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Battle of Dranesville Brings Forth the Past

As a columnist for the “Money” section of USA Today, John Waggoner is very current on the management of money in a capricious, tricky market.

As a person, he has looked carefully at the past events that once swirled around his church, Dranesville Church of the Brethren in Great Falls.

Seven years ago, Waggoner was working in the church garden when several members of the Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable came by with maps from the battle.

“We started talking about it, and I found a musket ball” in the woods next to the church, Waggoner said.

He started researching the Battle of Dranesville, which occurred on and around the site of the Brethren’s present location.

The turn of events was ironic. Like the better-known Quakers, the Brethren is a pacifist church whose members seek peace and question war.

They located their church in a small, white frame building that stands in the apex of the angular intersection of Georgetown Pike and Route 7, without knowing that the land was part of the battleground where one of the first battles of the Civil War was fought five days before Christmas in 1861.

For dashing Confederate calvaryman, Jeb Stuart, it was his first defeat in the east. Stuart Avenue in Reston is said to be named for him; it was the route by which he fled to Centreville.

Gen. E.O.C. Ord, the Union general who later had a Army base named for him ,was hailed as the victor in an engagement, if not a full-scale battle, that was characterized as the North’s first victory,.

The Brethren, from the standpoint of 141 years later, see the Battle of Dranesville as a time of sorrow when at least 59 men died. Of the several hundred men who were wounded, many probably died during the week, said Waggoner.

“We find a couple more each year,” said Waggoner, who lives in Herndon.

One of them, Joseph Pendergast, was treated by Dr. John Day, who lived in a house that still stands on Route 7.

Pendergast, who fought in the Sixth Regiment from South Carolina, was buried in a graveyard at Dranesville United Methodist, on the hill on the south side of Route 7.

His mother sent “a slip of her favorite rose” to be planted on his grave, and after the war, she came to visit.

That is one of the stories in the script Waggoner wrote to dramatize the battle, which is presented every year on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the battle on Dec. 20.

It is short, simple, and profoundly moving.

At the start of the service, candles are lighted, one for each man who died at the battle. After reading from letters the soldiers wrote, the names of the dead are called out, and one by one, each of the candles is extinguished until the church is dark.

Then one candle is relighted to instill a hopeful mood as “Amazing Grace” is sung to conclude the service.

This year, a mysterious couple in 19th Century attire was among the audience.

Later, they told members of the church they had come by train from Rochester, N.Y., to find their son. He was missing after the Battle of Gettysburg.

“I don’t know the first thing about them, where they came from and how they found out about this. We don’t know their names, said Waggoner.“

His wife, Yvonne, was lighting candles when the couple appeared. “She was startled,” Waggoner said.

In later conversations with Brethren parishioner Joy Trickett and visitor Penny Chaboudy, the couple gave their names as Cal and Sue Doucette, but stayed in character in the year 1863.

And then they left, taking one of the same routes by which Confederate and Union soldiers departed Dranesville 141 years ago.