Journey Through Hallowed Ground
Journey Through Hallowed Ground
The following article is from the National Park Service, United States
Department of th Interior. It was composed by John S. Salmon, Staff
Historian, Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Virginia's northern Piedmont is a rolling, open, well-watered region
of farms and scattered villages and towns. It occupies the land bet-
ween two principal Civil War battlegrounds: the Shenandoah Valley
and the Washington-Fredericksburg-Richmond axis. During the war,
the Manassas Gap and the Orange and Alexandria Railroads travers-
ed the area, augmenting the long-established road network and furn-
ishing the opposing armies with strategically vital transportation and
Waves of military activity, large and small, swept through the region
periodically. In 1861, the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) took
place near the Manassas Junction of the two railroads in Prince
William County, with troops being rushed into battle by railroad for
the first time in American history. The next year, Gen. Robert E. Lee
launched his attack into Maryland that culminated at Antietam Creek (Sharpsburg), after first winning important victories at Cedar Moun-
tain in Culpeper County and at the Second Battle of Manassas. In
1863, following his brilliant success at Chancellorsville, just west of Fredericksburg, Lee began his invasion of Pennsylvania after a mas-
sive cavalry battle at Brandy Station in Culpeper County. Maj. Gen.
J.E.B. Stuart, screening the Confederate infantry's march west to the
Shenandoah Valley, fought engagements at Aldie, Middleburg, and
Upperville in Loudoun and Fauquier Counties. In the fall, after the
defeat at Gettysburg, Lee turned on his pursuers and launched an ill-
executed attack on the Union army at Bristoe Station in Prince
William County. The following spring, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
began his drive south toward Richmond and Petersburg from the
Federal winter encampments in Culpeper County.
For most civilians in the Piedmont, their daily lives were interrupt-
ed only briefly by the intermittent storms of war. There were two
lengthy exceptions: the 1863–1864 winter encampment of the Union
and Confederate armies in Culpeper and Orange Counties respective-
ly, and the exploits of Col. John S. Mosby in Fairfax, Fauquier, and
Loudoun Counties--an area known as "Mosby's Confederacy."
After the Confederate defeat at Bristoe Station in October 1863,
Maj. Gen. George G. Meade pressed Lee and the Army of Northern
Virginia south across the Rapidan River into Orange County. The
Union army then settled in for the winter around Culpeper Court-
house in Culpeper County, while the Confederates encamped along
the south bank of the Rapidan.
For some five months, the two combatants studied each other, resup-
plied and reinforced their armies, and tested each other's lines with
occasional thrusts. In March 1864, Grant arrived in Culpeper County,
having been appointed commander of all Union armies by President
Abraham Lincoln and having decided to accompany Meade rather
than remain in Washington. With his presence, the war in Virginia
would enter a new and even bloodier phase when the Federals cross-
ed the Rapidan on May 4th to begin a campaign that would inflict
some 45 percent casualties on each army within two-and-a-half
In the northernmost part of the Piedmont, meanwhile, Mosby's
Rangers (43d Battalion, Partisan Rangers) harried the Union army's
supply lines. Organized by Mosby late in 1862, the Rangers operat-
ed successfully until the end of the war and Mosby was mentioned
more often by name in Lee's reports than any other Confederate of-
ficer. Although they never numbered more than 800, the Rangers
were effective against their vastly more numerous foes because
Mosby maintained tight discipline and struck quickly when the odds
favored him. Grant became so annoyed by their tactics that he order-
ed captured Rangers hanged without trial. When Mosby immediately
retaliated in kind with captured Federals, Grant rescinded the order.
Rather than surrender his men, Mosby disbanded the Rangers at
Salem, in the heart of his Confederacy, on April 21, 1865.
After the war, the northern Piedmont soon reverted to its peaceful ways.
In the second half of the 20th century, however, the growth of the Wash-
ington metropolitan area in Northern Virginia placed increasing develop-
ment pressure on this rural region. The battlefields of Manassas, Brandy
Station, and Bristoe Station became the scenes of fierce engagements bet-
ween developers and preservationists. Although the economic recession
of the late 1980s slowed growth in the region, it may have delayed rather
than prevented the steady destruction of this national treasure. The last
battle for this hallowed ground has yet to be fought.
Crooked Run Valley