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This is another great photographic opportunity in Northern Virginia which although of great historic importance is not on most peoples’ radar. This is St. Mary of Sorrow Roman Catholic Church located on Route 123 a few miles south of Fairfax City. I had no idea of the importance of this building when we stopped to capture the fall colors surrounding what to me was just a picturesque white church.
The history below comes from the web-sites of Fairfax Station Patch and TravBuddy
Originally started as a mission of St. Mary’s in Old Town Alexandria, construction of St. Mary of Sorrows Parish started in 1856 and was dedicated on September 19, 1858. Land was donated by two prosperous immigrant Irish farming families to build a church to serve Irish immigrant railway workers. The donors Irish heritage is evidenced by the parish rectory’s address, just down Fairfax Station Road on “Tinkers Lane.”
This church served as a field hospital during the Second Battle of Manassas, and Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, worked there as a nurse caring for wounded soldiers in the aftermath of the horrific fighting in which some 25,000 Americans were killed.
According to the church’s web site, Barton “was a clerk at the Government Patent Office who had gathered a group of volunteers to tend to the wounded and dying. She nursed the wounded for three days and nights as heavy rains fell and doctors operated … many soldiers died and were buried in the churchyard. Although 20,000 Confederate soldiers began the push toward Fairfax Station, Barton, her volunteers and the doctors remained until the last of the wounded were evacuated. She watched from the windows of the last train as the Confederate Soldiers captured Fairfax Station and set fire to the depot. As a result of her experiences at Fairfax Station, she devised a plan to establish a civilian society, which became the American Red Cross. A plaque honoring her heroism sits on the Route 123 side of the church grounds.”
President Grant replaced the pews in the the church after the war (they had been removed by Union troops); the same pews remain in the church today, and the church still offers services