Civil War 150th Anniversary: Munson’s Hill – Battlefield Trickery in the Civil War

Civil War 150th Anniversary: Munson’s Hill – Battlefield Trickery in the Civil War

One of the first truly great examples of trickery
in the art of warfare can be found in Homer’s “Iliad.” Thousands of years ago, Homer wrote of the
large wooden horse and the 100 mighty Greek warriors who hid themselves in its belly and
then attacked and destroyed Troy after the Trojans foolishly accepted the horse as a
gift. In the almost three thousand years since Homer
wrote, the role of trickery in warfare has not diminished. The American Civil War was no different. In the early months after the war as the armies
jostled for position in Northern Virginia after the First Battle of Manassas, and as
the leaders of the forces were being placed upon the chessboard, two key figures emerged
in the opposing armies. And though both of these men were West Pointers,
they each had a different style of leadership and quite different ways of accomplishing
warfare. James Ewell Brown Stewart, ubiquitously called
JEB Stuart, was not so much handsome as he was dashing. He was a cavalier’s cavalier, and when called
to action he was as likely to over act as he was to stay on task. JEB Stewart could turn a reconnaissance trip
into a cross country tour. Stewart was brave, certainly, and smart as
well. After the Battle of Manassas in July of 1861,
lines were drawn to keep the Federal forces from pushing into Virginia and to prevent
the Confederate Army from marching on Washington. One of those lines was drawn between Munson’s
Hill and Baileys Crossroads in Eastern Fairfax County, Virginia. JEB Stuart’s job was to make sure the Union
Army didn’t advance across the rebel lines. And in full view of the Federal soldiers,
he occupied Munson’s Hill, a vista from which Stewart had an eye full of Washington. Also, he appeared to have sufficient artillery
to sustain a Union assault. After the Manassas fiasco, George McClellan
became the newly appointed commander of the Division of the Potomac. McLellan, close to 35 years old in late 1861,
had a problem. George McClellan believed firmly that one
should not enter battle unless one’s numbers were overwhelmingly on the side winning. McClellan was beloved by as men, but he was
not seen the same light by those in Washington DC. He was thought slow to act. He was also demanding; men, supplies, time. When prevailed upon to attack, McClellan always
had reasons why he should not move outward from Washington to take on the Confederate
forces. Therefore, having seen the fortifications
atop Munson’s Hill just a scant few miles from the Potomac, General George McClellan
had yet another reason to stay put until he felt he had a number of troops substantially
greater than what he had. Simply put, McClellan was not a risk taker. Imagine, then, the surprise to all when the
Confederate forces ensconced atop Munson’s Hill abandoned their position as well as visible
artillery on the morning of September 28, 1861. And what did the Union soldiers find when
they took the hill after the Reb’s departure? Quaker guns. Guns made out of wood and old wagon wheels. Guns which were not guns at all, but merely
theatrical pieces made to look hostile. They were called Quaker guns because traditional
Quakers were pacifists and not warlike just like these simulated cannon. In with two months and one week since the
Battle of Manassas, the Union Army had been kept in place, at least in this little field
in Northern Virginia, by so many harmless sections of tree trunks and archaic wagon
parts. Sadly for General George B. McClellan, this
will not be the last time the Confederate Army would pull such wool over his eyes, and
the non-weapons of Munson’s Hill would give many of McClellan’s detractors some ammunition
to use against him. But both McClellan and his southern counterpart
JEB Stuart would live to fight, really fight with real weapons, another day.


  1. Post
    HMS Illustrious

    2 Quaker Guns….

    and Rosser's battery, and the 1st Virginia Cavalry, and Longstreet's Brigade, and the best part of 50,000 men encamped a mile westwards.

    Somehow I think it was the prospect of a general engagement with the main enemy army in an entrenched position rather than 2 logs that made McClellan delay 17 days before attacking.

  2. Post
    Robin Kabrich

    Amazing – I grew up in this area and never knew this! It reminds me of the "inflatable army" Eisenhower created to fool the Germans as to the real target of the coming invasion before D-Day! 

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