Plate 3. Fairfax Court House

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Text and photograph from Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, Vol. II. Negative by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, text and positive by Alexander Gardner.
The Village of Fairfax Court-House, Virginia, eighteen miles from Washington, was, previous to the rebellion, one of the loveliest of the State. Numbering about three thousand inhabitants, with three large hotels, two fine churches, and a flourishing female institute, the place had become of considerable importance at the time of secession, from which it was the first to suffer. Each of the many commands which occupied the town during the war added to the work of devastation commenced in 1861, and long before peace was announced its comeliness had departed. Its best houses were burned, the churches were converted into hospitals, and then into stables, while the venerable Court-House was stripped of its wood-work, leaving only the naked walls and roof. In 1864, loop-holes were cut through the sides of the building for riflemen and troops stationed in it to repel any attack that might be made by guerillas who constantly hovered in the vicinity. The records kept here were of great historical interest, dating from the early settlement of Virginia, and including many documents in the writing of General Washington. A great number of these were carried off by curiosity hunters in the sacking which took place in September, 1862, and a still greater number were ruthlessly destroyed by the soldiery. Generals McClellan and Hooker each temporarily had their headquarters here when in command of the Army of the Potomac, as did also the lamented Sumner, and other officers of equal rank. The battle-field of Bull Run is ten miles distant, and Chantilly, where the gallant Kearney and Stephens fell, but five miles away.
The village is now, however, rapidly recovering from its misfortunes. Shattered houses have been repaired, families are returning to their homes, the Court-House is being put in order for the occupation of the courts, and, under the influence of Northern enterprise, the town promises soon to wear even more beauty than it ever knew before.
Currently not on view
date made
Gardner, Alexander
place made
United States: Virginia, Fairfax
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 6 3/4 in x 8 15/16 in; 17.145 cm x 22.64842 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
related event
Civil War
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Gardner's Sketchbook
Government, Politics, and Reform
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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