If you visit Warrenton, Virginia to see the sights, and learn more about the history of the place, one of the stopping points you might want to make is at the Warrenton Cemetery. Last fall, it was given a historical plaque as part of Virginia’s Civil War Trails program. Warrenton played an important role to both the North and the South in the Civil War. While it wasn’t the scene of any major battles, it changed hands at least 67 times during the fighting, often referred to by the name “The Debated Lands.”
As the plaque notes, wounded soldiers were often brought into town for medical attention, and a large number of injured Confederate soldiers were carried by train into Warrenton after the first and second battles of Manassas. Many didn’t survive and were buried in the Cemetery. When Union soldiers held the town during a cold 1863 winter, they used the wooden grave markers from Confederate soldiers graves to keep warm, and the identifies of most of those soldiers were lost.
The identities of most of those soldiers would remain unknown for more than 100 years, until Robert E. Smith from Illinois started a search for a confederate ancestor, Charles Wilburn Smith, in 1982. He spent 14 years searching through hospital records and regimental histories, and came across records from the Warrenton field hospitals that “had been misfiled in the National Archives.” Combined with his previous research, he was able to identify “520 of the 600 soldiers whose remains were buried in Warrenton’s mass grave.”
The Black Horse Chapter # 9 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy worked to create a monument to those soldiers, believing that they deserved a grave maker, and the Wall to Name the Fallen was conceived and built.
If you visit, you won’t see the monument from any of the streets surrounding the cemetery. It was located near the gravemarker of Colonel John S. Mosby, who is one of the most famous soldiers of the Civil War, leading a troop that engaged in guerilla warfare tactics to disrupt Union troop movements through the South. After entering the gate to the cemetery, take the first right. His grave is on the left near the Confederate Memorial.
The Mosby Heritage Area is a section of the Northern Virginia Piedmont where Mosby and his troops were most active, and historians in the area are engaged in helping to preserve the history of the Civil War to help educate (rather than romanticize) places that played such an important role in the region’s history.
Another famous Confederate soldier, William H. F. Payne, is also buried nearby. He entered the war as a private in 1861, and advanced in rankings to Confederate Brigadier General in 1864. He also served as the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Fauquier County for a number of years.
I haven’t written any posts here previously about the Civil War, and Warrenton’s role in it, but it’s hard to ignore the impact of the War upon the area. So I’ll probably write a number of additional posts in the future about how it helped to shape this town and the people in it. I picked up a copy of The Mosby Heritage Area Sampler: A Motoring Tour in the Northern Virginia Countryside at the Warrenton Visitors’ Center this morning, and plan on visiting some of the destinations along that tour.