The hill rocketed to fame during the American Civil War, when it made international news headlines repeatedly. After the war opened in South Carolina, events quickly moved to Northern Virginia. A calamitous loss suffered at the First Battle of Manassas by the Union Army in July 1861 caused it to withdraw almost completely from Northern Virginia. Confederate Army troops quickly occupied Munson’s, Upton’s and Mason’s hills, from which they had commanding views of the plain of Bailey’s Crossroads and all the way into the federal capital.
More to the point, Washingtonians could also see a massive Confederate flag fluttering in the breeze from high atop the hill.
A stalemate then ensued, as Washington and its residents grew increasingly concerned that the Confederacy would launch an attack from Falls Church and its hills via the river bridges. Observers at the U.S. Capitol, using “looking glasses” (telescopes), could see fearsome-looking Confederate cannon mounted in emplacements all across Munson’s Hill. The village of Falls Church, just 1.4 miles (2.3 km) away, hosted the local Confederate headquarters.
The area became a deathtrap during this time as Confederate sharpshooters, with their commanding view of Bailey’s Crossroads, shot and killed as many Union army soldiers as they could. During one particularly intense firefight very close to the Munson home, Daniel Munson mounted his horse and attempted to flee toward Union army lines. As he exited his gate onto the Leesburg Turnpike, Confederate sharpshooters shot his horse out from under him. He got up and ran across the fields towards Bailey’s Crossroads and escaped capture, eventually making it to the protection of Union lines.
This all changed during the night of September 28, 1861. The Confederate Army silently withdrew from Falls Church and Munson’s, Mason’s and Upton’s hills, and retreated to Centreville, which they fortified. The Union Army, to its extreme embarrassment, discovered the fearsome-looking cannon to be “Quaker guns” – logs painted black. The army was the subject of ridicule throughout the North, where confounded citizens pondered how their army was kept at bay for two months with nothing more than what Mother Nature grew in her own foundry!