The Civil War
Tragically, a mere twenty-one years after Rev. Johnson’s reconstruction, the Civil War brought new devastation when occupying Union forces stripped the building’s interior for souvenirs of “Washington’s Church” and used its worship space as a stable. Soldiers scrawled their names on the inside walls, carved graffiti onto the doorposts, and pockmarked the exterior with bullet holes. The interior damage can be seen from an 1862 Mathew Brady photo, while the outside markings can still be viewed today.
The 2nd Michigan Volunteers, under the command of Brigadier General Samuel P. Heintzelman, conducted the first raid on November 12, 1861. One of those present, Lieutenant Charles B. Haydon, expressed his outrage over the devastation wrought upon the Church: “At 8 ½ A.M. we reached the church 12 miles out. Pohick Church is a brick building built in 1773. Gen. Washington contributed to building it & was a frequent attendant. It has a very ancient look & one would suppose that it might be sacred enough to be secure. I have long known that the Mich 2nd had no fear or reverence as a general thing for God or the places where he is worshiped but I had hoped that the memory of Gen. Washington might protect almost anything with which it was associated. I believe our soldiers would have torn the church down in 2 days. They were all over it in less than 10 minutes tearing off the ornaments, splitting the woodwork and pews, knocking the brick to pieces & everything else they could get at. They wanted pieces to carry away . . . A more absolute set of vandals than our men can not be found on the face of the earth. As true as I am living I believe they would steal Washington’s coffin if they could get to it.”
Two months later, on January 25, 1862, Private Robert Sneden visited Pohick and painted a water-color of the Union encampments around the church. In his journal, he wrote: “We reached Pohick Church about 4 pm in a snow storm . . . It was a substantial two story brick structure with white marble, quoins and trimmings and old colonial gambrel roof . . . Here Washington attended service, with all the old first families of the time . . . He drove from Mount Vernon to church in his coach with four horses, tandem fashion as did the others. Now the church was in ruinous condition. Windows were all broken out, doors gone, pews nearly gone, being used for firewood by our pickets. The ceilings broken by the rain coming through the roof, walls discolored black by smoke, etc. The mahogany pulpit was half cut away and carried off for relics, while the cornerstones had been unearthed and the contents carried off. Washington had lain this stone in 1765 [sic] and the soldiers who got it out must have found valuable relics. There was not much left for the relic hunters now even the sconces and door knobs and hinges were gone.”
By then, Pohick had became a Union observation post, with the famous “aeronaut,” Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, looking down at Confederate movements from his balloon, which soared 1,000-2,000 feet above the church courtyard. As Pvt. Sneden recorded in his diary, “Balloons are now used frequently at Pohick Church . . . A gas wagon is attached to the balloon with which the balloon is only one half or one third inflated, then it rises 1,000 feet or more, and is held on the ground by two or three long ropes by a lot of soldiers who are detailed for the purpose” (Feb 1). On March 5, 1862, Professor Lowe himself wrote a dispatch from Pohick to General Heintzelman, stating, “Have just made two ascensions with the balloon. It is fully inflated, and will take up two persons with all the ropes. If to-morrow is a fine day it would be a good time for the general to go up. I can see camp-fires on the Occoquan. T. S. C. LOWE, Chief Aeronaut, U. S. Army.”
Free admission, self-guided tours, 9:00 am – 4:30 pm daily.
Docents are available for groups after Sunday services, on the first Saturday of the month at 1:00 pm, or by appointment through the Church Office.