Chapter 4: War Comes to Fairfax

"Clifton: Brigadoon in Virginia," Chapter 4, By Nan Netherton, Clifton Betterment Association, 1980

With the sudden firing upon Fort Sumter in April of 1861, weeks, months, even years of talk of war became a reality. Colonel Robert Edward Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army that month and pro­ceeded on the O & A from Alexandria to Gordonsville and thence to Richmond where Governor John Letcher placed him in command of the Confederate volunteers.

In May, General Lee selected Bull Run as the base line for the defense of Manassas Junction where the O & A and Manassas Gap railroads met, and for possible offensive operations by the Con­federates against Washington. He early recognized the military importance the railroads were to have in the pursuit of war for the next four years.

Much of the wartime action on the O & A centered on the portion of the road between Fairfax and Culpeper. The Bull Run railroad bridge near Union Mills was destroyed and rebuilt seven times during 1861-65, more than any other bridge in the country during the war. 

John Landis Detwiler and his family, newly settled on land at Union Mills, realized that it was a bad place for Yankees to be with military activity so un­comfortably close, and the O & A within sight of their dwelling. They packed all the possessions they could get into a wagon and hurriedly left. Detwiler opened a store in Alexandria and the family stayed in that city for the duration of the war.

The Orange and Alexandria Railroad not only provided an important supply line, it was also a means for transporting troops. The Union Army incorporated it into their U. S. Military Railroad system and tried to keep trains running to carry both. Union soldiers belonging to units from New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and other northern states were in Fairfax County at one time or another during the war. Some of them were assigned the task of guarding the railroad against Con­federate attackers whose purpose it was to render the railroad inoperable.

Immediately after the Union lost the Second Battle of Bull Run, a talented civil engineer from Pennsylvania, Herman Haupt, was pressed into service to aid in reconstruction and operation of the rail lines serving the Federal Army of the Potomac in northern Virginia. He was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers in September, 1862, although he preferred to work in a civilian capacity, with a civilian work force. Haupt was photographed in 1863 supervising the construction of a wye (railroad siding) at Devereux Station (now Clifton) which was later used for loading firewood need­ed to heat the boilers of the engines on the U. S. Military Railroad.

John Devereux was superintendent of the Union's railroad operation in Alexandria and worked closely with the general, hence the station's name. It was never designated as a post office.

Herman Haupt was a man of action with no fear of army "brass." He had an expert knowledge of what was needed to do his job well and was known to rout generals out of bed or send them out in a driving rainstorm to be sure that supply trains travelling through dangerous ter­ritory were guarded and quickly loaded or unloaded. The general's herd of work ox­en was humorously called "Haupt's horned cavalry."

Devereux Station figured in several dispatches which appear in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. In a dispatch dated October 3, 1863, Union Brig. Gen. Rufus King sent the following communique to Capt. C. H. Potter: "The following is the disposition of the forces along the O. & A. R.R.... From Sangster's Station to Bull Run five com­panies of infantry guard the road, head­quarters at Union Mills.


If these troops remained on duty until November 25, at least some of them were engaged in the skirmish reported by J. H. Devereux: Stuart's cavalry, 800 strong, struck the Orange line at Sangster's on that day, disrupting the operations of George Mattock, "who has charge of receiving wood at Devereux Station... "7 In another report of the same action, Union Major John Byrne stated in a dispatch sent to Lieutenant Hughes, Acting Assistant Adjutant General:

The wagon-master in charge of teams hauling wood reports that 23 teamsters and woodcutters and 50 mules were captured between Sangster's and Devereux Stations, by guerillas, at 9 o'clock this a.m.

The woods and fields in the Clifton area are still repositories of Minie balls and other war equipment left by troops of both sides who camped, fought, and marched throughout the area during the four years of civil strife. After every rain or every plowing, new artifacts are un­covered, sometimes alongside quartz pro­jectile points from Indian times.

Civil War earthworks may still be seen along Union Mills Road, in the woods at Union Mills, and on the heights overlooking Bull Run. 

The O & A suffered severe losses dur­ing the Civil War not only because of depradations of armies of both North and South but through irreparable deteriora­tion of roadbeds and rolling stock. Locomotives were captured and bridges were destroyed. Stations, ware­houses, and water tanks were in­discriminately demolished. 

  1. Ball's Ford 
  2. Island Ford
  3. Centreville Military R.R. Crossing
  4. Confederate Trenches
  5. Mitchell's Ford 
  6. Blackburn's Ford
  7. Grigsby Hill Fight Site 
  8. Unidentified Fort
  9. McLean's Ford
  10. Union Mill Fight Site 1862 
  11. Orange & Alexandria R.R. Crossing, 1848
  12. Unidentified Trenches 
  13. Union Mills Site
  14. Doak Farm Site 
  15. Yate's Ford
  16. Power Station Site/Bull Run Power Co. 1920's
  17. Evan's Ford

When the Detwilers returned to Union Mills after the war, they found that their home, too, had been destroyed in their absence. An old tenant house that was still standing on the place was rehabilitated for the family's home.

A local event of a different nature had occurred during the war. William Beckwith had died, in 1863. He was the last of his line, of a family which had first come to the area in colonial times. In his last will and testament, the biggest land­owner at Devereux Station left 200 acres south of the O & A to his sixteen slaves, all of whom he freed by the will. The balance of the Beckwith estate north of the railroad was to be sold by his ex­ecutors, Thomas N. Stewart and John Bronaugh, "after the war is over," for the benefit of his heirs.

Chapter 5: Local Lore and Town Traditions