Emerging Civil War welcomes guest author Paige Gibbons Backus
A mile away from the Manassas National Battlefield, hidden amongst suburbia and shopping centers, stands Ben Lomond Historic Site, a pre-war Virginia plantation house managed by Prince William County’s Historic Preservation Division. For Civil War historians and history buffs alike, it is a small gem in Northern Virginia that is not to be missed.
Built in 1832, the plantation itself has a long history spanning back through colonial era. Once part of the extensive Carter family, the property was managed as a satellite tobacco plantation owned by Robert “Councillor” Carter, and eventually given to his grandson, Benjamin Tasker Chinn. On the grounds, visitors can learn about antebellum plantation life at Ben Lomond and Northern Virginia from several outbuildings that survive, including one of only three original slave quarters that still stand in Prince William County.
However, the main period of interpretation on the site is the Civil War, specifically, the early years of the war from 1861 to 1862. Ben Lomond, known at the time as the Pringle House, was in close proximity to the First Battle of Manassas. On July 21, 1861, the amount of causalities rose higher than ever expected, reaching close to 3,500 soldiers. Ben Lomond was one of roughly twenty private buildings converted into hospitals during or shortly after the battle, and one of even fewer that still stand today.
At the time of the war, the Pringle family, a family of Scottish immigrants, occupied Ben Lomond and operated a plantation of crops and a herd of about 500 merino sheep. However, their daily lives changed on July 21, when the Confederate army appropriated the home to use as a hospital, leaving the family with one decision to make: to stay or leave. Within hours, the house and grounds were overrun with wounded soldiers, facing many challenges including a lack of supplies, food, staff, space, and modern medical knowledge.
What makes Ben Lomond a truly unique site to Northern Virginia’s Civil War history, is when you enter through the site’s doors, you can actually step back into Ben Lomond’s occupation as a hospital. The historic site creates an immersive experience, with rooms filled with reproduction artifacts to recreate the sights of the hospital, where you can interact with the surgical tools, try the crutches, and wear the uniforms of soldiers and surgeons who once stayed within its walls. You can see the graffiti left during the 1862 Federal occupation of the house and even make your own. Scents throughout the house hint the smells of sweat, filth, smoke, and gangrene historically found in the hospital ten times fold. You can even sample the typical cuisine the patients ate. Now, new for 2017, you will hear the sounds of the hospital as well. As you walk through the house, hear the sounds of surgeries, the boom of cannon fire, the busy bustling of feet moving supplies, patients, and more. Hear the soldiers’ cries for help and the Pringle’s discussion their unimaginable situation.
The history interpreted at Ben Lomond is grim, but the site is a unique and engaging place to learn about the significant history of the aftermath of battle and the advancement of Civil War medicine through the immersive and interactive tours of the site. Ben Lomond Historic Site is open for regular tours and a variety of special events from May 1st to October 31st, Thursdays –Mondays, from 11am – 4pm and is located at 10321 Sudley Manor Drive, Manassas, VA 20109. For more information, please call 703-367-7872.
Paige Gibbons Backus is the site manager at Ben Lomond historical site and creates new, innovative ways to engage visitors with history. (You can check out a special ECW article about Paige here!)