Civil War Trails Marker
Still Faithful After the Ravages of WarPassing armies occupied and fortified Centreville,positioned between Washington, D.C., and Manassas Junction, beginning in July 1861 when Confederate and Union forces met during the war’s first significant campaign. As American and British journalists sought to understand the First Battle of Manassas and define the character of its combatants, the “desecration” of “the little Episcopal church on the hill” that once stood here became newsworthy.
Days after the defeat of the Union army, correspondents for the Richmond Dispatch reported that Saint John’s church was covered with drawings and insults to the Confederacy. A British journalist wrote he was horrified that “a building devoted to the worship of the Omnipotent had been desecrated and polluted by the enemy.” The New York Times denied that Federal soldiers were responsible. In a front-page story, a Times correspondent described his visit to the church before the battle, and pointed to evidence of abuse by Southern soldiers stationed in Centreville prior to the Federal advance. The church vandals, he concluded, were those who had first desecrated “the altars of patriotism.” This was not the last church that would fall victim to the vandals of one side or the other.
The little church was destroyed later in the war, as were many houses, farms, and trees around Centreville. Describing the town in his Sketchbook, Alexander Gardner wrote, “War crushed it. … Scarcely a vestige of its former self remains.” In 1872, the parishioners completed the church that stands before you. A keyhole visible in the ceiling suggests that they scavenged wood, including doors, from Centreville’s many ruins.