Union Soldiers in Centreville
Union soldiers patrol the sleepy village of Centreville, Virginia, in March 1862. In the distance, on the horizon line at right, are fortifications recently abandoned by Confederate troops under Joseph E. Johnston. After spending the winter there menacing the Union capital and worrying U.S. president Abraham Lincoln, Confederates abruptly retreated. When he marched his Army of the Potomac into town, Union general George B. McClellan discovered that Johnston had been engaging in a deception, using wooden, or so-called Quaker guns to make his position look stronger than it actually was.
Centreville was located in Fairfax County, deriving its name, according to an 1835 gazetteer, "from its central position, being about equidistant from Leesburg, Middleburg, Warrenton, Washington, Georgetown, and Alexandria." Situated on a high plateau, the village was first settled in 1739 but began to decline as nineteenth-century turnpikes and railroads largely bypassed it. In 1854, the population was only 250; by 1860, it was probably less.
During the Civil War, Centreville's elevated topography and its proximity to Washington, D.C., made it attractive for both armies. So did the junction of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad with the Manassas Gap line, a few miles to the southwest, which allowed the village to be used as a supply depot through the war. The First and Second battles of Manassas were fought nearby, and the Confederate partisan John S. Mosby used the village as a base during the war.