Washington DC – Day Trip 1 – Virginia Hunt Country Sights – G

Laura Ratcliffe was born May 28, 1836 at Fairfax City, Virginia. Her mother was a 5th cousin of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Her parents were Francis Fitzhugh and Ann McCarty (Lee) Ratcliffe. After her father died, Laura moved with her mother and two sisters to Frying Pan (later Herndon) in Fairfax County, Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C.

During the Civil War, in this region there were countless raids and encampments along the Potomac River, which divided North (Union Army)and South (Confederate Army).

The Herndon area estate of the beautiful, effective and brave Confederate spy Laura Ratcliffe, a dark-haired beauty who saved Col. John Mosby’s life, only contains the original old frame house, protected by its broad-branched oaks and graced with a nearby creek that sparkles in the sun. With volunteer effort, this rare piece of Floris, Fairfax County history, gained a bit of protection with its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Surrounded by encroaching development on all sides, this Virginia farmland, home to Native Americans and earliest American colonists, is now being planted in mortgages. So much so that the peaceful colonial countryside has all but shamefully disappeared in the last 30 odd years, in this section of Virginia, and the young woman, of whom we speak, is buried in a hedged enclosure at the entry to of the Worldgate Marriott Hotel, rather on a peaceful farm, meant to be kept in family hands, as she willed it! It’s such a travesty.

Merrybrook’s current residents are not linked by blood to Laura Ratcliffe, but Winifred and David Meiselman who bought Merrybrook 35 years ago, seek to preserve her name and her legacy of bravery.

The home she actually occupied during the Civil War was about 1 mile south along Centreville Road, in Frying Pan, VA (now known as Herndon), but that house does not exist anymore. This home is the last remaining vestige of her. She fought along side some very brave and savvy people – Colonel John S. Mosby, General J.E.B. Stuart among them.

Destitute after the Civil War, Merrybrook became Laura’s home after the war ended and for then onward, for the next 50 years. At age 54, in 1890, it was here that she married Union veteran, neighbor (and longtime admirer) Milton Hanna, who built the home for her. Unfortunately, she was widowed 7 years later, when Mr. Hanna died in an accident; she never remarried.

She used her considerable wealth gained in the marriage to help the poor and unfortunate, quietly, for the rest of her life.

During the Civil War, when young and beautiful, she actually saved the guerilla Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby’s life in 1863, after hearing of an ambush. A young Union lieutenant couldn’t help bragging saying ‘He wasn’t worried that Laura would warn Mosby because the weather was too cold and wet, and the mud too deep, for most women to travel.’ But, when the Union soldier left, Ratcliffe and her sister set out immediately on foot to warn Mosby of the danger, successfully.

Besides keeping the Mosby Partisan Raiders (43rd Battalion, Virginia Calvary) informed of Union troop movements in the neighborhood, Laura also allowed her house to be used as his headquarters. Mosby often met his men at a large rock on Squirrel Hill, near her home, which later became known as Mosby’s Rock.

General James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart, who admired Ratcliffe for her beauty and bravery, first met Laura in 1861, when she was nursing his wounded soldiers near what became Fairfax, VA. His admiration for her never wavered; he even wrote a published poem to her which he gave to her a gold-embossed leather album, along with his gold watch-chain. She kept these until her death in August 1923.

As a way to bring some of the time back to life, consider attending on Saturday, April 23, 2011, when you can join Civil War Sesquicentennial Event — Marching with the Troops to First Manassas, 150 years Ago!

Saturday, 23 April 2011 — 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM
Sponsored by the Franconia Museum

“Follow the footsteps of Union and Confederate troops as they converge on Manassas for the first major battle of the war 150 years ago. We’ll start at Fort Lyon and follow General Heintzelman and his Union Forces up what is now Franconia Road on his way to the battlefield. Then, we’ll go to Thoroughfare Gap where Stonewall Jackson and his Confederates passed through the Blue Ridge Mountains on the way to a decisive victory. After lunch, we’ll gather on the actual battlefield.”

You can start the day at 8 a.m. with coffee, donuts at the Franconia Museum, 6121 Franconia Road. Then, board a comfortable rest-room equipped motor coach for the trip to the local Union Fort and westward to meet “Jackson” and his men as they march from the Shenandoah Valley. Have a buffet lunch at the Golden Corral Restaurant in Manassas and then over to the nearby Battlefield Visitors Center to view artifacts and information before reliving the battle on the actual site.

You will also learn about the Confederates use of the Manassas Gap Railroad to reach the battlefield in the first major troop movement by rail ever in wartime. Hear the Union plans to sabotage the engine and what happened to the engineer.

COST: $100.00 Each.

General Jackson earned the name “Stonewall” at Manassas as he and his men refused to yield to a vicious Union attack. His statue stands at the site of the fighting on July 21, 1861.

More Springtime, historic events are listed at the same Laura Ratcliffe House link, above.

Merrybrook – home of Laura Ratcliffe
2346 Centerville Road, Herndon, Virginia
Just south of exit 10 off the Dulles Toll Road.

Washington, DC Travel – Archived Articles

©2011 mystic at Travel Vacation Review

Leave a Reply