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By 1864, the major battles of the Civil War were taking place away from Fairfax County and raids by the Confederate ranger, Col. John S. Mosby, were also on the decline. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant came east to assume command of all Union armies, including the Army of the Potomac, and pursued a more aggressive campaign to end the war. The surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln days later on April 15, plunged both sides of the conflict into deep mourning.
Now that the war over, county residents faced the daunting task of rebuilding their farms, businesses and lives. Some areas in the county appeared untouched, but many others were stripped bare, with dwellings, fences and trees burned as fuel over the course of the war and farms picked clean by marauding troops.
Although a number of the returning soldiers, especially on the Confederate side, drowned their sorrows in a proliferation of saloons widely criticized by ministers at the time, many others worked alongside former slaves to rebuild roads, bridges and rail lines. County officials had to search for missing records that had been moved from the courthouse during the war. Farmers began to cultivate the land again and businesses restocked their shelves. To do so, most needed loans, particularly from Northern merchants who were willing to extend credit to former customers. Fairfax farmers also took advantage of good prices on horses and other supplies that the army no longer needed.
Throughout the spring and summer, returning Rebels took the amnesty oath, swearing that they would “faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” However, many of the old guard wanted to regain control of local government and return to the old ways. Conversely, former slaves were eager to expand on their new freedom. And then there were the Northerners who had moved south and tended to be more egalitarian. They did not want a return to the South’s old hierarchical social structure, instead pushing for a public education system, more equitable distribution of land and equal civil rights for all men.
The result was considerable tension between those who longed for the old days and those who wanted progress. This was seen particularly in the former slaves who were not inclined to vote according to their former masters’ wishes, which brought about a backlash with the Ku Klux Klan setting up Fairfax County, causing problems for both blacks and whites.
Although the war was not officially over, in March 1865 some Northern immigrants who wanted to help blacks in the transition from slavery to freedom met in Alexandria to establish the Freedmen’s Relief Association. Several Fairfax men, including the Sully Quakers, Alexander Haight and his brother-in-law James Barlow, were members. In August 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau opened offices in Fairfax with George Armes as the agent charged to protect the former slaves “from oppression and imposition” and to encourage them to “industry and economy.” His duty was to ensure that they were fairly paid for their work, in addition to caring for any destitute freedmen, helping blacks secure homes and providing schools for black children.
One of Armes’ first duties was to take a census of the black population in the county. In the fall of 1865, he reported 2,941 blacks living in Fairfax County with about 30 each at Lewinsville and Fairfax Station and approximately 130 at Fairfax Courthouse with the remainder scattered throughout the county. Many found work and sharecropping became widespread. By 1870, approximately 120 blacks, at least nine of which were female, owned land in the county. Jackson Hampton was reported to be the most prosperous black in the county with land valued at $24,000.
There were eight black schools in Fairfax County by December 1866. Most were supported and staffed by the Friends’ Aid Society of Philadelphia. By March 1867, 440 black adults and children were attending school, albeit in poorly built and furnished facilities.
In January 1870, Virginia was finally readmitted to the Union. In that year, there were 94 milling and manufacturing establishments in the county; however, agriculture was the primary occupation. Though 29th in the state in population, Fairfax County was the largest milk producer and the cash value of its farms was sixth highest in Virginia.
By 1870, Fairfax County had substantially recovered from the Civil War. The population grew to 12,952, a 9 percent increase over 1860. A new town, Clifton, had been established in 1868 and other towns, among them Thornton, the site of present-day Reston, were attracting Northerners.
Much progress had been made but some were still inclined to longingly look back on the old way of life, while others were impatient that the future as they imagined it, was not happening as quickly as they wanted.
Source: Fairfax County Virginia, a History (1978)