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  • The street I live on was, at various times during the War Between the States (Civil War), a Union encampment and a Confederate encampment. Vienna switched hands several times during the conflict, as each side moved back and forth across this little town 10 miles west of the Capital.

    Just about a mile down the street from where I live is where the Battle of Vienna occurred, one of the earliest skirmishes of the war. This one came several weeks before the famous first Battle of Bull Run.

    It also happened to be the very first time, in the history of man and of warfare, that a train was involved in a battle. The rebel forces of Robert E. Lee ambushed a union train as it rounded a bend, and the Union forces never stood a chance.

    This early conflict, it seems, happened as the result of a cow. Really. As I learned the details of what happened that fateful day, almost 151 years ago now, I have to wander about the engineer of that train. I mean, what in the dickens was the man thinking? The plan was to probe into confederate territory to do a little reconnaissance, and determine where the strengths and weaknesses were of the rebel troops.

    Then, about a mile outside of the little town of Vienna, a cow wandered onto the train tracks. Our bright young train driver tooted his horn to get the wayward critter to move along smartly and find another spot to be grazing. Perhaps he wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. Duely alerted, the Confederates assembled in the woods near a bend in the tracks, loaded up the artillery, and waited. A mile hence, the ambush ensued, the troops on the train poured off and into the woods, where rebel cannon and musket fire just tore into them.

    Our bright young engineer took this as his signal to skedaddle out of Dodge, unhitched the troop cars, hit that engine into reverse and high-tailed it out of there - without the union troops he was carrying. They were on their own!

    Last June, they held a battle reenactment right at the site of the original skirmish, on the Sesquicentennial of that event. The first and only such event I have been to. Even with my ancestral tie to the war, I don't really get people who make it their avocation to relive one of the most horrible periods of this country's history - but I have to admit, it was pretty cool to see this one.

    I wondered through the encampment they recreated afterwards, and chatted with a reenactor from my Great Grandfather's regiment, the 61st Pennsylvania Volunteers. He was with Company A - Martin served in Company K. He invited me to a weekend reenactment event later that year - said they'd even have a uniform for me. I thanked him, but passed on the invitation.

    (Pictured are union soldier reenactors)
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