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Fairfax County Courthouse
War on the Courthouse Grounds

At different times, Union and Confederate forces occupied the Fairfax County Courthouse at this important crossroads. The flag of each side flew from its cupola during the war, and the building suffered damage.

On April 25, 1861, the Fairfax Riflemen (CS) were organized here, and on May 23, voters here ratified the Ordinance of Secession, 151 to 8. Before dawn on June 1, Lt. Charles Tompkins led the 2nd New York Cavalry in an unsuccessful attack on three Confederate units here. Capt. John Quincy Marr, Warrenton Rifles, died—the first Confederate officer killed in the war.

The courthouse changed hands that summer, when Gen. Irvin McDowell raised the U.S. flag atop it on July 17. The Confederate flag replaced the Stars and Stripes five days later during the Union retreat after the First Battle of Manassas. On October 3, following a conference of Confederate leaders in the courthouse, President Jefferson Davis reviewed 30,000 troops here.

When the Confederates evacuated northern Virginia in March 1862, Union Gen. George B. McClellan launched his campaign to capture Richmond from his headquarters nearby on March 14. In December, Lt. Col. Charles Cummings, 16th Vermont Infantry, took “peaceable possession” of the clerk’s office and the courthouse, which was used for storage. He wrote that “windows were broken out and boarded up and the inside ripped out and the walls defaced. The green was trodden up, encamped upon and besmeared.”

On March 9, 1863, Lt. John S. Mosby and his Rangers stole into a nearby Union camp and night and kidnapped Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton in the war’s most audacious act here.

“We are just encamped in the public square of the court house which is full of large shade trees and make it an excellent and beautiful camping ground.”
– Lt. Col. David Thomson, 82nd Ohio Infantry, March 1862

Fairfax County’s most prized document, George Washington’s will, was removed from the courthouse for safekeeping in June 1861, but Martha Washington’s will was left behind. Taken by Lt. Col. David Thomson, 82nd Ohio Infantry, and later sold to financier J.P. Morgan, the will was not returned until 1920. After the war, county officials quickly voted to put the courthouse “in suitable condition” for holding court. In the 1960s, the building’s exterior was restored to the original 1800 architectural design. The courthouse, Fairfax County’s oldest public building, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
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