Civil War History

Rising Tensions

By the mid-1800s, with rumors circulating of slave rebellions, tensions between the North and South began to mount. In Fauquier, the tension was felt with the formation of groups like Turner Ashby’s Mountain Rangers, The Warrenton Rifles, Warrenton Home Guard and The Black Horse Cavalry. These groups patrolled Fauquier County making every effort to disrupt activities of the Underground Railroad.

In the fall of 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) with the intention of providing arms for a vast slave rebellion. Brown was instead caught and, in December of 1859, was hanged. Brown’s hanging was celebrated in the South, mourned in the North, and tensions between the two sides were further exacerbated.

In the fall of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as President of the United States. However, in Fauquier County, Lincoln received only one vote, cast by Henry Dixon in the building that now houses the Fauquier Heritage Society in Marshall.


Soon after the election, in December 1860, South Carolina seceded; by February 1861, five more southern states followed suit. On April 12th, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and 34 hours later, the Federals surrendered the fort to the Confederates. Five days later, on April 17th, Virginia seceded from the Union.

With its location near the border of North and South and near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Fauquier County’s fate was sealed. Fauquier County saw not only vast troop movements and frequent occupation by Federal troops, but by the end of the war, Fauquier would be the scene of five major engagements – at Thoroughfare Gap, Upperville, between Buckland and Warrenton, at Auburn and Rappahannock Station (now Remington).

War Begins

Fauquier felt its first true loss on June 1, 1861 when Union and Confederate troops clashed at Fairfax Court House in nearby Fairfax County. Here, Captain John Quincy Marr, leader of the Warrenton Rifles, was killed. His death officially counted as the first loss of a Confederate officer in battle.

Six weeks later, in mid-July, Gen. Stonewall Jackson and Brig. Gen. Joseph Johnston marched 10,000 troops to Piedmont Station where they boarded trains bound for Manassas Junction and the First Battle of Manassas. This marked the first time in history that troops were transported to battle by train.

After almost a year, in March of 1862, Union Col. John Geary and his troops rode into Upperville. This marked the beginning of Fauquier’s frequent occupation by Union troops.

Second Battle of Manassas

In August 1862, troops from both sides began to position themselves for the Second Battle at Manassas. From August 22nd-25th, troops clashed in Fauquier along the Rappahannock River, Fauquier White Sulphur Springs, Lee Springs and Freeman’s Ford, producing several hundred casualties. At the same time, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry made a daring raid on Union Gen. John Pope’s headquarters at Catlett Station.

On August 27th, Union Gen. John Buford learned from captured Confederates that Longstreet’s troops were located two miles away in Salem (now Marshall). Upon entering Salem, Union troops almost caught Gen. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, who were riding well ahead of their column of troops.

On August 28th, skirmishing began around Chapman’s Mill, which lies within Thoroughfare Gap, a major route for troop movement from east to west. Despite valiant efforts by Union troops, Confederate troops on their way to Manassas were not delayed, and Lee’s army reached the battlefield in time for the Second Battle of Manassas (August 28th-30th). Ten days later, North and South clashed at Antietam Creek in Maryland – the single bloodiest day of the war and in American history.

Two months later, at his headquarters in Rectortown, Union Gen. George McClellan received word from Pres. Lincoln of his replacement with Gen. Ambrose Burnside. McClellan bids farewell to his troops at the Warren Green Hotel in Warrenton.

In late March 1863, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart gives orders to John Singleton Mosby to form Company A, 43rd Battalion of the Virginia Cavalry, which would come to be known as “Mosby’s Rangers”. The Federals dubbed Mosby the “The Gray Ghost” for his ability to strike without warning and disappear just as quickly, and his guerilla tactics were a new method of fighting which enraged the Union army. Headquartered in Rectortown, Mosby’s Rangers performed daring feats all over Northern Virginia but roamed most extensively in Fauquier and Loudoun Counties.

In June 1863, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry clashed with Union forces at the Battle of Upperville which raged for three days, beginning just west of Middleburg, and continuing west (down what is now Route 50) through Upperville to Ashby’s Gap. Gen. Stuart’s intention was to mask Gen. Lee’s troop movement north through the Shenandoah Valley to Pennsylvania.

The Turning Point

Beginning July 1, 1863, more than 150,000 soldiers clashed for three days at the Battle of Gettysburg in south central Pennsylvania. Some consider this battle to be the turning point of the Civil War, turning in favor of the Union.

In October 1863, Union and Confederate troops clashed at Auburn, near Warrenton, in two separate encounters. The second and larger battle at Auburn resulted in 1,600 casualties and a Confederate loss.

A few days later, on October 19, 1863, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry found themselves being pursued by Union Gen. Kilpatrick. Stuart’s men turned and ambushed their pursuers and the Union cavalry turned and fled. The encounter resulted in 230 casualties and became known as the “Buckland Races” because of the speedy exit of the Union cavalry.

On November 7, 1863, the Union army crossed the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford and
Rappahannock Station. After a series of brutal attacks in which many Union men were killed, the Confederates were overrun and 1,600 were taken prisoner. The surprise Union attack convinced Gen. Lee to relinquish Culpeper County and head south to Orange County for the winter.

On January 1, 1864, as the war entered its fourth year, William “Extra Billy” Smith of Warrenton, took over as Governor of Virginia. In November 1864, the Union carried out “The Great Burning Raid” against citizens of Fauquier and Loudoun Counties. The raid was carried out by 6,000 Union troops and was meant to flush out Mosby and his men, as well as punish those civilians who would aid the Confederates by hiding Mosby and his Rangers. At Gen. Ulysses Grant’s suggestion, Gen. Sheridan gave the orders and for five consecutive days Union troops set fire to barns, mills, crops and fields, in addition to releasing, taking or slaughtering livestock throughout the farms of Fauquier and Loudoun.

Within four months of the Great Burning Raid, the war was heading into its final phase. On April 9, 1865, four years after the war began, Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.

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