A Virginia Village Goes to War—Falls Church During the Civil War is a community-owned book describing events in and around Falls Church, Virginia during the American Civil War.

Origin[edit | edit source]

The book is an outgrowth of a tricentennial history of the City of Falls Church published in 1999. Entitled Falls Church--A Virginia Village Revisited, it was commissioned and published by the city government to mark the 300th anniversary of its founding.[1]

The authors of the tricentennial history, Bradley E. Gernand and Nan Netherton, were able to devote only one chapter to local events during the Civil War. Their research, however, uncovered a surprising amount of information, almost all of it previously unknown, spurring Gernand to continue their research effort. This culminated three years later in publication of A Virginia Village Goes to War.[2]

Impact[edit | edit source]

Until publication of A Virginia Village Goes to War, the local community was aware of very little from its Civil War years. The printed index to the venerable Records of the War of the Rebellion, published by the Union government after the war, list only four or five references to Falls Church.

Local residents repeated two tales over the years: of deaths due to hangings from a local tree known as the Hangman’s Tree, and of a battle in a peach orchard. While evidence published in the book strongly suggests neither longtime tale was entirely true, both appear rooted to some degree in fact.[3]

The central findings of the book are that a great deal more occurred in Falls Church than was previously known.

The last reliable memories of record—those of the children of local participants during the Civil War—was generally extinguished by the 1950s. After that point the area’s Civil War history was generally lost. The full story was rediscovered using Confederate and Union government records, newspaper accounts, diaries by soldiers and civilians, letters, and regimental histories. [4]

The book’s chief findings:

  • The Civil War began early at Falls Church due to its strategic location outside Washington, D.C. Its heights, overlooking Washington, were quickly occupied by Confederate Army troops. [5]
  • Local residents were bitterly divided between North and South. Families split apart, with brothers fighting on opposing sides. Local churches frayed and divided, and their splits became so institutionalized that in one case they continue to remain divided today.[6]
  • The war took a severe economic toll on the village and surrounding countryside. Farmers and villagers found themselves occupying a “no man’s land” which was never secured conclusively by either side. And yet loyalty was demanded of each family by both sides.[7]
  • Battles and skirmishes were waged across the area by cavalry and infantry regiments. [8]
  • Tens of thousands of Northern soldiers encamped in and around Falls Church during the Civil War, principally from New York. Afterward, a number of them moved to the Falls Church area and became some of its most prosperous citizens.[10]

Ownership[edit | edit source]

All rights and future profits of the book have been donated to the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society. VPIS — the town’s most important and enduring cultural society — distributes it at cost, not profit.

Historiography[edit | edit source]

Previous writings on the Civil War as experienced in Falls Church are limited to a book published in 1963 entitled Falls Church—By Fence and Fireside. Written by the Rev. Melvin Steadman, it conveys important information about local residents during the Civil War not available from any other source. Its drawbacks, however, include a lack of citations and footnotes.

The Rev. Steadman, whose family lived in Falls Church for decades, was not a trained historian, but knew local survivors of the war personally, and recorded their stories over time.[11]

Sources Used[edit | edit source]

The original sources compiled by the author during his research effort have been donated to the Virginia Room of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library, where they are available to the public. They include government records, newspaper accounts, letters by soldiers and civilians—many of them transcribed by the author and available with the original handwritten versions—and newspaper accounts published in the North and South during the conflict.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Bradley E. Gernand and Nan Netherton. Falls Church--A Virginia Village Revisited. Virginia Beach: The Donning Company, 2000.
  2. Bradley E. Gernand. A Virginia Village Goes to War--Falls Church During the Civil War. Virginia Beach: The Donning Company, 2002.
  3. Gernand, A Virginia Village Goes to War, pp. 69-71, 74, 209-210, 233.
  4. The bibliography for this book lists 52 collections of personal papers and government documents, many of which consist of multiple letters and documents. It lists 210 published works, including 8 journals and magazines, 33 newspapers, and 170 books.
  5. Gernand, A Virginia Village Goes to War, pp. 62, 69, 82, 108.
  6. Gernand, A Virginia Village Goes to War, pp. 20-27, 220-224.
  7. Gernand, A Virginia Village Goes to War, pp. 33, 64, 66, 89, 91, 144.
  8. Gernand, A Virginia Village Goes to War, pp. 48-49, 62, 116-117, 172-173, 191-196, 203-211.
  9. Gernand, A Virginia Village Goes to War, pp. 101, 109-110, 116, 133, 167-174, 178-179, 167-174, 101, 133, 237.
  10. Gernand, A Virginia Village Goes to War, pp. 100-101, 118-119, 124, 129, 143, 145-146, 152-155, 157. According to the book, artillery units included the 1st and 4th. Cavalry units included the 1st and 16th. Infantry units included the 5th, 12th, 14th, 17th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 28th, 30th, 31st, 32nd, 33rd, 35th, 37th, 44th, 69th, 80th, 84th, 109th, 111th, 12th, 124th, 127th, 143rd, and 189th.
  11. Melvin L. Steadman, Jr. Falls Church by Fence and Fireside. Privately published, 1964. Republished by Heritage Books in 1995.
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