- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

Walk along Leesburg Pike in the Baileys Crossroads corridor of Falls Church.

It’s impossible to squelch hunger pangs as the smoky aroma of Salvadoran rotisserie chicken wafts around you. Moments later, in the hookah cafes, hear Middle Eastern and Ethiopian taxi drivers animatedly condemn rising gasoline prices. Next, at the Culmore shopping strip, young Latino men compete to offer their daily labor.

Farther down Route 7, the Skyline condo and office towers present a more familiar scene: government workers, embassy staff and active and retired military personnel absorbed by work, traffic and busy lives.

Now, mentally transport yourself to the autumn of 1861. Baileys Crossroads was a rural outpost recently abandoned by Confederates. Their unsettling proximity to the nation’s capital - just eight miles away - irked President Abraham Lincoln, especially following the surprising rout of Union forces at Bull Run on July 21.

The Union Army’s ineptness became even more apparent in late September, when Federal forces moved gingerly to take Munson’s Hill at Baileys Crossroads after the Rebels’ departure. Instead of the powerful artillery they assumed the Confederates had left behind, they found “Quaker cannons” - logs painted black to intimidate Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, which the young general had commanded since late July.

Nevertheless, on Nov. 1, 1861, Lincoln gave 34-year-old McClellan an additional command: general-in-chief of all Union armies.

At the start of the Civil War, Union forces consisted largely of militiamen under the command of their states’ governors, who could recall them at will. Even before Manassas, Lincoln had sought thousands of army volunteers and sailors to build an enlarged and more stable regular military force. He thought the brilliant organizer McClellan could meet this challenge.

Thus armed with the president’s support, the general wasted no time. Immediately after the defeat at Bull Run, he immersed himself in forming new recruits into a viable, well-trained army. By the autumn of 1861, the army had grown to about 160,000 troops, at least three times as many men as the enemy put forth at Manassas.

From late summer through fall, McClellan furiously planned and subjected his men to long days of drills in the hope of never repeating the chaotic and embarrassing retreat from Bull Run.

McClellan settled on a flamboyant way to “rehearse” his new troops, motivate other young men to enlist and inspire more support from Congress and Union citizens - a Grand Review.

The New York Times reported that, on Nov. 20, 1861, “the largest body of troops ever before reviewed on this Continent” - 70,000 strong - strode down Leesburg Pike in Bailey’s ‘Cross Roads.’”

More than 20 generals led seven divisions, including seven regiments of cavalry, 90 regiments of infantry and 20 batteries of artillery numbering 120 pieces. The Times described “a semi-circle of about four miles” when all divisions were finally in place. Abraham Lincoln reviewed the troops on horseback for many hours, beginning at about 1:30 p.m. on that cold, windy afternoon. McClellan and members of the Cabinet accompanied him.

By all accounts, 20,000 to 30,000 civilians cheered from the sidelines. Among them was Boston writer Julia Ward Howe, who had accompanied her abolitionist husband to Washington. The event so stirred her that, in the evening at Willard’s Hotel, she penned new lyrics to the song “John Brown’s Body.” It became “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

The Grand Review of Nov. 20, 1861, was a shining moment for the Union Army and gave hope to a worried nation. Today, nearly 147 years later, some Baileys Crossroads residents have established the Lincoln at the Crossroads Alliance to highlight the neighborhood’s historic significance.

Maria Elena Schacknies, the alliance’s founder, is engaged in organizing a 150th anniversary re-enactment of the “Grand Review,” which would take place in 2011 atBaileys Crossroads on Leesburg Pike.

She hopes other re-enactments will follow every five years. Plans are also under way to erect along the corridor a sculpture, a prominent work of public art, of President Lincoln and other officials who stood with him at the Grand Review.

“The alliance aims to remember Abraham Lincoln’s presence in this Northern Virginia neighborhood and what it symbolized to inspire a concept of what it means to be an American,” Ms. Schacknies said.

“In our culturally diverse region, our alliance believes focusing on this Civil War event can encourage assimilation among naturalized Americans and inspire citizenship in others. Most of all, we hope these efforts will promote educational activities and generate community cohesiveness in the Baileys Crossroads area through the commemoration of a shared historical legacy that played a highly visible role in saving our country.”

Learn more about the Grand Review and how the Lincoln at the Crossroads Alliance plans to commemorate it by visiting https://www.baileyscrossroads.org/news/lincoln.php. The alliance welcomes new volunteers interested in planning and participating in the 2011 re-enactment and related events. The alliance’s volunteer office can by contacted at 3713 S. George Mason Drive, Suite 1302, Falls Church, VA 22041; telephone 703/820-1904.

Evelyn Haught is a retired writer who lives in the Baileys Crossroads neighborhood of Falls Church.

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