In December 1861, Union and Confederate troops met at Dranesville in a short, bloody battle that left more than 50 dead and 200 wounded.
Today, the pacifist Dranesville Church of the Brethren sits upon part of that battlefield. Sunday, the church will hold a commemorative peace service to honor those who died in the battle 151 years ago.
Church member John Waggoner, who has thoroughly researched the battle, said the Battle of Dranesville started Dec. 20, 1861, as Confederate troops under J.E.B. Stuart started out from their Centreville camp looking for winter forage for their horses. At the same time, Union troops under E.O.C. Ord set out looking for the same thing.
Stuart and Ord selected Dranesville for the same reason: The town, larger then than it is now, was a hotbed of secessionism.
“Local farmers owned an average five to 10 slaves,” Waggoner said. “Nearly all residents voted to secede from the Union. Stuart figured local farmers would give to the Confederate cause. Ord figured the same thing — and aimed to get the forage before the Confederates did.”
Shortly after noon, Union troops arrived in Dranesville. Ord set out with 10,000 men, but left 5,000 in reserve at Colvin Mill. Ord took five regiments of infantry, one regiment of cavalry and a small artillery battery to Dranesville.
Waggoner said the troops started skirmishing outside Dranesville and soon fell into battle formation across Leesburg Pike.
Most of the action took place between Ord’s artillery position near the present site of the church, at 11500 Leesburg Pike in Herndon, and down the hill toward the old town of Dranesville, near the present site of the Dranesville Tavern.
The battle lasted just more than three hours, starting at noon. Stuart claimed victory, but Confederate forces took the far greater casualties: 43 dead, 150 wounded. Union forces had seven dead, 60 wounded. The North, which had been trounced earlier in the first Battle of Manassas and the disaster at Balls’ Bluff, near Leesburg, hailed the battle as a great Union victory.
“The roar of cannon and the rattle of musketry announced to the village and the surrounding country that the tide of war, which had rolled at a distance, was now right at hand,” historian William S. Hammond wrote about the battle.
Waggoner said the Dranesville Church of the Brethren arrived about 42 years later, in 1903. The Brethren, like the Quakers and Mennonites, have a long tradition of pacifism. The Brethren believe in peace and reconciliation, simple living, integrity of speech, family values and service to neighbors near and far, according to their national Web site.
Waggoner said the Brethren congregation in Dranesville originally began worshipping at the Liberty Meeting House, at 1089 Liberty Meeting Ct. in Herndon, which today is the Dranesville Methodist Church.
In 1912, the Brethren built their own meeting house in Dranesville, which this year is celebrating its 100th year there. As it turned out, the donated land was the exact spot where Ord placed his cannons on Dec. 20, 1861, during the Battle of Dranesville.
The Brethren have held an annual peace service since about 1993 to commemorate those who fell there.
“It’s a funny story,” Waggoner said. “I was in the church garden one day when these guys from Pittsburgh walked up and were talking about how the battle had taken place right where I was standing.”
Waggoner said he later found several Civil War bullets on the church grounds and decided to research the battle. Since then, congregation members have discovered the names of about 35 of the 50 men who died there that winter day in 1861.
At the service, which will at 7 p.m. Sunday, “candles will be lit in their memory — and then extinguished, one by one, to symbolize war’s terrible cost in human suffering,” Waggoner said.
A small exhibit on the battle, including a few artifacts found near the church,— will be in the downstairs meeting hall.
“We will have artifacts on exhibit and I will give a short battle tour,” Waggoner said.
Information about the Brethren and their stand on peace will be available as well, he said.
For information, call the church at 703-430-7872.