Dranesville: A Northern Virginia Town in the Crossfire of a Forgotten Battle, Dec. 20, 1861

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Ryan T. Quint
Pub Date:
April 2024
photos, maps, 288 pp.


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About the book

After the guns of Manassas fell silent, the opposing armies grappled for position wondering what would come next. Popular history has us believe that daily briefings reported something along the lines of “All quiet along the Potomac.” Reality was altogether different. In fact, the fall and early winter of 1861 was a hotbed of activity that culminated in the December combat at Dranesville. The Union victory—sorely needed after the string of defeats at Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, and Ball’s Bluff—was small when measured against what was to come; it also helped shape the bloody years to follow.

Ryan Quint’s Dranesville: A Northern Virginia Town in the Crossfire of a Forgotten Battle,  Dec. 20, 1861 is the first full history of that narrow but critically important slice of the war. No one knew what was coming, but for the first time in a long while civilians (sympathetic to both sides) were thrown into a spreading civil war of their own as neighbor turned on neighbor. In time, this style of warfare, both on the home front and on the battlefield, came for the small town of Dranesville in Fairfax County.

Quint’s mostly forgotten tale uses overlooked or underused sources to sweep readers along from the White House and Secession Hall in Charleston to midnight ambushes and the climatic Dranesville action. A host of characters and commands that would become household names cut their teeth during these months, including Generals Jeb Stuart and Edward Ord, and the Pennsylvania Reserves, whose baptism of fire at Dranesville set the Keystone State soldiers on a path to becoming one of the best combat units of the entire war. Though soon eclipsed by larger and bloodier battles, Dranesville remained a defining moment for many of its participants—soldiers and civilians alike—for the rest of their lives.

Here, for the first time, shared through the eyes of those who lived it, is the story of Dranesville and the early war in Northern Virginia.


Advance Praise


“Written with outstanding detail and clarity, the early phase of the Civil War comes into clear focus in this book. The fighting at Dranesville shows the war’s impact on one community, the baptism of fire for several units, and the challenges faced by commanders regarding civilians and military occupation.” — Robert Dunkerly, author of To the Bitter End: Appomattox, Bennett Place, and the Surrenders of the Confederacy and co-author of Embattled Capital: A Guide to Richmond During the Civil War and Force of a Cyclone: The Battle of Stones River


“The battle of Dranesville has fallen off the radar screen for most Civil War enthusiasts. Small and early in the war, the fight paled in comparison to later, larger actions. Ryan Quint goes back to carefully uncover not only the details of the fight itself but the tense context surrounding it in a part of Virginia where neighbor had reason to distrust neighbor. Well-known characters learn important lessons that inform later, more famous, actions. Quint’s nuanced analysis of events and people recovers valuable lost history and helps us see the familiar in new ways.” — Chris Mackowski, Ph.D., editor-in-chief, Emerging Civil War


“Ryan Quint’s Dranesville is more than a battle narrative. It is a wonderfully woven, dramatically written case study of new soldiers, new commanders, a new war, and the civilians suddenly swept up in its violence. For a few weeks in late 1861 and early 1862, ‘Dranesville’ headlined virtually every newspaper in America, North and South. Quint has hauled Dranesville out of the shadows, delivering us a layered account of an early Union victory in Virginia and a hard day for James Ewell Brown Stuart—a study that in its details reveals much that is important about a new war in rapid evolution.” — John Hennessy, National Park Service historian (ret.) and author of Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas





Ryan Quint, a native of Maine, earned his degree in history from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA. He has worked in the field of public history, including at the George Washington Foundation, Colonial Williamsburg, and the National Park Service. Ryan has been involved with Emerging Civil War (emergingcivilwar.com) since 2013, and his first book, Determined to Stand and Fight: The Battle of Monocacy, was published by Savas Beatie in 2017 as part of the Emerging Civil War Series.