Civil War Battles
June 1, 1861
Fairfax Court House, Virginia
One of the first battles on Southern soil took place on June 1, 1861, with around 90 young Fauquier men, known as the Warrenton Rifles standing in defense under the command of another prominent Fauquier citizen Captain John Quincy Marr.
Alongside these young men, the Prince William cavalry and the Rappahannock cavalry, which then had about 60 men each, occupied Fairfax Court House House, a village with about 300 inhabitants and the county seat of Fairfax County, Virginia.
Confederate Lt. Col. Richard S. Ewell was in command of this untrained and ill-equipped force and had just arrived in town the night of May 31, 1861. That evening, two pickets were posted on the road east of town. The small Virginia force took this position to protect against enemy discovery of Confederate forces gathering at Manassas Junction, Virginia, a railroad junction about 10 miles farther to the south.
On the same day, Union General David Hunter ordered Lieutenant Charles Tompkins of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment to gather information on the location and numbers of Confederate forces in the area, encouraging a probe into the town.
At about 10:30 p.m. May 31, Tompkins led a Union force of between 50 and 86 regular army cavalrymen, dragoons and a few volunteers on the directed reconnaissance mission.
In the early morning hours of June 1, 1861, around 3:00 a.m., Private A. B. Francis, one of two Confederate pickets, ran into the town of Fairfax Court House, shouting that the enemy was upon them and that Private B. F. Florence, the other picket had been captured. Some of the Prince William cavalry formed a battle line in the street while others ran for their horses. However, when Union force arrived on the Falls Church Road, most of the Confederate cavalrymen fled. The four of the Prince William cavalrymen in the street, were taken prisoner.
Just off Little River Turnpike, Captain Marr moved his men into a clover field west of the Methodist church where they had been camped. Here they formed two battle lines. In the dark, fleeing Confederate cavalrymen came upon them. Some of Marr’s men fired at them, wounding one. Since the Rappahannock cavalry had few weapons and no ammunition, they also fled.
As the Union cavalry pursued the fleeing horsemen, Captain Marr challenged the riders with, “What cavalry is that?”Sshots were fired and he fell dead. Later that morning his body was found in the clover field.
The Union force road west through town firing randomly at a man emerging from the hotel in town, wounding him in the shoulder. This man happened to be Lt. Col. Ewell, making him the first Confederate officer wounded in the war.
Former Virginia governor William “Extra Billy” Smith, emerged with his rifle, from the house where he was staying. Since the 64-year old civilian from Warrenton had recruited the young Rifles, he knew many of them and took charge until Ewell arrived. He placed the approximately 40 men of the Warrenton Rifles field between the hotel and the courthouse, later regrouping behind a fence line about 100 yards closer to the turnpike for a more defensible position.
Civilians, mostly in buildings, joined in, turning the Union force back to the west with heavy volley.
After three attempts to ride through the town of Fairfax Court House, the Union cavalry was forced to leave town through fields toward the north.