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History in a Virginia Suburb,
This review is from: REMEMBERING FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA (American Chronicles) (Paperback)
I found this book because it offered the opportunity to learn about the impact of the Civil War upon a local suburban community. Centreville, Virginia, today is a community of about 50,000 people in prosperous Fairfax County, approximately 20 miles from Washington, D.C. For much of its history, however, Centreville was rural and was bypassed in importance by other towns to the south, such as Manassas. Karl Reiner explores a portion of Centreville's history in his short book, "Remembering Fairfax County, Virginia" (2006). Reiner was a local historian and a long-time resident of Fairfax County. He originally wrote the 30 essays which comprise this book for a local newspaper and historical journal. The essays are short and easy to read. The book is published by the History Press, one of a number of small presses which pursues the goal of educating Americans about the history of their regional places.
Centreville is situated on an extended, elevated plateau which makes it ideal for military defense. As Reiner describes it, the area was at the "center" indeed of much Civil War activity in Virginia. The Union Army used Centreville as a staging ground for the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) early in the War. Following the battle, Confederate General Joseph Johnston occupied Centreville. He defended it heavily, but he amplified his strong fortifications with what the Union Army later found to be "Quaker guns" - logs designed to give the appearance of heavy artillery. The Union Army and General McClellan were embarrassed when they learned they had been duped. Johnston withdrew from Centreville to meet McClellan's coming Peninsula Campaign which attempted, unsuccessfully, to approach and capture Richmond from the water rather than overland.
In 1862, Stonewall Jackson destroyed a large Union storehouse and transportation hub at Centreville as a prelude to the rout of the Union army under General Pope at Second Manassas. During the retreat, Pope's troops regrouped at Centreville on their way back to Washington D.C. Stonewall Jackson attacked at the Battle of Chantilly. The Union position held, thus avoiding a possibly fatal defeat to the Union cause.
In 1863, following the Battle of Gettysburg, General Meade pursued General Lee into Virginia. The fighting during this campaign was stronger than is sometimes realized. The campaign proved inconclusive as Meade was unable to advance, and Lee was unwilling to attack the concentration of the Federal army at Centreville.
Reiner's essays offer excellent discussions of these and other aspects of Centreville during the Civil War. Besides the three major campaigns, he discusses the influence of military railroads, North and South at Centreville, the guerilla warfare of Mosby's rangers, which used Centreville as a base, women spies for the Confederacy headquartered at Centreville, Clara Barton's heroic efforts in tending the wounded following Second Manassas, early Civil War photography at Centreville, and much else. Reiner offers a portrait of pre-bellum Centreville as a hub of the slave trade. There are excellent short treatments of the careers of Johnston, Pope, Jackson, and Mosby before and after their activities at Centreville which help put their accomplishments in perspective. There are also two short chapters which describe George Washington's early career as a progressive farmer and as an officer during the French-Indian War. But the Civil War dominates the book.
The book is written with a simple, homey touch with great emphasis on the locale. It was a pleasure to read. Readers with a strong background in the Civil War will find little new here. But those readers interested in local history or in an overview of Civil War actions at Centreville will enjoy this book.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 25, 2008 11:26:45 AM PDT
Steven Peterson says:
This is a pretty specialized work, but for Civil War fans, this would be an interesting resource. I hadn't thought that Centerville was so, so to speak, central to events. Fine review.
Posted on Oct 25, 2008 3:42:35 PM PDT
Words can be music says:
Didn't know Centreville was so important! I have driven through it several times since I have cousins who live in Chantilly. This would make a nice gift for them. Thanks.
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