Geographic Fronts and Their Battles

Maneuvers and battles in Virginia prior to the Battle of First Manassas were centered around control of major waterways. Virginia had three main waterways that defined its antebellum borders: the Ohio, Potomac, and Chesapeake rivers. Whoever controlled these rivers could rapidly transport troops and supplies and prevent the enemy from crossing over into friendly territory.

The Union quickly grasped the importance of controlling these waterways, while the Virginia militia and Confederate military did not. It was a costly mistake. With a broad mission to protect the Ohio River, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan struck deep into northwestern Virginia in early summer 1861, scattering Confederate forces there. From Fort Monroe in southeastern Virginia, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler sought to control the Chesapeake Bay, and in the north, Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson and Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell crossed the Potomac to seize a foothold and protect Washington, DC.

So far, I’ve identified 27 separate engagements in Virginia prior to the Battle of First Manassas (this includes territory that became West Virginia), and have been able to separate them into three general geographic fronts, named after these three principal waterways. This helps clarify the broader role each engagement played in early Civil War Virginia. The following charts list the engagements, their dates, and locations.


Battle/Engagement/SkirmishDatePresent-Day County
Engagement at Aquia CreekWed., May 29 to Sat., June 1, 1861Stafford County, VA
First Battle of Fairfax Court HouseSaturday, June 1, 1861Fairfax County, VA
Engagement at Arlington MillsSaturday, June 1, 1861Arlington County, VA
Engagement at RomneyThursday, June 13, 1861Hampshire County, WV
Engagement at ViennaMonday, June 17, 1861 Fairfax County, VA
Skirmish at New CreekWednesday, June 19, 1861Mineral County, WV
Skirmish at Frankfort/Patterson’s CreekWednesday, June 26, 1861Mineral County, WV
Engagement at Mathias PointThursday, June 27, 1861King George County, VA
Battle of Hoke’s Run/Falling WatersTuesday, July 2, 1861Berkeley County, WV
Skirmish at Harper’s FerryThursday, July 4, 1861Jefferson County, WV
Battle of Blackburn’s FordThursday, July 18, 1861Prince William County, VA


Battle/Engagement/Skirmish Date Present-Day County
Action at PhilippiMonday, June 3, 1861Barbour County, WV
Action at Righter’s HouseFriday, June 21, 1861Harrison County, WV
Action at Bowman’s PlaceSat., June 29, 1861???
Skirmish at Middle Fork BridgeSat., July 6 to Sun., July 7, 1861Upshur County, WV
Battle of Bellington/Laurel HillSun., July 7 to Thurs., July 11, 1861Barbour County, WV
Skirmish at GlenvilleSunday, July 7, 1861Gilmer County, WV
Battle of Rich MountainThursday, July 11, 1861Randolph County, WV
Battle of Corrick’s FordSaturday, July 13, 1861Tucker County, WV
Engagement at Barboursville Saturday, July 13, 1861 Cabell County, WV
Battle of Scary CreekWednesday, July 17, 1861Putnam County, WV


Battle/Engagement/Skirmish Date Present-Day County
Engagement at Gloucester PointTuesday, May 7, 1861Gloucester County, VA
Engagement at Sewell’s PointSat., May 18 and Sun. May 19, 1861Norfolk, VA
Engagement at Pig PointWednesday, June 5, 1861Suffolk, VA
Battle of Big BethelMonday, June 10, 1861Hampton, VA
Skirmish at Curtis’ FarmFriday, July 5, 1861Newport News, VA
Skirmish at Cedar LaneFriday, July 12, 1861Newport News, VA

I’ll continue to flesh out this idea in the weeks and months to come. As always, check back for updates!

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