They were all part of the 12th “Fairfax Civil War Day” held on Saturday. The dandy living history event took place at “Historic Blenheim,” a shady 12-acre site about a mile northeast of Old Town Fairfax on Old Lee Highway. A little jewel I had never heard of, the Greek-Revival style home and farm belonged to the Willcoxon family. As Southern sympathizers, they fled in 1862. Between March 1862 and June 1863, Union soldiers camped and convalesced on their premises.
If you were like me, only somewhat knowledgeable of the Civil War history in Fairfax, perhaps you thought this event should have taken place by the historic Courthouse at the familiar crossroads of Main Street (Little River Turnpike) and Chain Bridge Road. It was there, after all, where the first Confederate officer was killed (John Quincy Marr, Captain of the Warrenton Rifles), the Confederate flag was created, and Jefferson Davis’s War Council met in October 1861.
Historic Blenheim can’t match those that site in terms of historic events, but the Willcoxon home is a window into the other side of the war. In his book, “The Civil War in Fairfax Country,” Charles V. Mauro touches on this.
"Much, if not most, of what has been written about the American Civil War has been written about the campaigns, battles, generals, leaders or military aspects of the war. Very little is focused on the non-combatants – those who were also forced to survive under wartime conditions, those who were forced to flee their homes."
The Willcoxon family, who had just built their home in 1859, gave us a prime example of this overlooked part of the war. Their dwelling gives some unique insights into the life of the soldiers between the battles. On the walls and in the attic of the large brick home, Union soldiers used charcoal and crayon to sign their names, write down hometowns and units, and draw pictograms.
Local researchers have identified 115 names. The site’s Interpretive Center, which was open during the event, documents this treasure trove. 40 of the soldiers were from Central Europe. Some of the units represented include 29th New York Infantry, and the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry. One was Private Theodor Raefle who was “quite artistic and prolific” with his wall drawings.
My favorite part of the Civil War Day was talking with the reenactors. They are impressive in both their look and knowledge. One young man portrayed a soldier from the Philadelphia Fire Zouves. How impressive these volunteers must have looked, marching into the towns, their colorful and distinctive uniforms reflecting the unit pride, the bayonets of their smoothbores glistening in the sun. Equally, this portrayer took immense pride in his role.
The biggest star of Saturday’s show, at least literally, was Thaddeus Lowe and his gas ballon. Before his Ballon Corps was shut down in 1863, the famous scientist turned aeronaut flew numerous reconnaisance missions.
Also on hand was C.K. Gailey, who performed some of the research involved with identifying the signatures. My discussion with him turned to the “War of 1812.” After I told him of my interest in Francis Scott Key, Gailey informed me Patrick O’Neill is writing a book on the four-day “Battle of the White House” at Mason Neck (Fort Belvoir). His book may reveal some previously unknown information regarding Francis Scott Key.
All in all, one fine day. A salute to all those who put the event together, those who donned uniforms and shared their knowledge, and, of course, the Willcoxon family and descendants.
Now, can someone tell me where "Blenheim" comes in?