I worked for Bob Hubbard from 1987 until his retirement in 1992. The details have slipped away over the years, but at some point Bob and I discussed the area around Sangster’s Station and the fight at the blockhouse. Bob recalled having once seen a small monument at the scene of the fight. He also thought he still had copies of photographs taken of the monument by his brother, Lee Hubbard, and by Lee’s cousin’s wife, in 1959. Wording on the monument referred to a “Hot Little Fight,” as Bob recalled. Time passed, Bob retired and we lost contact with each other. In time I retired and my wife and I moved across the country, never expecting we would, one day, return to Virginia. But events have a way of moving beyond our control.
I saw Bob at a retirement ceremony in December of last year, and, proving his memory to be sharp as ever, he asked, “Do you remember the monument I mentioned years ago? I found my copies of the photographs.” My wife was just putting the finishing touches on this website and I was polishing up the first story. It occurred to me that I should not let the Sangster’s Station story slip away a second time. Bob responded to my request for copies of the photographs immediately, and he also put me in contact with his brother Lee.
I had known of Lee Hubbard by reputation for many years, but had never met him. Lee remains the dean of historians of the Fairfax County Police Department and Fairfax County. Lee responded to my first query immediately with additional photographs, copies of other documents and answers to a bevy of questions. Among the many things I learned was that Lee and Bob were related to the Ford family of Fairfax County, including Antonia Ford, whose story I became familiar with while writing Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby. I met Lee at his home in early January, and together we made a visit to the scene of the fight at Sangster’s Station.
All of this area is now private property. Lee has lived nearby his entire life, and known the residents for many years, but still, we made the visit only after contacting the property owners and receiving permission to visit the sites.
During the war the tracks of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad crossed the property of Edward Sangster, thus the name for the station. Standing nearby was the Fairfax County Poor House or Almshouse. Popes Head Creek courses through and around the skirmish site. The meandering nature of the stream forced the railroad owners to build two bridges in the immediate area, one north and one south of the station. The army constructed the blockhouse near the bridge north of the station.
About 40 years after the war the route of what is now the Southern Railroad was straightened and double-tracked. The track now runs along a line very close to the wartime alignment, and in many places still follows the old roadbed. All of the wartime buildings related to the railroad and the Poor House are gone. Only the stone bridge abutments remain; stout but mute witnesses to the sharp struggle which took place around them. The sheer banks of the stream, immediately around the blockhouse site, also bear witness to the obstacle Rosser’s men had to overcome as they picked their way through the scrub growth along the banks, spurred their horses into the raging creek and then sought a place that would allow their weary steeds to climb back out.
In 1903, Capt. John McAnally, then 65 years of age, and a resident of Buffalo, New York, sought to place a monument at the site of the skirmish. He first wrote to Frederick M. Ford, a distant relation to Lee and Bob Hubbard. Ford was the Superintendent of the Poor House at the time and McAnally sought to place the monument on the Poor House property. “I intend to place…both the Union and Confederate names on it,” McAnally told Ford. “The men of those days are all friends now and I am one who wants to prove it in this way,” the former officer explained. Less than “three feet square” at the base and only “4 feet high,” the monument was to be made of white bronze, by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. White bronze was actually zinc or an alloy of zinc, tin and copper, sandblasted to resemble stone. The inexpensive process remained popular for decades, and thousands of examples remain in cemeteries and Civil War memorials.
Having gained Ford’s approval, McAnally then contacted to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on July 4, 1903. In this letter, requesting permission from the Board to place the monument, McAnally also mentioned his desire to invite veterans from the 17th Virginia Infantry to the dedication ceremony. The 17th Virginia was raised largely in Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria, and these Virginians had battled McAnally’s New Yorkers during the Siege of Suffolk in April 1863. It is also worth noting that Capt. John Quincy Marr, Company K, 17th Virginia (from Fauquier County), is believed to be the first Confederate officer killed during the war. A monument to Marr now stands on the grounds of the old Fairfax County Court House, near the point where he was killed on June 1, 1861.
Captain McAnally succeeded in his quest, though exactly when the monument was erected is unknown, and any accounts of the dedication remain elusive. The four-sided monument included plaques listing the names of the Union soldiers who died in Andersonville, as well as the two Confederates who were killed or mortally wounded in the skirmish. Beneath two clasped hands on a third plaque are the names of Capt. John McAnally and Gen. Thomas Rosser. The fourth plaque includes a quote from Lt. James Daugherty, who termed the skirmish a “Hot Little Fight.” Daugherty was promoted to captain the following November, just days before receiving a wound that necessitated the amputation of his left leg.
John McAnally was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1839, and he arrived in the United States in 1850. He married Anna Gibbons on December 30, 1860, at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, in Buffalo, New York. John and Anna had four daughters. Mary was born in October 1861. The young father enlisted in September 1862. Anna, Elizabeth and Jane came into the family following his return from the war.
If John McAnally gave a reason for wanting to place the monument at Sangster’s Station it has not been found. But a search of his records suggests he may have viewed it as cathartic – a chance to vanquish old demons and to put his own personal trials, all of which could be attributed to his service, behind him. He was clearly touched by seeing his adopted country reunited. His plaques focus on reunification, and his hope that members of the 17th Virginia Infantry would attend the dedication is especially telling. He had been shot in his right leg on April 15, 1863, during the fighting around Suffolk, and his life was never the same. He does not mention this in his letter to the Fairfax County Board, but that shot was, almost certainly, fired by a member of the 17th Virginia Infantry.
