Craigtmonroe's Blog

Life for a native of Northern Virginia

Oh Misfortune…

My people are Irish Catholics, so this topic hits home for me on many levels.

The unfinished railroad bridge you see in this photo was built in Centreville by Irish immigrants who fled political strife and famine in their homeland for the promise of a better future.  Working alongside local slaves they toiled for years on a railroad line that went unfinished due to an economic crisis known as the Panic of 1857.  Though they were paid as day laborers, the fact that the line never saw fruition denied them future jobs as porters, engineers, and small business owners along the rail line.

Years later, these same Irishmen would kill one another across this line
fighting for either the North or South during the Civil War.

As teenagers, Don Schrum and I camped here one evening and built a nice bon fire….
providing me with my first and worst case of poison ivy. 

The additional lesson in this bridge for me is that Northern Virginia has a long history of uncompleted rail projects.

Back when Don and I were camping around here, Metro convinced Fairfax County taxpayers to pay for bonds that would bring Metro to Centreville….in 1983.

Until you can sit in a seat… with your feet…


October 13, 2009 Posted by | History of Centreville VA | , , | 1 Comment

Rock Fight

Late one cold winter evening in February 1862, Confederate guards on patrol in the Centreville Historic District thought they heard horses kicking against the wall of a barn.  They walked down old Braddock Road to the stream that runs between the present day Stone Church and an old barn.  There strung out across the road were two groups of men formed into two lines facing one another.  These men were Confederate soldiers yelling curses and throwing fist-sized rocks at one another. 

The camp guards were Company I of the 4th Virginia Infantry, part of the famous Stonewall Brigade.  These men of the “college company” or “Liberty Hall Volunteers” were young Washington College students (present day Washington & Lee University) who have often been referred to as “Stonewall’s Bodyguard”, for they were the headquarters sentries for Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson.

The soldiers in the street were men of the 1st Louisiana Infantry, a.k.a “Wheat’s Louisiana Tigers,” named after Confederate Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat, who banded together Bowie Knife wielding dock-workers from the wharves of New Orleans Louisiana.  Arrayed against them were men of the 1st Kentucky Infantry.

By pointing rifles with bayonets at the soldiers, the camp guards broke up the fight.

Realizing that the feuding soldiers were drunk, the guards searched for the source of the liquor.  In the cellar of a home occupied by a sutler (store owner) they discovered flour barrels in which whiskey bottles had been hidden.  To restore order, the guards poured the liquor into the “Thames”, the little stream that runs between the Old Stone Church and the barn.  Despite their efforts, the guards soon saw numerous pairs of feet sticking over the edge of the stream as soldiers put their mouths into the stream to lap up the “whiskey and water on ice.”

This photo of two whiskey drinking Tiger Rifles appears courtesy of the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion website whose members proudly reenact the heroic military exploits of their unit.  There are members of the Tiger Rifles buried in the
St John church cemetery in the Centreville Historic District, please be gentle when visiting those grounds.


Coincidentally, St John church is immediately adjacent to “Royal Oaks.”  Chatham Roberdeau Wheat was a cousin of James M. Roberdeau, who lived at Royal Oaks here in Centreville prior to the war (Wheat grew up in Alexandria). Both men were descendants of General Daniel Roberdeau, a Revolutionary War soldier and statesman.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | History of Centreville VA | , | Leave a comment

The Life of Riely

Reiley, John W., LHV PhotoA member of the Virginia Beta Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, John W. Riely marched off to the Civil War and carved himself an interesting niche in the Confederate Army.

He left Jefferson County, West Virginia to become a student at Washington College (Washington & Lee University).

He served as a private at the Battle of First Manassas. Months later, while stationed in Centreville, he tented around the Mt Gilead house in what is today the Centreville Historic District.

At Centreville, Riely rose to sergeant. He was then rocketed up the chain of command by General Gustavas Smith who promoted him to Captain and Assistant Adjutant General – a staff role in which he also served for General Arnold Elzey.

Stationed at Mt Gilead with General Smith, he would have witnessed the infamous “Rock Fight” that his fellow Washington & Lee men broke up one night in front of the Old Stone Church.

After leaving Centreville, Riely rose to the rank of
Lt. Colonel.  He was a staff officer to General James Longstreet during the Gettysburg campaign. 

After Gettysburg, he served as a staff officer in Richmond, relaying orders from the Secretary of War to various Generals in the field. 

He also served Samuel Cooper the Inspector General.  In this role, Riely delved into some of the most controversial topics of the war, including the transfer of Union prisoners to Andersonville, the voluntary use of Union prisoners in Confederate armament factories, and the enlistment of African American soldiers into the Confederate Army. 

Riely surrendered a couple of months after Appomattox.  In essence, he negotiated his own surrender to Sherman.

After the war, Riely was the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Halifax County and “Revisor of the Code.”

He died August 20, 1900.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | History of Centreville VA, W&L Phi Psi in the Civil War | , , , | Leave a comment

Ghosts of Centreville

Thousands of Civil War soldiers died in Centreville from disease and wounds.
The historic preservation community is aware of several unmarked graves.
The Union soldier shown in this picture was removed from the McDonalds on Route 28,
at roughly where the drive through sign is today.
Erosion in the yards of homes in Centreville is always revealing historical artifacts.
Some artifacts date back to PaleoIndian times.
Should you find anything of a historic nature, please contact me, or anyone with the Friends of Historic Centreville.
Our website is a fun destination for kids with school projects.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | History of Centreville VA | , | 1 Comment

Civil War Battle Fought in Little Rocky Run

The houses in Little Rocky Run are built atop a Civil War camp that I relic hunted years ago.

In the August 25, 2005 edition of the Centreville Times, I published an article on the Civil War
fighting that took place in Little Rocky Run – actually all along Compton Road.

When you read the link, and look at the attached map you will see the names of several subdivisions

When I conduct the walking tour of this battle, I point out graves and earthworks (forts),
but most importantly, I talk about the individuals who were there.
And I discuss the vision of historic preservation that my fellow activists in Centreville share.

Next time you turn the corner at St Andrew the Catholic Apostle Church, or at Liberty Middle, and head down Compton Road on your way to Route 28, think about what you read here – and the road will forever feel different.

And when you drive past South Springs Drive (a key feature in this story) honk your horn, it’s the street I live on.


October 11, 2009 Posted by | History of Centreville VA, Little Rocky Run | , | Leave a comment