|Then head of school Diane Dunne and Jim Burgess (Photos: The Country Day School)|
A missing stone fragment that once marked a position held by a
bloodied Georgia regiment is back at the Manassas battlefield in Virginia for today’s
161st anniversary, ending a saga that began decades ago.
The Civil War marker’s story is a fragmented tale whose
pieces finally came together earlier this year when the chunk of marble was
donated to the park by a small private school in McLean, about 45 minutes away.
Veterans of the 7th Georgia Infantry – which was
in the thick of fighting at the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) – in 1905
opted to place six markers indicating where they were positioned in that battle
and another marker for a position at Second Manassas in August 1862.
The markers fell victim to time and vandals, with only two
still on the field today, one of them rarely seen by visitors.
Officials believe this returned so-called “second position” marker
disappeared before the park was established in 1940. How the top half landed in
the upscale Langley neighborhood of McLean – near the CIA headquarters –
remains a mystery. The son of the school’s director in the 1970s found it while doing
construction work on an old barn on the school property. His mother believed it
to be a tombstone for a Georgia boy.
That wasn’t the case, says Manassas National Battlefield Park museum specialist Jim Burgess, who has documented the 7th Georgia
position markers and tried to get this one donated to the park nearly 30 years
ago after he learned of its discovery.
|A sketch of the barn on the school property (Courtesy of McCormick family)|
The school’s director held onto the marker and Burgess moved
on to other things. After the director died in 2018, her children sold her home
to the school and left the artifact behind.
In February, the federal park got a call from the school,
indicating the school’s desire to see the stone back at Manassas. Burgess got
to the campus within two hours.
“It has sort of been on the back burner,” Burgess said. “I
was flabbergasted in getting the call.”
The fragment is about 10 inches by 10 inches and appears to
have the first part of “2nd
POSITION” etched at top.
The park has put the piece in a temporary display case along
with a photo of an outdoor stone fireplace/grill – a seemingly odd pairing.
Burgess believes the lower half of the marker may be the gray
stone in the middle of the fireplace, which was built by a farmer on what is
now park property.
Georgia veterans returned to battlefield
The 7th Georgia, part of a
brigade led at Manassas by Col. Francis S. Bartow, was mustered into Confederate service in late May 1861. Most of the regiment’s soldiers were from
Coweta, Paulding, DeKalb, Franklin, Fulton, Heard and Cobb counties in northern
Georgia.The unit was rushed to Virginia and saw heavy combat at Manassas on July 21, 1861,
the first major battle in the Eastern Theater. (At left, photo of Pvt. John William Barrett of the 7th)
killed while leading the 7th against Capt. James B. Ricketts’ battery on Henry
Hill during a pivotal moment in the fighting, which swung to the Confederates’
favor late in the day for a victory that left Union forces fleeing to Washington. The 7th Georgia suffered a staggering 153 casualties out
of 580 men present, according to American Battlefield Trust.
Decades later, 7th Georgia veterans decided to place the
position markers, rather than a large single monument. They resembled
tombstones and were scattered across the rolling hills.
Burgess’ records indicate the second position marker may have been
broken and displaced when the Warrenton Turnpike was widened in the 1920s.
top half ended up in McLean, while the bottom -- which has no
inscription -- may be in the fireplace adjacent to the old George Sutton farm.
In 1970, Sutton said he built the fireplace with stones recovered from
the area, but “This piece
of marble here was picked up along the highway when we put the fence up there. Evidently
it was a piece of a monument…”
|Piece of marble is in middle of large fireplace at Manassas. (Jim Burgess, MBNP) |
The farm was
acquired by the park in the 1950s.
Fragment was found among rocks
In the 1960s, Dorothy McCormick, a leader in early childhood education, started
a small school at her Great Falls, Va., home. McCormick (right) later acquired Happy Hill School
(renamed The Country Day School) in McLean in the early 1970s.
The nonprofit venue, located in the suburban Washington, D.C,
neighborhood, offers preschool and kindergarten classes. McCormick promoted motor skills training and an enrichment center, among other innovations.