Captain McAnally spent months recovering, and it is unclear if he had returned to his regiment in time to command his men during the fight at Sangster’s Station on December 17, 1863. He was with his men eight days later. On that Christmas Day 1863, McAnally led a small patrol in search of guerrillas. Still lame from his injury, he rode a horse – a horse unaccustomed to the sudden crash of gunfire. As the men returned to camp they cleared their weapons by firing a volley. The noise startled the horse which either ran into a tree or threw the captain against a tree. Either way, McAnally’s right leg, which was not yet fully healed from the gunshot wound, was fractured a second time. The bullet had fractured his tibia, while this second injury fractured his femur. The captain never recovered, and he was discharged the following June.
McAnally returned home and worked first at a stockyard, then on a Postal Service railcar and finally as a court officer, possibly for the Buffalo Police Department. Wherever he worked he needed help getting around. He rode a pony at the stockyard, but needed help getting on and off the animal. A co-worker carried him to and from his job with the Post Office in a wagon and had to help him onto and off of the wagon.
The veteran was further crippled by the old soldier’s complaint of rheumatism, attributed to his time around Suffolk. A former lieutenant in his company stated they marched several miles through the Dismal Swamp in April 1863. “I do not doubt but this march through water and mud caused his disability,” the officer asserted. “We were obliged to carry our blankets and cartridge boxes on our shoulders and above our heads to keep them out of the water.”
By 1897 McAnally was largely confined to his house. He needed the assistance of his wife and family to dress and eat. He needed a cane or crutch to walk and then only with effort. In the months before he died, John McAnally could not raise his hands above his head. He could no longer use crutches, but needed help moving from his bed to a wheelchair. A doctor deemed him “totally and permanently helpless.” His initial pension was $10 a month. In time that sum was actually reduced and then terminated when he accepted employment with the Post Office. He fought successfully to recover the pension when he left his Civil Service position, and at his death in 1909 he was receiving $72 per month.
In the late 1960’s or early 70’s, Bill Everhart, a friend of Lee Hubbard, noticed three of the four plaques were missing from John McAnally’s monument. Seeking to prevent the loss of the remaining plaque, Bill removed it and gave it to Lewis Leigh, an avid Civil War historian, whose father owned the property. Several years later, Leigh presented the plaque to John Kincheloe, a descendant of William Kincheloe, 15th Virginia Cavalry.
Lee Hubbard never gave up his search for the three missing plaques. His perseverance was rewarded, when, in 2006, he was approached by a young girl and her father. They were carrying the three plaques but the girl told Lee there was a ransom to be paid – three pieces of candy. To this day Lee keeps a candy dish on his living room table and he quickly settled with the young lady.
The four plaques, now reunited, were cleaned and loaned to the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum, by Lee Hubbard, during a meeting of the Friends of Fairfax Station on March 30, 2015. The museum resides in a replica of the old Fairfax Station Depot, located at 11200 Fairfax Station Road. For more information on the museum you may visit www.fairfaxstation.org or call 703-425-9225.
Years ago a local pediatrician took the remainder of the hollow monument and placed it in her barn for safe keeping. The location of the monument is now unknown, but Lee Hubbard remains hopeful, that, like the three missing plaques, the base will one day be found.
But for a discussion with Bob Hubbard years ago, and the fact that he remembered that discussion many years later, this story would never have come together. Likewise, I am indebted to Lee Hubbard for the many photographs he has taken, as well as other members of his family, and retained over the years. I am also indebted to him for guiding me over the site, answering numerous questions, correcting my errors and providing copies of John McAnally’s letters regarding his monument. Lee also deserves recognition for his tireless work to see the plaques from the monument reunited. Thanks are also owed to the several landowners who allowed us to view the sites. Please remember that all of the sites in the photographs are on private property. To Charles Siegel, the authority on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, for the several questions he answered, for the map and photographs he provided and for the website he maintains. Horace Mewborn also provided copies of several of the manuscript items used. My wife Teresa, the brains behind this site, not only labored valiantly to develop the brief biography of the elusive Captain McAnally but she also fine-tuned the photographs and worked them into the story.
Richard Armstrong, 11th Virginia Cavalry
William Beach, The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry
William McDonald, A History of the Laurel Brigade
Frank Myers, The Comanches
The Official Records
Brooklyn Eagle, July 5, 1883
Fairfax Station, Clifton, Lorton Connection, April 2-8, 2015
Philadelphia Inquirer, 12-19-1863
Philadelphia Weekly Times March 22, 1884
New York Sun, July 5, 1883
Rochester Daily Union & Advertiser, March 12, 1862
L. Williams Account in the Leadell- McDonald Papers, Duke University
Thomas Rosser to My Darling Wife, Dec. 24, 1863, Correspondence of Thomas Rosser, University of Virginia
Numerous unpublished communications from the National Archives
John McAnally’s Pension Records from the National Archives
John McAnally Letters – Lee Hubbard
Photographs provided by both Lee Hubbard and Charles Siegel