Prince William County ... History

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Prince William County ... About

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Prince William County - south of Fairfax County, north of Fauquier County, east of Warren County, and west of the Potomac River - is conveniently located, with easy access to Rt 66 and Rt 95.  Prince William County is a popular location for residents and visitors.  With businesses such as Micron the Prince William County area is a desireable area to live and work.  Shopping malls such as Potomac Mills and Manassas Mall - communities such as Dominion Valley in Haymarket - and Quantico Marine Base - Prince William County has something for everyone.  

History ... In 1608, Captain John SmithVirginia State Map and his band of frontiersmen rode a barge along the Potomac River, the first white men to touch the unnamed wilderness that is now known as Prince William County. The county was formed in 1731 and was named for William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, second son of King George II. The territory, which included Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Loudon and Fauquier, was reduced to its present
size in 1759.

Today, Prince William County encompasses 348 square miles and includes the independent cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. With these cities, the area is 360 square miles. The current estimated county population is 274,915 and has grown 90% since 1980.

July 1861, the sleepy railroad community of Manassas Junction suddenly became one of the most important places in American history. Before the outbreak of the war, the town was made up of just four buildings; it was better known by the name of its post office, Tudor Hall. Both the history of the United States and the history of the Northern Virginia Piedmont were shaped by the events that occurred in Prince William County. In addition to the stretches of battleground now preserved in the Manassas National Battlefield Park, Prince William County is home to several other important sites in the Civil War that illustrate the crucial role this area played during this episode in American history.

When war broke out in April of 1861, Confederate soldiers were recruited on the Brentsville Courthouse lawn, enticed by the glorious prospects of fighting in a skirmish expected to be over in a matter of months. Although Brentsville was later raided by Union troops for building supplies, at least five original structures survived the war. Brentsville Historic Center now consists of the Courthouse, jail, church and a one-room schoolhouse. Several of the buildings are rumored to have had recent ghost spottings.

Both Union General Irvin McDowell and and Confederate General J.T. Beauregard recognized the importance of the town's location at the junction of the Alexandria and Orange and Manassas Gap Railroads. By capturing the Manassas railroad junction, the Union would take possession of the best overland route to Richmond, the Confederate capital. The Confederacy was prepared to defend the junction, at all costs. Confederate soldiers, under the command of Generals Joseph E. Johnston and Thomas Johnathan (Stonewall) Jackson marched to the site of the battle through Thoroughfare Gap, a gap in the Bull Run Mountains, five miles north of historic Haymarket.

The battle broke out on the grounds of the McLean Farm, on Route 28 near present-day Yorkshire Market, the home of Confederate sympathizer Wilmer McLean, who offered Beauregard use of his house as a headquarters for the battle that was fast approaching. Entering with a light-hearted attitude and a romanticized view of war, both sides realized that the war would not end quickly after smoke from the last cannons settled along the shores of the Bull Run Creek. Five thousand soldiers lost their lives in the First Battle of Manassas, the first major battle of the Civil War. Confederate President Jefferson Davis sent a telegraph to Richmond saying, "Night has closed upon a hard-fought field, our forces have won a glorious victory." Trace the footsteps of the soldiers who fought in this monumental battle at the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Wander the haunting fields, where Thomas Jackson earned the nickname "Stonewall" and where the Confederate soldiers won their first victory and forced the Union army to retreat to Washington.

Just thirteen months later, the Blue and Grey armies again clashed in Prince William County. Although the Confederacy had won the victory the previous year, the Union army remained a constant presence and threat. The town of Brentsville was frequently raided by Union troops for supplies for use at Bristoe Station, west of Old Town Manassas on Route 28. Here at Bristoe Station, "Stonewall" Jackson's army surprised and captured General John Pope's Union troops on August 24, 1862. The Confederates destroyed the Broad Run bridge and cut telegraph wires, severing the Union lines of communication and supply with Washington, D.C.

Confederate forces then marched onward, as before, through Thoroughfare Gap to the familiar ground of the First Battle of Manassas. Under the command of "Stonewall" Jackson, they lay in wait behind an unfinished railroad grade. The Confederate troops surprised the Union troops who, under Pope's command, were marching towards Centreville. The Second Battle of Manassas had begun. In the months that had passed since the first battle, the town of Manassas had grown into a huge storehouse of goods. The Second Battle of Manassas was four times larger than the first battle, with 120,000 men fighting for two and a half days. Nearly 24,000 soldiers were killed or wounded here in the rolling Virginia countryside.

In both the First and Second Battles of Manassas, the Ben Lomond Manor House was used as a hospital by soldiers from both sides. Built in 1837, the walls bear the authentic signatures of Union soldiers. Today, the largest collection of antique roses adorn the grounds of this manor home.