“We called her the director. She was old school,” said son
Robert McCormick. “Very sweet, but you didn’t give her any guff.”
Becky Benton, current officer coordinator at the private
school, told the Picket that Mrs. McCormick, a widowed mother of six children, had a strong imprint on staff and parents.
“She had a way of attracting people to her mission,” Benton said.
The 5-acre property included a two-story cattle barn built in 1921.
Mrs. McCormick decided to live there after extensive renovations were made.
Robert, who designs and builds homes, led that project. In 1977, he discovered the
marker while moving rubble and other material from a fill pit while working on a
deck foundation at the barn.
“It was in there. We had thought we had uncovered a Civil War
grave site,” he said.
“She was very excited to think a soldier may have been buried
here,” Benton said.
McCormick’s mother kept the fragment on the hearth as a
conversation piece, and a 1990s Washington Post article about Langley includes
a photograph of her holding the stone, described as a tombstone.
told the paper it was an indication of the area’s historical significance.
“It was important for
her to keep it safe,” Benton said. “She was history minded and appreciated the
history of the school and America.”
Park communicated with educator
Burgess contacted Dorothy McCormick by phone and through a March 1994
letter, sharing what he knew about the position markers and telling her the
fragment was not a tombstone.
“We did not know as much about the movements of the 7th Georgia
Regiment and their markers at that time (of the letter) as we do today,” he
told the Picket earlier this year.
The official asked Mrs. McCormick to look at documentation of the
markers. “Naturally, we feel the stone in your possession rightfully belongs at
the battlefield. We would be most grateful to accept it as a donation to the
park’s museum collection should you feel inclined to part with it,” Burgess wrote in
|The school is in the Washington, D.C, area (Andrew Gast map, click to enlarge)|
Burgess said after the letter was sent, the school director “indicated to us by phone that she wanted to retain it for
sentimental reasons, I guess. We did not pursue it. We did not have any legal
claim to it because it disappeared well before the park was established.”
The letter probably annoyed his mother, said Robert McCormick, and she
likely forgot about it over the years, he said.
Dorothy McCormick sold the school and a cottage on the
property in 1991 and continued living in the converted barn until her 2018 death at age 96. The family then sold the barn to The Country Day School, which in
turn converted it into an office.
Robert McCormick says his mother was very happy while living
in the rustic barn. “It was a cozy, homey place.”
Chance review of photos led to donation
The Country Day School and the surrounding neighborhood is rich with history. The main building was constructed in 1858 and at times it served
as a church, Civil War hospital and residence. Mrs. McCormick lived in a
cottage on the property before moving to the barn.
After the McCormick family sold the old barn, they left
school-related items, photos and the marker in the structure.
|Converted barn and main building of The Country Day School in McLean (Picket photos)|
Early this year, Benton – the office coordinator – went to
the structure to find old photographs of the main building for a class of
children who are age 3.
She flipped through a photo album and came across the 1994
letter from Burgess. While Benton knew the marker was there, she had not seen
the correspondence. “(Mrs. McCormick) did not necessarily agree it was not a
“It was very sentimental for Mrs. McCormick. The children
thought it belonged here. We felt it belonged to the battlefield.” The
school decided to make the donation and reached out to the park.
Robert McCormick was not aware of the donation until reached
by the Picket, but he says the family is satisfied with the disposition.
Burgess said he is pleased the marker is back “home.” He
would like to see it displayed with a piece of another position marker and a
|The two 7th Georgia markers still on the field (Manassas National Battlefield Park)|
stone fragment we just acquired lacks sufficient integrity to be put back in
the ground. It would be nice to replace all seven markers with exact
reproductions and save the originals in the park collection,” Burgess wrote in
“The originals have been subject to damage from tree falls, road
construction, vandalism and theft. It would be good to protect what is
left of them and still mark the positions the veterans made effort to preserve
for posterity. Unfortunately, we don't have the funding to do that.”
|Burgess set up this display after the school's donation (Jim Burgess, MNBP)|