In the first year of the Civil War, an over-confident Union army suffered a series of defeats. Key among them was the first Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Ball's Bluff and their successful capture of painted logs, known as "Quaker cannons", at Munson's Hill. In each instance, Union troops retreated through Fairfax County, VA, awash in humiliation and an overbearing lack of organization.
A frustrated President Lincoln responded by appointing George B. McClellan as the new General-in-Chief of the Union army. McClellan, a master organizer, immediately got to work drilling his troops and on November 20, 1861, Lincoln rode into Fairfax County to assess his progress.
What he and as many as 30,000 civilian onlookers saw at Bailey's Crossroads that day was one of history's most impressive displays of military might. McClellan arrived with an escort of 1800 cavalry. Bands played. The sun caught the gleam of polished brass buttons. Guns shone. And according to some accounts, as many as 70,000 well-equipped troops formed a semi-circle four miles long for Lincoln to review.
For Union sympathizers, it was a boost to morale and motivated volunteer enlistment. For Confederates, it was a sobering and intimidating display that they tried to disrupt with scattered fire along the periphery of the event. And some say for one onlooker, Julia Ward Howe, it was a scene of a revelation. After seeing part of the troop review that was cut short by Confederate fire and inspired by what she had witnessed, she wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in her room at The Willard Hotel to the tune of "John Brown's Body" which was being sung by Union troops surrounding her upon her return to Washington DC.
In November 2011, as part of the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration, the Lincoln at the Crossroads Alliance is planning to commemorate Lincoln's Grand Review in the Bailey's Crossroads section of Fairfax County where it originally took place 150 years ago.