Ruins of Mrs. Judith Henry’s house

An 1862 photograph of some Civil War soldiers standing around the ruins of a house

Courtesy: Library of Congress, LC-B8171-0320.

Born in 1776, Judith Carter Henry and her husband Isaac, a U.S. Navy surgeon, lived on the Henry family farm in Manassas, Virginia, perched atop a slowly rising slope known locally as Henry House Hill. In 1855 Isaac Henry died, and by 1861 eighty-five-year-old Judith was an invalid. Unlike her well-known husband, one of the six original captains of the navy appointed by President George Washington in 1794, Judith Henry had lived her life in private. On July 21, 1861, however, she literally found herself in the middle of the American Civil War when Henry House Hill became contested ground in the first Battle of Bull Run. As the battle raged between Gen. Irwin McDowell’s Union troops and Confederate soldiers under the command of Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate forces retreated to Henry House Hill around noon and Confederate snipers took up positions in the Henry house. Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, soon to be known as “Stonewall” for his role in this battle, moved his artillery batteries into place to defend the hill. Meanwhile, McDowell ordered big guns under the command of Capt. James Ricketts to bombard the rebels. In the furious exchange that followed, a Union shell burst through Judith Henry’s bedroom wall and tore off her foot. She died hours later, the first civilian casualty of the Civil War. The house survived the battle, but by the time this photo was taken, possibly in March 1862, it had presumably been stripped for wood and was all but gone. The house was rebuilt after the war, and a renovated version is now part of Manassas National Battlefield Park.