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Discover Western Prince William December 2017
16
Doug Horhota
L
iberia History: Part 2
In the 1850s, the area now known as Manassas was being transformed. While
previously isolated due to the distance of the western half of Prince William County
from the Potomac River, the region boasted two railroad lines, the Orange and
Alexandria (O&A) and the Manassas Gap, which when combined with other rail lines
of the era, formed an intricate web to connect people and communities. The speeds
were staggering. Whereas a wagon could possibly go 20 or 30 miles a day, trains
could go that fast in an hour! The trip from Washington to Richmond took only eight-
and-a-half hours, adding in delays and extra distance necessary to cross major rivers
and streams.
William Weir could justly be proud of his role in this transformation. He allowed the
O&A to build their line through his Liberia property, established a school and store
for local residents, and served as a leading member of the community, all efforts
that portended a bright future. His children and his neighbors, which included the
McLean, Hooe, Robinson, Chinn, and Marsteller families--many of whom were not
only neighbors, but related to the Weir family through marriage--likely shared the
promise to come.
In his 60s by the end of the Antebellum Era, Mr. Weir would likely have been most
interested in preserving his accomplishments and ensuring them for generations to
come. Though he supported the Southern Cause and four of his sons fought for it,
Weir initially opposed secession until Fort Sumter was fi red upon in April, 1861.
"Manassas Junction...commands the communication with Harper's Ferry and must
be fi rmly held." This military observation, made by Robert E. Lee in May of 1861,
indicates how important Manassas, and by extension the Liberia property, were to
the Confederacy. Seizing and controlling it from the Union perspective was just as
important. As spring moved into summer and the armies converged on Manassas
(Bull Run), the upheaval created by tens of thousands of soldiers impacted the Weir
family livelihood.
After the war, Mr. Weir made the following estimate:
"My property exceeds in value $20,000, as assessed in the year 1860, but
would not probably reach that sum if valued at this time--having been almost
ruined by the depredations of the two Armies, from which I have suffered to a
very large amount, say from $100,000 to $200,000."
Specifi cally, trees were cut down for fi rewood; soldiers degraded the house by
writing on the walls (examples of this graffi ti are still being discovered today); slaves
belonging to the household
were either sold or ran off to
Union lines; and the manor
house's proximity to the
battlefi eld in 1861 and 1862
meant that the house was a
makeshift hospital. One of
the more notorious passages
about the war mentions the
property:
"A building said to belong
to a Mr. Weir...shows with
what haste the rebels
must have retreated
before our forces; but
what discovers the perfect
panic which must have ensued is the fact, which I witnessed, of their having left
four dead bodies laid out in their hospital dead-house ready for interment, but
which they had forgotten or neglected to bury."
From Col. James K. Simpson, Fourth New Jersey Infantry, March 711, 1862
More historically signifi cant are the meetings and people who came through the
house and property.
Union Headquarters for Generals McDowell and Sickels at different times
during 1862. (While in McDowell's authority, he was visited by luminaries
from Washington, including President Abraham Lincoln and two Cabinet
Secretaries, Stanton and Chase).
Scene of the Battle of Bull Run Bridge, fought the day before Second
Manassas (Bull Run) on August 27, 1862. Commanders on the
Confederate side included A.P. Hill, J.E.B. Stuart, and "Stonewall" Jackson.
Headquarters for P.G.T. Beauregard at the time of 1st Manassas (Bull
Run) in July 1861. As part of his intelligence operations, Liberia served as
a rendezvous point for communications from Confederate spies such as
Rose Greenhow, who alerted the Confederate command of approaching
Union forces.
Perhaps the most important event and one of the most fateful decisions of
the war occurred at Liberia on the evening of July 21, 1861. Confederate
forces, fl ushed with victory after the Battle of First Manassas, debated what
action to take next. Follow up the victory with an attack on Washington,
DC, or be satisfi ed with their success and reorganize their army, which
had never seen combat before? The Confederate high command,
including President Jefferson Davis, and Generals Beauregard and Joseph
Johnston, took the latter course and left historians this topic to debate as a
prime example of "what if?"
Postcript:
After the war, the Weirs,
who had left the combat
zone around Manassas
to resettle outside of
Charlottesville for the
duration of the war,
returned to fi nd the house
standing but almost
everything else gone
as Mr. Weir's testimony
above states. By the
1880s, the property was
in the possession of a new
family, and the vestiges of war were being cleansed.
A correspondent in November 1862, described what had happened to the area and
homes like Liberia:
"The plains of Manassas,
now fully and completely
in the possession of
our troops, have so
often echoed to the
tread of armed hosts,
and so often been
described, that it would
be but supererogation to
describe them now. They
are still the same wide
dreary waste, dotted here
and there by the rebel
earthworks. Some of the
houses of Manassas
village were destroyed by
the rebels in their last visit."
"Little mounds here and there tell the last resting place of some
soldier who either died in arms against his country, or else fell a
martyr in the grand cause of freedom and union."
"One year ago this place was in the complete possession of the rebels.
Gen. BEAUREGARD had his headquarters in the same house as that
now occupied by Gen. SICKLES as his headquarters. The tents of the
rebel army were on the same sites as our tents are now. Everyone feels
that this is indeed historic ground."
From the New-York Times, Saturday, November 8, 1862
Liberia 1862
Liberia Around 1900
Liberia property during Union occupation.