The losses suffered by the North and the South in Prince William County were heavy, but the clash of the two sides gave life to a new city, Manassas. The Confederate Cemetery, Center Street in Manassas, bears witness to the Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War. The cemetery features a statue of a Confederate soldier under which a majority of the soldiers are buried. The Manassas Public Library has a list of those buried in the Cemetery.

Both battles are commemorated annually here with events being held at various war sites. Activities and demonstrations vary annually.

Brentsville / Dumfries / Gainesville / Haymarket / Manassas / Manassas Park / Nokesville / Occoquan / Quantico

With the construction of the county courthouse in 1822, Brentsville became the county seat. Long before, it was the crossroads of Indian trade paths and roads from the Potomac to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It remained the county seat until 1892, when it was moved to Manassas. Brentsville was occupied by both Confederate and Union soldiers throughout the Civil War. In 1974, the County Park Authority acquired the courthouse and established an 18-acre Historical Recreation Area. Excavations are currently underway.

Dumfries, the largest town in Prince William County, was chartered in 1749.
It is named for a town in Scotland from where a locally prominent merchant hailed. It grew in wealth and importance as a major tobacco port, that rivaled New York and Boston but soil erosion and silting of the port caused Dumfries' demise. Today, Dumfries is known as the oldest continually chartered town in Virginia.
It is home to the Weems-Botts Museum and is the keeper of much of our Nation's early history. 

Gainesville was once a changing point for stagecoach horses on the Fauquier & Alexandria Turnpike. In 1852, the Manassas Gap Railroad reached the area and the stop became Gainesville. The town was a shipping point for grain, timber and cattle and remained a major cattle shipping point into the early 1960's. During the Civil War, nearby Thoroughfare Gap in the Bull Run Mountains served as a path for soldiers to reach the First and Second Battles of Manassas.

Haymarket, in northwest Prince William, owes its location to an abandoned Indian hunting path which became Old Carolina Road. It was used by settlers as a route from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas. Haymarket grew around the intersection of Carolina and Dumfries Roads. It was burned by Union troops in 1862. Since then, the town has been revived with a collection of quaint restored buildings and shops.

According to legend, the name Manassas was derived from an Indian source or from Manasseh, a Jewish innkeeper at Manassas Gap. Manassas originated in 1852 at the junction of two railroads which linked Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. with the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond. During the Civil War, the junction's strategic importance led to the battles of First and Second Manassas (Bull Run). The county seat since 1892, Manassas was rebuilt after the Civil War and remained a small town for most of the 20th century. It became a city in 1975. Known for Civil War history, Manassas also has a wonderful museum system and charming Old Town historic district.

Located to the northeast of Manassas, Manassas Park began in 1955 as a county subdivision. In 1975, Manassas Park incorporated as an independent city. It was the last town in Virginia to become a city before the legislature placed a moratorium on such actions. This small town has an 18-hole golf course and water park. Route 28, the "Antique Corridor", also runs through the city.

The center of a farming community with cattle and dairy farms, Nokesville became a town and intermediate stop on the Orange & Alexandria Railway in 1865. In the late 1800's-early 1900's, Nokesville was the location of a religious movement called the German Baptist Brethren, which became known as the Church of the Brethren. In the 1950's, it was cut off from passenger trains and remains a rural community today.

Occoquan is derived from a Dogue Indian word meaning "at the end of the water". Located on the river, Occoquan was a natural site for water-borne commerce. By 1765, it flourished as an industrial settlement with grist mills and tobacco warehouses. The Merchant's Mill was the first automated grist mill in the nation. It operated for 175 years until destroyed by fire. During the Civil War, the post office passed letters and packages between North and South. Although fire and river silting have caused hardships for Occoquan, the town has survived and thrived. Today, it is a charming restored artist's community with shops, outdoor dining, ghost walks and more.

Rich in military history, Quantico is the only town in the U.S. that is completely surrounded by a Marine Corps Base. Quantico's military tradition dates back to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, when the area was used by Virginia Naval elements. The area also spent time as a resort community called "Potomac". The town itself was incorporated in 1872, taking its name from a Douge Indian word meaning "by the large stream". Today it is home to a notable Marine Corps Base, established in 1917, and the Marine Corps Air-Gound Museum.

Posted by

Rita Gibbons
The Gibbons Group ~  MacDoc Realty LLC

Call: 571-330-0741 ~ Fax #: 888-235-1567

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Jo-Anne Smith
Oakville, ON

Rita,  Welcome to the Historic Sites group ! Thank you for joining and posting your article about the history of Prince William County here . I look forward to reading more of your posts.


Aug 03, 2007 12:49 PM #1
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