Marker Text: Here, while the Confederate army camped at Centreville, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston built strong fortifications in the winter of 1861-1862. In Feb. 1862, President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to evacuate them and move his army closer to Richmond, the Confederate capital. Outnumbered by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac, Johnston complied. On 10 March, McClellan found "Quaker cannon," logs painted black, in the abandoned trenches to deceive his scouts. McClellan, believing that he was outnumbered, already had planned to attack Richmond from the east instead of the north, via the Peninsula between the James and York Rivers.
Location: At the intersection of Machen Road and U.S. Route 29 (Lee Highway) on the grounds of the Centreville Public Library located at the southwest corner of the intersection at 14200 Saint Germain Drive, Centreville VA 20120. Grouped with three other markers, C-20 (First Battle of Manassas); C-22 (Second Battle of Manassas); and C-40 (Campaign of Second Manassas). Erected by the Department of Historic Resources in 1999.
Over the next few months I will be returning to posting markers I have related to the American Civil War. During the winter months most military activities slow down and the armies made camp in different locations. Today's marker is about the winter quarters and defenses of the Confederate Army under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Little today remains of these defenses and the camp during the winter of 1861-62. Most of the area has been developed since the 1960's and most traces of the actions of the Civil War in this area are only remnants. At this link The Historical Marker Database has some photos of the remnants of these fortifications that exist today. This marker replaces an older marker from the 1920's or 30's and was originally located on the highway which is now Route 29.
Both Confederate and Union armies occupied this area around Centreville during the Civil War, each army enhanced and expanded the earthworks left by the previous troops. The Confederates were first to construct some entrenchments at Centreville in 1861 prior to the First Battle of Manassas. Brig. Gen. Bonham took an advance position at Centreville in June 1861, but the Confederates retreated to Bull Run Creek the following month when Union troops advanced on Centreville. Union Brigadier-General Irvin McDowell in preparation for what would become the First Battle of Manassas in July, 1861 became acquainted with the terrain, and he described the area as follows:
Centreville is a village of a few houses, mostly on the west side of a ridge running nearly north and south. The road from Centreville to Manassas Junction runs along this ridge, and crosses Bull Run about three miles from the former place. The Warrenton turnpike, which runs nearly east and west, goes over this ridge through the village, and crosses Bull Run about four miles from it, Bull Run having a course between the crossings from northwest to southeast…
On October 16, 1861, General Joseph E. Johnston’s army arrived in Centreville and soon began construction of forts, breastworks, riflepits, and batteries on the high ground and at strategic locations. George Wise, of the Seventeenth Virginia Infantry, recollected the construction of fortifications by the Confederates.
…the Army of Northern Virginia soon made Centreville what Fairfax Courthouse had been and the fields around were converted into drill grounds for thousands of Confederate soldiers. Engineers were soon at work; forts, breastworks, rifle pits and batteries, marked the high points around. Regular details from every regiment in the army were daily made for ditching and digging, and the adjacent country for miles around became alive with men. The big balloon of the enemy appeared often in the direction of the Courthouse, and, no doubt, its occupants took the Southern army for a large body of sappers and miners, as men and officers for days and weeks were in the [ditch].
The heights around Centreville were strategically significant during the Civil War, in order to protect the railroad at Manassas for the Confederates and to protect Washington, D.C. for the Union. The ridge, on which Centreville is situated, held a strategic and commanding view of the panorama to the west. Approaches from the east were also visible from the ridge.
Marker is grouped next to the Library with three other markers, C-21 is in the distance in the middle of photo. Click any photo to enlarge.
Johnston needed to convince Union Gen. George McClellan that the confederate army was larger and more of a threat to McClellan than it was in reality. The confederate practice of deception helped the army many times in the next year, since McClellan was less likely as a General to stage an attack if he believed he was outnumbered. One strategy Johnston used was the creation of what was called, “Quaker Cannons.” These were simply logs in the shape of a cannon painted black and mounted on fortifications to make it look as if they had stronger defenses than they in fact did. The Union army often used hot air balloons to observe Confederate positions and these “Quakers Cannons” would have appeared real from a balloon observation position. The Historical Marker Database has a photo at this link of the “Quaker Cannons”.
Johnston during February moved his Army to Richmond to defend the city after the Union forces moved to the eastern peninsula of Virginia to stage an attack of Richmond. This was the beginning stages of what was be called the Peninsula Campaign, which many of my markers in the next few months will concentrate.