Last weekend, my Civil War reenacting unit had its planning meeting out at Centreville, Virginia. After the meeting, I passed through Manassas National Battlefield, and took a couple of photos on Henry Hill.
I always make it a point of visiting with General Jackson when I’m in the area, but never seem to find time to do much else. It was freezing, cold and windy, but I promised myself that I would come back again, and spend a lot more time at the battlefield as the weather warmed.
Earlier this week, a coworker of mine brought in a copy of a book, “This Was Virginia, as Shown by the Glass Negatives of J. Harry Shannon, The Rambler”, a book of photographs taken all over Northern Virginia from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. In flipping through the book, I found an entire section dedicated to photographs from the Manassas area. One photograph in particular jumped out at me, captioned, “Mrs. Lucinda Dogan of Groveton (“The Belle of the Battlefield”).
I made a copy of her picture. I had no idea who the Belle of the Battlefield could possibly be in Manassas. When I think of Manassas, I normally think of Stonewall Jackson and Yanks running across Stone Bridge. However, I learned a fascinating story of an uncommonly brave woman who was thrust into extraordinary circumstances – not once but twice. I had to return to Manassas sooner than I thought to tell her story.
Lucinda Lewis was born September 26, 1817, and married William Henry Dogan April 6, 1842. She and her husband had eight children before his death in 1854. Her home, Peach Grove, burned in 1860, and she and her six living children moved into an outbuilding on the property, the old overseer’s house. A frame addition was made to structure, creating a two-room house with a fireplace in the center. Cozy for seven people!
As Lucinda and her family were setting up their new home, States were seceding from the Union, and the infant Confederacy was taking form. General Lee, who early in the War was an adviser to President Davis, knew that the northern part of Virginia was integral to the defense of Richmond and the rest of the Confederacy. He knew also that keeping the Yankees entirely out of Virginia was not possible, considering that only the Potomac River separated Virginia from Washington, and the Federals held all of the crossings. Lee found a defensible position, north of the Manassas Junction near a stream called Bull Run, close to where Lucinda and her family lived.
On Sunday, July 21st, the first battle of Manassas commenced just down the road from Lucinda’s home, in the vicinity of Matthews Hill and Henry Hill. She could see the fighting from her home, and could see the advance of the troops and hear the rebel yell of the Confederates.
As the battle raged, Lucinda felt she could not stand by idly. She loaded a wagon with casks of water and provisions and had it driven to the battlefield with orders that the food and water was to be distributed to soldiers in distress, regardless of which uniform they wore. This act of kindness earned her name of the Belle of the Battlefield, given by both Northern and Southern soldiers.
During the battle some Federal stragglers approached her home and asked for water and food. Lucinda told them that she would feed them, but that they had to lay down their arms before she would do so. They complied, and they remained at her home until the next day. At that point, she turned them over as prisoners. It’s quite possible that Lucinda was responsible for capturing the first Federal prisoners of war.
Just over a year later in August 1862, Lucinda was drying the breakfast dishes and received a visit from a staff officer of General Jackson. She was told that another battle would be fought in her vicinity, and this time she and her family were asked to leave the property for their safety. She and her children traveled to her father’s house a mile or so away. Not long after they departed, Federal troops took up a position on her property and opened batteries on General Jackson’s line. There was fierce fighting all around the Dogan home for two days.
When they were able to return to their home, they were met with horrible sights. Lucinda recalled:
Funeral parties of both armies were burying the dead, though they had not been long at this horrible work. The Confederates dug long deep trenches and laid their men in the ground that way. The Union burial parties only shoveled mounds of dirt over the bodies where they lay, and two or three days after a heavy rain made the field hideous. When the children and I got home, parties of men were collecting the wounded and putting them in rows here in the yard and wherever there was shade. Doctors were cutting off legs and arms and the moaning was awful…. The children and I took buckets of water out into the fields and we worked that day and into the night, doing what we could for the poor fellows. Most of them on our farm were Yankees but that didn’t make any difference to us after they got hurt. All of our bed sheeting and table linen went for bandages.
After the War, Lucinda was recognized by veterans of both armies as a ministering angel on the battlefield. She was an integral part of reunions held each year at Manassas, and invited to the dedication of three New York monuments on the field in October 1906, when survivors of the 14th Brooklyn wrote:
Old Mrs. Lucinda Dogan, who was in the house during the battles of both first and second Bull Run, now 89 years of age, white haired and wrinkled, was cheerful and communicative, her mental faculties apparently all unimpaired. Displaying a wonderful memory of incidents of those terrible times, this … lovely old lady chatted familiarly with General McLeer, with Commissioner Rankin and the writer of this narrative, who had been pleasantly presented to her by Mrs. DeMaine, one of the Daughters [UDC] comparing recollections with them.
Lucinda died at the age of 93, at her home on the Manassas battlefield, and was mourned by veterans of both armies with “profound sorrow”. She was buried at the Dogan family cemetery with her other family members. The Dogan family cemetery is found at the rear of the Stonewall Memory Gardens, a modern cemetery adjacent to her home off Lee Highway, Manassas.