Image: Edwin Forbes sketch of Manassas earthwork fort, 1862, Courtesy of the Library of Congress
The Civil War
In June of 1861, the Hooe family that owned Mayfield farm was forced to abandon their property, as Confederate soldiers under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard constructed a ring of 12 defensive fortifications around the junction of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and the Military Railroad to Centreville. Confederate leaders recognized the importance of holding Manassas Junction against an assault by Union forces. Possession of the junction meant control of the only continuous rail link between Washington, D. C. and the Confederate capital, Richmond, as well as the connection to the agricultural bounty of the Shenandoah Valley. General Beauregard issued a proclamation to the people of Loudoun, Fairfax, and Prince William counties calling on them to contribute to the military preparations. Some of the resources were human. The enslaved from area farms were sent to work alongside Confederate soldiers to construct Mayfield and other earthwork forts around the Junction.
The construction was performed under the direction of Col. G. H. Terrett, a Confederate engineer, using conscript enslaved labor and local troops. The forts were constructed of earth reinforced with log revetments, and were armed with naval guns captured from the Norfolk Navy Yard. How did Mayfield, a landlocked Confederate earthwork fort, come to be defended by Union naval guns? When Gen. Beauregard learned that Confederate forces had taken the U.S. Navy’s Gosport Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, he immediately requisitioned the captured naval guns. The heavy soda bottle-shaped Dahlgren naval cannons were transported to Manassas, first by boat and then by oxen, along with sailors from the newly created C.S. Navy. The naval guns were supplemented by other horse-drawn field pieces capable of firing canister (cases of small iron balls) or solid shot in weights of 10 or 20 pounds.
What did Mayfield look like? The fort, also known as a redoubt, was constructed with a circle of raised earth 200 feet in diameter, and contained timbers, brush and planks to support artillery. Could Mayfield stand on its own? Although it was capable of self-defense, it was designed to work in concert with the junction’s 12 forts and expose any attackers to fire from nearby forts.
The Fort's Occupation
Confederate troops occupied the fort between June 1861 and March 1862. When the rebels withdrew to aid in the defense of Richmond, Union troops sporadically occupied the fort from March 1862 to November 1864. During this occupation the fort site was characterized by large expanses of bare earth and grass. Soldier huts or tents appeared to be located in or nearby the fort. Archaeological investigation indicated the fort featured embrasured parapet walls, a southern entrance, and three interior structures.
When Union forces entered the abandoned earthworks around Manassas in March of 1862, they discovered “Quaker guns”—logs shaped and painted to look like the real thing from a distance. These fake log cannons were named for the pacifist beliefs of the Quakers. The discovery of these Quaker guns caused a sensation in the north. Many faulted Union commanders for not attacking Manassas Junction defenses, and in Philadelphia an enterprising group mounted an exhibition of a Quaker gun to mock the supposed strength of Manassas forts, calling it “Monster Manassas.”
(left) The 1862 Philadelphia exposition of a Manassas Quaker
gun. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Why is Mayfield's Location Important?
The 11 acre site is situated between the Buckhall and Russia Branch tributaries of the Occoquan River. Because it sits on high ground, is close to water, and is close to the railroad, it was an important strategic location for the armies. Native Americans occupied the site as far back as 3,700 - 2,500 BC. Prehistoric artifacts uncovered on the site reflect a hunter / gatherer culture with extensive migration and trading connections. European settlement began in 1740 when the land was patented to Peter Hamrick (or Hambrick) and became known as Mayfield. In 1779 it was sold to Robert Hawson Hooe. The Hooes were an established Virginia family of considerable wealth and a long history of settlement in the lower Potomac region. The Hooe family shaped Mayfield into a bustling operation featuring a sizeable number of support buildings.
The Site Today
Today the site features eight interpretive markers that tell the story of Mayfield, and the Battles of Bull Run Bridge and Bristoe Station; stone markers for the foundation of the Hooe farm and the Hooe cemetery; earthen remainders of the Civil War earthwork fortification; a replica Quaker cannon; and benches for visitors. For more information about Mayfield Fort contact the Manassas Museum at 703-368-1873.
Mayfield Earthwork Fort is located at 8401 Quarry Road, Manassas, VA 20110, and is open free from sunrise to sunset daily. Park in a small lot at the entrance, walk to the top of the Fort on an accessible path to read interpretive signage about Civil War History in the region, and visit the site of the former Mayfield farm and Hooe family cemetery.