- The Mason Spirit - https://spirit.gmu.edu -

Stepping into the Past

BY RACHEL LUCKENBAUGH, BA ’16, AND COLLEEN KEARNEY RICH, MFA ’95

A group of Mason students took a trip to an important Civil War site and never left the Fairfax Campus.

On a beautiful November afternoon, George Mason University history professor Christopher Hamner and students from his HIST 373 The Civil War and Reconstruction class ventured into the woods at the edge of Parking Lot K. After a few minutes, they came to what is known as a redoubt, a circular earthen fortification constructed and used during the Civil War. Though covered with underbrush, the structure remains intact and is clearly visible—a valuable historic site, right under our noses, hidden in the woods behind a parking lot.

The tour was organized by members of the Centreville, Virginia-based Bull Run Civil War Round Table. The redoubt stands on a raised site called Farr’s Crossroads, which is the intersection of Braddock and Ox Roads. First constructed by the Fifth Alabama Volunteer Infantry under the command of Colonel Robert Rodes in June 1861, a number of different Union and Confederate military forces occupied the fort over the next few years, including a brigade led by Stonewall Jackson.

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Mason history students take a tour of the redoubt location on the Fairfax Campus. Photo courtesy of the Bull Run Round Table.

“You have to use your imagination,” says Hamner, who plans to make visits to the redoubt part of the syllabus for the Civil War course. “You are out along Braddock Road and traffic is going by. Both [roads] have historical significance, and you can see why it would have been valuable to have command of that [intersection] and fortify it.”

The redoubt is one of the reasons that corner of campus looks the way it does and has not been changed. The site once contained scores of artifacts, but collectors had removed most of them before Fairfax County officially identified the site in 1979. In the decades since, a handful of local researchers, including those in the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, have conducted research on the site.

It was the Round Table members who approached History and Art History Department chair Brian Platt a year ago and told him about the redoubt. Platt was excited about the opportunity the historic site provided for history students.

“Our hope is to actually organize a historic preservation project on the site,” says Platt. “First, though, we wanted to raise awareness of it and make it into a learning experience for the students.”

The leaders of the tour—Brian McEnany, Blake Myers, and Jim Lewis of the Round Table—explained how the site fits within the larger context of the Civil War in Northern Virginia. The intersection actually dates back to colonial times.

The Round Table members also discussed the nearby transportation routes used by the soldiers and the “corduroy road” route that was constructed just before the war and traveled by both Union and Confederate forces. Named for their resemblance to the fabric, corduroy roads were made of tree trunks.

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Timbers from a Civil War corduroy road were found during excavation for road work. Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority.

In December 2015, a well-preserved portion of the corduroy road was discovered during public works construction on Ox Road adjacent to the historic intersection. Lewis brought along some pieces of a corduroy road for the students to examine. He believes the road was used as a major pathway during the war.

“It is a privilege to live where we live,” says Hamner. “I grew up in Wisconsin, and there is no Civil War history there. This Round Table group has gone above and beyond. It is truly a labor of love for them. Their generosity with our students is just terrific.”

The Round Table is interested in preserving the site and making it part of the Civil War Trails project so more people would know about the redoubt and Fairfax’s rich history.

“We have a lot of interest in public history and historic preservation among our students,” says Platt. “I am excited by the prospect of our students having the opportunity to work with local historians on such a preservation project.”