Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Booknotes: Dranesville

New Arrival:

Dranesville: A Northern Virginia Town in the Crossfire of a Forgotten Battle, December 20, 1861 by Ryan T. Quint (Savas Beatie, 2024).

When it comes to 1861 battles fought on Virginia soil, the July 21 Battle of Bull Run understandably absorbs the lion's share of attention, but a number of smaller affairs have also received one or more standalone studies. Among the best are James Morgan's A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 - 22, 1861 (2004, 2011-rev) and Cobb, Hicks, and Holt's The Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia (2013). This month publisher Savas Beatie adds to that lineup with their release of Ryan Quint's Dranesville: A Northern Virginia Town in the Crossfire of a Forgotten Battle, December 20, 1861. A topic usually dispensed with quickly in books devoted to larger subjects, Dranesville is an engagement that I am looking forward to learning much more about through this first full-length treatment.

From the description: "The fall and early winter of 1861 was a hotbed of activity that culminated in the December combat at Dranesville. The Union victory, although small when measured against what was to come, was sorely needed after the string of defeats at Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, and Ball’s Bluff; it also helped shape many of the players in the bloody years to come." I encountered Dranesville most recently in Longacre's Stuart biography, and the author describes the battle as being the cavalier's first bloody nose.

Tucked into the northwest corner of Fairfax County (not too far from the Potomac), Dranesville experienced war on its doorstep early and often. More from the description: "No one knew what was coming, but soon civilians (sympathetic to both sides) were thrown into a spreading civil war of their own as neighbor turned on neighbor. In time, this style of warfare, on the home front and on the battlefield, reached the town of Dranesville in Fairfax County."

As expected, the conventional war and titular battle get the most thorough attention in the book. More: "A host of characters and commanders that would become household names cut their teeth during these months, including Generals J. E. B. Stuart and Edward Ord. The men of the Pennsylvania Reserves saw their baptism of fire at Dranesville, setting the Keystone State soldiers on a path to becoming one of the best combat units of the entire war. Though eclipsed by larger and bloodier battles, Dranesville remained a defining moment for many of its participants—soldiers and civilians alike—for the rest of their lives."


  1. Hi Drew, Yes indeed I think we have corralled the early-war northern Virginia small battle market. Dranesville is really quite sweeping in a lot of ways, and fills a lot of holes with fresh information, well-presented. I think it will become a favorite. --Ted Savas

  2. Looking forward to this book.

  3. Just received this book on Monday in the mail. I have only thumbed through it so far, but looks to be the real deal on this engagement. Did not know anything about Dranesville beforehand except for a few passages in other books so I am looking forward to diving headfirst into this one. Savas Beatie has quite a number of forthcoming campaign and battle studies in the pipeline, so the second half of 2024 looks to be promising as well. I also just received an email that Tim Smith’s 5th Vicksburg title is inbound as well (shipped yesterday). UNC Press and LSU also have their Fall 2024 lineup listed online. For Campaign/Battle studies, there’s slim pickings from what I could see. Shame, was hoping to see Krick Jr (Gaines Mill) or O’Reilly (Malvern Hill) titles on the list. Oh well, maybe in 2025.

    1. John G.: I'm close to giving up on the Krick and O'Reilly titles. I've been hearing about both being in the works for a decade or so. That would be unfortunate because both are badly needed and I believe that both would sell.

  4. Definite shame indeed if they have been shelved. The Peninsula campaign (and the Seven Days in particular) really require some attention.


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