160 Years Ago Today: The Engagement at Vienna

On May 24, 1861, Union troops crossed the Potomac River into northern Virginia and brushed aside a token defense at Arlington Heights and Alexandria. A few days later, on June 1st, a Union cavalry patrol was chased out of Fairfax Courthouse and a small skirmish erupted at Arlington Mills. Though minor, these incidents convinced Union…

160 Years Ago Today: Engagement at Romney

Col. Lewis "Lew" Wallace, commanding the 11th Indiana Infantry Regiment, was a bit of an aberration. He was a lawyer and friend of Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton, and would go on to write the novel Ben Hur (1880). Wallace used his political connections to get his regiment, styled in French-inspired "zouave" jackets, transferred closer…

160 Years Ago Today: The Battle of Big Bethel

Fought on June 10, 1861, Big Bethel was among the American Civil War's first pitched battles. Since the Virginia Secession Convention passed an ordinance of secession in May, Union forces had steadily reinforced Fort Monroe, a federal fort at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula between the James and York rivers. It was the only…

160 Years Ago Today: Engagement at Pig Point

Since April 27, 1861, the U.S. Navy had been enforcing an economic and military blockade on Virginia ports, and several small fleets of U.S. Navy ships and converted civilian vessels had exchanged fire with Confederate shore batteries in the Potomac and James rivers. U.S. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, commanding Fort Monroe at Old Point Comfort…

160 Years Ago Today: Action at Philippi

The “Battle” of Philippi was fought on Monday, June 3, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris and Confederate forces commanded by Col. George A. Porterfield in Philippi, Virginia during the American Civil War. The engagement, which was the first land action of the Civil War in Virginia, was a Union…

160 Years Ago Today: Engagement at Arlington Mills

A grist mill on Four Mile Run in Arlington County, Virginia was a prominent landmark along the Columbia Turnpike, approximately four miles southwest of Long Bridge over the Potomac River and 12 miles east of Fairfax Court House. In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 1, 1861, Union and Confederate forces clashed around the…

160 Years Ago Today: First Battle of Fairfax Court House

The First Battle of Fairfax Court House was fought on Saturday, 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…

160 Years Ago Today: Grafton Occupied by Union Troops

For 36 days following adoption of a secession ordinance in Richmond, the federal government had respected Virginia's sovereignty, despite the seizing of federal property and facilities by secessionists and hostile exchanges of fire between U.S. Navy ships and Virginia shore batteries. That changed on May 23, 1861, when Virginia voters ratified secession by a large…

160 Years Ago: Engagement at Aquia Creek

By the end of May, there was no longer any doubt as to which side Virginia would take in the American Civil War. On May 23rd, Virginia voters ratified secession by a large majority, and the next day, Union troops crossed the Potomac River and seized Arlington Heights and Alexandria, Virginia. Several small fleets of…

160 Years Ago Today: Alexandria Occupied; Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth Killed

Over the previous weeks, a tense standoff between federal forces and the Commonwealth of Virginia had threatened to spill over into all out war. On April 17, 1861, delegates at the Virginia Secession Convention in Richmond passed an ordinance of secession, pending the results of a popular referendum to be held on May 23rd. U.S.…