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Friday, June 29, 2012

New signs explain Civil War events that happened near Annandale

A new sign in Mason District Park explains the significance of the area during the Civil War.
Two interpretive signs were installed in the Annandale area June 20 to commemorate Civil War actions. A sign next to the parking lot in Mason District Park provides information about Mason’s Hill, a strategic location during the war, and one next to Ravensworth Shopping Center offers insights about the Ravensworth mansion.

The signs, part of a larger project to educate the public about the historical significance of this area during Fairfax County’s observance of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, are a joint project of the Fairfax County History Commission and the Fairfax County Civil War 150th Anniversary Planning Committee.

Mason’s Hill was important because of its strategic elevation, offering good views of Columbia Pike and Little River Turnpike, the sign says. JEB Stuart had an outpost at Mason’s Hill, and Col. Edward P. Alexander built a signal corps observation tower there with a six-foot “astronomical glass” to observe Washington, D.C.

A Confederate spy, E. Pliny Bryan, had planned to signal messages from his Washington rooming house window to the tower but the Confederates abandoned Mason’s Hill before this scheme could be implemented. It wasn’t long before the area was occupied by the Federals.

Nearby is another strategic location, Munson’s Hill in Bailey’s Crossroads, which was the closest Confederate position to Washington, D.C. It was occupied by JEB Stuart and his men for about three months after the First Battle of Manassas in 1861. Munson’s Hill was the first place where Stuart’s men used “Quaker cannons,” built out of logs, to mislead the Union Army about their artillery strength. 

Also in Bailey’s Crossroads, President Lincoln held a Grand Review of the Troops. The sesquicentennial of that event was commemorated last November.

The new sign at the Ravensworth shopping center describes how the Ravensworth mansion, which burned down in 1928, had been a safe haven at the beginning of the Civil War for Mrs. Robert E. Lee (Mary Randolph Custis Lee).

Ravensworth Mansion
There will be dedication ceremonies for those two signs in late summer or early fall, says Patrick Lennon of Visit Fairfax, who serves as co-chair of the Fairfax County Civil War 150th Planning Committee.

Another six interpretive signs have been installed throughout the county to mark the sesquicentennial. Two more will be put up later this summer and another five are expected  to be up by July 2013. The details and locations are still being worked out. They are likely to be located in places that don’t already have historical markers, so there won’t be one for the “Action at Annandale.”

The signs will be listed on the maps and guidebooks produced by Civil War Trails, a private organization that promotes history-related tourism.

The sesquicentennial in Virginia is being commemorated from 2011 through 2015, says Lennon. Most Civil War events that happened in Fairfax County took place during the first two and a-half years of the war, he says. After that, the action moved toward Richmond.

On Sept. 1, the committee will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ox Hill. There will be cannons, horses, guest speakers, demonstrations, and other family-friendly activities at Ox Hill Battlefield Park on Monument Drive and West Ox Road in Fairfax.

It’s hard to say whether there’s been an increase in Civil War-related tourism in Fairfax County during the sesquicentennial so far. “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in website visits. That is a good indication of people’s increased willingness to travel,” Lennon says.

He says the publicity surrounding the sesquicentennial is raising awareness of what this area used to be like before it was developed.

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