Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Civil War Ghosts of Blenheim House in Fairfax, VA

Fairfax, VA, just outside the Washington Beltway, was a bustling crossroads during the Civil War. Fairfax Courthouse, as it was called, was anchored by its stately courthouse, built in the early 1800s. About a mile northeast of this building was the Willcoxon family farm, 367 acres of rolling hills, streams, woods and prime agricultural land. Albert Willcoxon was a prominent northern Virginian and slave holder, but did not possess a great sense of timing. In the late 1850s he built a beautiful Greek Revival brick home on a hill with panaramic views from gently sloping hills. It was and is an impressive structure on impressive grounds, with twin fireplaces at each end, center doors front and rear for cross ventilation, sturdy pine floors and plenty of windows for ample interior light.  Just after completion, Virginia seceded from the Union. Located less than 15 miles from the federal capital, his exposed position must have been obvious. As early as July, 1861, Federal troops swarmed the area and the residents either fled or settled in for a nasty period of uncertainty and incivility. As it turned out, the Willcoxon farm, later called Blenheim House, because of its prime location became a centralized officers' quarters, hospital and camping ground for Federal forces and thousands of soldiers lived, visited or just passed through on the way to other postings and titanic battles both north and south of the area. Nearly every major "star" of the war in the eastern theater was familiar with these grounds. Today, the home is part of a Civil War Interpretive Center located at 3610 Old Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA, 22030, and is extremely close to my home and place of work. Did you know that local legend has it that many of those Yankee soldiers can still be found prowling the area on warm summer nights even now? The farmhouse must have made quite an impression on them if they would return today to play a game of chess or checkers, pick an apple, sniff a daisy blossom, brew some campfire coffee or just rest and hang out under one of the majestic oak trees. One of the plot elements of my new book, Gettysburg Passage, involves the unlikely sighting of such soldiers (starting further south, near Brandy Station, VA) by young professionals who don't have any particular interest in history or the Civil War. How would you react if you saw something like that while returning from Starbucks or the mall? Would you share it with your family and friends, or just store it away as something weird, embarrassing and unexplanable? Please let me know.

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