At this site on June 1st, 1861, John Quincy Marr became the first Confederate officer killed in the Civil War during the Battle of Fairfax Courthouse. This small battle is significant as the first land engagement of organized military units during the Civil War that resulted in the death of one of the combatants. The skirmish occurred when Union cavalry under Charles Tompkins entered the town and engaged the Confederate soldiers of the Warrenton Rifles. Captain Marr was the leader of these Confederate troops and was killed during the brief skirmish. Former Virginia Governor William Smith took command of Marr's troops after he was shot and was able to force the Union cavalry to withdraw. The skirmish helped to derail the cavalry's efforts to secure intelligence around Richmond, a small factor in the overall war but an occurrence that helped Confederate forces in the area during the weeks leading up to the First Battle of Bull Run.
Prior to the Civil War John Quincy Marr was a native of Warrenton, Virginia and a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute in 1846. After serving some time as a professor at VMI, Marr returned to Warrenton and became a lawyer. Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Marr served as a delegate from Warrenton to the Virginia Convention in 1861 where he voted in favor of Virginia's secession from the United States. Marr later became the first Confederate officer killed in the Civil War. As a result, pro-Union Virginians believed that Marr sealed his fate when he voted in favor of secession.
The skirmish that occurred at this location in the morning hours of June 1st, 1861, was small compared to the battles that would occur throughout Virginia over the next four years, but this represents the first death of a Confederate officer. The fighting began when Union soldiers entered the town of Fairfax and captured the guard of the town. Union cavalry began receiving fire from Confederate soldiers positioned throughout the town. Unaware of the initial strength of these pro-Confederate troops, the Union soldiers were forced to withdraw. Later in the day, after regrouping and after more Confederates arrived in Fairfax, the Union cavalry reentered Fairfax to fight again but were again forced to withdraw, this time returning to Alexandria where more Union troops would gather.
The battle of Fairfax Courthouse was just one of many encounters between Union and Confederate forces in Northern Virginia. This small skirmish is relatively unknown to many people who have studied the Civil War, but it is still important because of what it lead to just over a month later. This battle resulted in a minor victory for the Confederates that raised their morale and it resulted in the retreat of the Union scouts and delayed their journey to Richmond while the Confederates returned to Manassas and continued to increase the size of their forces there leading up the the Battle of Bull Run.