Welcome back to another installment of our 2019 Emerging Civil War Symposium Spotlight. This week’s sneak peak comes to us from longtime ECW member Ryan Quint. Ryan has spent a lot of time researching the forgotten battle of Dranesville. Today he shares just a small sample of what he will be exploring in August.
After being mustered out and disbanded in the spring of 1864, the regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserve could go home proud of their fighting legacy in the Army of the Potomac. They held the center at Glendale, they broke through Stonewall Jackson’s lines at Fredericksburg, and they cleared the Valley of Death at Gettysburg, along with a host of other war stories the veterans spent years re-telling.
And yet, even with all those heralded actions, when the Pennsylvanians came together for their re-unions, they met to commemorate their first victory. With the 2019 Emerging Civil War Symposium’s theme being “Forgotten Battles”, it is worth noting that the veterans of the Pennsylvania Reserves made sure to in fact never forget their baptism of fire: Dranesville.
As profiled in a series done last year, the lead-up to the Battle of Dranesville saw both armies probing around the contested landscape of Northern Virginia in the fall of 1861. Following the defeats at First Manassas and Ball’s Bluff, Federal morale dipped heading into the winter months of long inactivity. But then, following the Pennsylvania Reserves’ victory at Dranesville, Sec. of War Simon Cameron wrote, “It is one of the bright spots that give assurance of the success of coming events, and its effect must be to inspire confidence in the belief that hereafter, as heretofore, the cause of our country will triumph.”
And it is for that studying the battle of Dranesville is a necessary endeavor. Though the battle only saw one brigade on each side, and amounted to roughly 300 casualties, the victory at Dranesville renewed a resilient mood for Federal forces.
Which was why, even with the dozens of engagements behind them, and scores of stories to tell, the Pennsylvania Reserves instead met in their old age to commemorate the small action outside of Dranesville, Virginia. George Vickers, a veteran from the Reserves, rose at a reunion in 1896 to read the following poem he had written:
“‘The Pennsylvania Reserves’
The stars brightly shone in the wintry sky,
The cold morning air was both crisp and dry,
When out from the shadowy Pierrepont camp
The column came winding with steady tramp;
And when the sun told that ‘twas noon that day
Many a mile far behind them lay.
The well-worn pike was followed still,
And passed was wood-covered dell and hill;
The rickety bridge o’er Difficult Creek,
Shaking, was crossed; yet onward, quick,
Pushed gallant Ord with his Third Brigade,
For the brave Reserves were out on a raid.
Bearding the lion in his very den
Fearlessly marched those eager men;
Reynolds was close, and after came Meade,
But Ord with his Third was in the lead;
And guiding them, anxiously watching all,
Back on the pike rode brave McCall.
Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff were fought and lost.
And proud was Beauregard’s Southern host;
The North was trembling, racked with fear,
Disunion, ruin, seemed drawing near,
Till Pennsylvania took the field
And big the haughty foemen yield!
But why tell what each schoolboy knows,
How charged they on their country’s foes?
How the Christmas gist they gave the North
Was more than gold or rare jewels worth;
How they gave it hope, and bade terrors flee,
In that first won, glorious victory!
Fifteen thousand young gentlemen,
Fresh from the beauteous land of Penn;
Footman, horseman and cannoneer,
Sovereigns of liberty, each a peer—
Give them what bravery true deserves,
For of such was the war-tried, old Reserves!
Fifteen thousand they marched away,
But scarce a battalion is left today,
Yet honor the men who at Dranesville fought,
Who won the victory so dearly bought;
And honor the dead who in battle fell,
Who marched from the land of the Liberty Bell!”
To take heed and remember Dranesville, a presentation of the battle will be given at the 2019 Emerging Civil War Symposium. The war’s situation in the fall of 1861 will be discussed, as well as a number of other skirmishes in the area. The town’s populace figure heavily into the story, and their interactions with the Federal army played into what was to come to their homes. It was those actions and skirmishes that eventually climaxed with the battle of Dranesville on a cool but sunny December 20, 1861.
 Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 5, 477.
 The News (Newport, Pennsylvania), Dec. 31, 1896.
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