sat in the midst of “Mosby’s Confederacy” as Confederate partisans harassed union troops throughout the war.  A soldier in the Tenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry wrote, “Guerrillas were all about us, as was evident when a straggling member of the Tenth was fired upon….Oct. 6th, a squad of men went over to Brentsville, shire town of Prince William County, to get bricks for the General’s quarters.  They secured them, but at the expense of the buildings themselves.”

The Prince William Historic PreservationFoundation is currently raising money for museum exhibits and interpretive services for the “ Old Jail”, which is the final building to be restored at the 29 acres Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre, an open-air museum centered around the restored 1820s courthouse. 

An entertaining look at the customs and superstitions of weddings during the Civil War era.

General George S. Patton once said, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” Here are four stories about the history of the world IF wars we know about happened differently or IF wars that never happened actually took place.

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