After being abandoned by the Confederates in 1862, Centreville became an outpost for the Northern Army, continuing in that capacity throughout the war. But Centreville was also part of "Mosby's Confederacy," and, of all the legendary figures of the Civil War, John Singleton Mosby (also known as "The Grey Ghost") is probably the most storied. Furthermore, of the 10 major confederate regiments containing Fairfax men, Mosby's Rangers, contained the most at 143. A fair number of these were from Centreville, and today are buried in the old Saint John's Church Cemetery.
In what is considered by many to be the most daring raid of the Civil War, (and becoming a Walt Disney movie) Mosby's Rangers slipped past Union pickets into Fairfax Court House, capturing Union Gen. Edwin Stoughton of the 4th Vermont. Mosby later wrote that he knew he would be OK if he could get past the well-garrisoned forts of Centreville. Being a rainy night, he and his men wore dark slickers, resembling a Union Cavalry patrol, and passed between Centreville's forts (some are still visible today, mostly along Pickwick Road) unchallenged. Later, when Abraham Lincoln heard about the capture of Gen. Stoughton, along with over 30 horses, he replied "well, I can make another general any day, but the horses cost $120 a piece".
WITH LOCAL Centreville men in his troop who knew the back roads, Mosby was able to slip through Centreville on other occasions, often hiding his men in "safe houses". Royal Oaks was used in this way, as it had a secret anteroom above the kitchen wing where Mosby could hide his men. There was also a telegraph in the upstairs North bedroom of Royal Oaks (used by Union generals during the two battles of Manassas) that had a wire which ran to an insulator in the boughs of the Royal Oak tree that stands sentinel over the site today. Mosby is said to have also used this same telegraph system to send messages on at least one occasion.
Prologue: Centreville never fully recovered from the effects of the Civil War. The farms were abandoned because the ground could not be plowed for crops. This was due to heavy erosion and resulting ground furrows which in turn resulted from the deforestation caused by marauding armies. The once proud houses that lined Main Street became ramshackle.
IN 1914, a reporter for the Washington Star, Harry Shannon, came to Centreville and was shocked by the total devastation. He recorded his visit with camera and tripod. Chronicling what he observed, he wrote: "If ever a community was killed by war, it was Centreville".
Now then, in previous writings, we stated that Centreville was the center of the world (done, of course, without the pesky burden of consulting any evidence or facts).
Well, once again, we sit down, studying our best maps to bring Centreville to even greater scrutiny. What do we find? Newly discovered is this: the Center of Centreville is actually the Centreville Historic District!
And, by a happy coincidence, in the Center of the Historic District is a table staffed by a winsome company of friendly greeters. They will be welcoming our neighbors on Centreville Day, and giving free passports to all the children. These passports (stamped at each historic location) offer a self-guided tour of the Historic District, with the bearers of completed passports winning a coupon for a free meal at Chick-Fil-A.
Please join us for Centreville Day won't you? And, on a serious note, note that the pealing of the old church bells at noon will mark the beginning of a brief memorial service for all our fallen heroes.