The Impact of the Civil War on John Chapman – Part 2


Part two of a three part article. Click Here to Read part one.

This piece was originally written in 2011 by Ellen Percy Miller. It details the life and fortunes of John Chapman before the Civil War and his rapid decline following it.

Then came the Civil War! Thoroughfare Gap was a strategic passageway for both armies as they went back and forth between Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. For the first time in world military history, trains were used to transport troops to battle and thus they went right by John Chapman’s two mills.

In 1861 John Chapman contracted with the Confederate Army Subsistence Department to turn Chapman’s Mill into a meat curing warehouse and distribution center. He was paid:
$500 for the use of the mill
$150 rent for three houses
$100 rent for the use of the fields
$248 for 72 cords of wood and 22 days hauling
$430 for lumber.

Herds of cattle and pigs were enclosed in large pens and more than two million pounds of Confederate meat were stored on the site. Despite winning the First Battle of Manassas the Confederates knew they would be pushed south by the Yankees. John Chapman watched “The Great Barbeque” when General Johnston ordered that the meat and Mill be burned so the Yankees could not use it.
Meanwhile, John Chapman’s brother, Pearson, was reaping a fortune selling fish to the armies from the Chapman Point Fishery on the Potomac River which he had inherited.

On August 28, 1862 the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap took place in and around Chapman’s Mill. Sharp shooters shot from the empty windows of the Mill. It is said that the Second Battle of Manassas was won and lost at Chapman’s Mill and that the War would have ended in a few weeks if the Union forces had held Thoroughfare Gap.

Throughout the Civil War, Mosby’s Rangers repeatedly attacked the Manassas Gap Railroad in and around Thoroughfare Gap and divested it of Union supplies and payrolls. It is said that John Chapman, like other prominent landowners of the region, was forced by the Northerners to ride the train as a human shield to deter raids by Mosby.

Perhaps John Chapman wished his nephew, Frank Williams, a Mosby Ranger, had not been personally credited with kidnapping Union Gen. Stoughton in a raid on Fairfax Courthouse.

John Chapman became a prisoner of war but by May 1862 signed a Parole of Honor pledging on his honor not to take up arms against the U.S. government, nor to aid and abet its enemies in any way. If he did not maintain this promise he could be shot on the spot.

In 1864 Chapman filed suit against the United States for “property taken and destroyed” in 1863 when Union soldiers camping nearby committed outrages against his person and arresting him for no reason and keeping him prisoner. He then iterated that they

“burned some of his buildings, damaged the machinery of his Mill, destroyed his farming Utensils, killed and carried off his stock, and committed almost every kind of depredation in the aggregate to the sum of $5,194.59 cts. Damage to the mill included the breaking of windows and sash, burning of the mill’s roof, and destruction of a mill hopper, fan, corn conveyor, gleaner, two corn wheels, a derrick, a circular saw, and destruction of Chapman’s wheat manufacturing business. In addition they took a 3- year-old colt valued at $1,000, killed or carried off two hogs worth $550 and a steer worth $1,175, and took $250 worth of bacon. According to Chapman’s suit, the Union soldiers burned one house valued at $600, took siding worth $100 off another house, destroyed a blacksmith shop worth $100 and destroyed a large cart for hauling logs with tackle for six horses valued at $350.”

He also filed for $1,461 on behalf of damage done to his deceased brother George’s property. Chapman also filed for $8,000 compensation done to the nearby farm of another deceased brother, Dr. Alexandria Chapman (died in 1864).

Part Three coming soon!


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