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The Second Mass and Its Fighting Californians

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First Sgt. Wakefield and the Little White Church

Written and Contributed by Don Hakenson


(This article appeared in Mosby Vignette, Volume VII, published by Don Hakenson & Gregg Dudding, in February 2003)

      In an interview with Ralph S. Payne of the Baltimore News on January 23, 1897, Colonel John S. Mosby, former Confederate Partisan leader during the War Between the States said, “The most formidable body of Union cavalry I encountered was the California Battalion, 500 strong, in command of Colonel Charles Lowell, a kinsman of the poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell.   It was perhaps the best-equipped and gamest company of horsemen in the Federal service.  They excelled both in stature and horsemanship, their personnel consisting of miners and men from the plains, who were accustomed to hardship and adventure.”

      Mosby’s raiders and the California Battalion were involved in countless engagements with each other during The War Between the States.  The California Battalion’s ability to fight and act heroically in battle won the admiration and respect of the Confederacy’s Gray Ghost.  However, this story is not about any of those fights that these two cavalry units engaged in, nor is it about some heroic deed performed by one of Mosby’s men against this gallant Union cavalry unit.  It is about a Union trooper from the California Battalion that was ordered to torch the Little White Church, burning it to the ground.  That church today is known as the old Annandale Church, which is located in Fairfax County, Virginia. 

     This story describes Sergeant Elhanan W. Wakefield’s return to Annandale after the war, and his helping to rebuild the Little White Church that he had been ordered to burn down; and also shows that Wakefield became an ordained Methodist minister and his preaching to the mostly pro-southern Virginia congregation at that church and later at Wakefield Chapel.  Sergeant Wakefield officiated services and provided sermons in front of Confederate veterans that he had personally shot at in anger during the war.  A few of these men sitting in the church pews had served with Mosby’s Rangers.

     Elhanan Winchester Wakefield was born in Lawrence, Ohio on July 2, 1824.  In his early manhood, at the age of 15, he went west to strike his fortune as one of the original forty-niners!  Instead he only encountered fighting Indians in the Black Hills of South Dakota before ending up fruitlessly searching for gold in San Francisco, California.  On February 9, 1863, while living in San Francisco, Elhanan W. Wakefield enlisted as a private in Company F, the California Battalion.  He was 5 feet, 9 ¼ inches tall, light complexion, gray eyes, light hair and listed his occupation as a carpenter before the war. 

First Sergeant Elhanan W. Wakefield in his Union uniform.  

      The California Hundred and Battalion were the only organized group of Californians to fight in the East during the Civil War in Northern Virginia.  This unit consisted of 500 men who volunteered their enlistment bounty to pay their passage across Panama before finally arriving in Massachusetts, where they would become a cadre of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry.

     In March 1863, Private Wakefield was promoted to Sergeant effective April 1, 1863 and on September 14, 1863, Sergeant Wakefield was promoted to Wagon Master by order of Col. Lowell himself.

     It was from mid 1863 to July 1864, that the California Hundred with Sergeant Wakefield fought in countless guerilla fights in Northern Virginia against the guerilla chieftain John S. Mosby.  During the battle of Gettysburg Sergeant Wakefield was responsible for the ammunition train convoying the powder to the battlefield.  From September to December 1863 Sergeant Wakefield’s unit was on detached service and would set up its camp in Vienna, Virginia.  It was probably during the early 1864 period, on a date unknown to historians, that Sergeant Wakefield with a small contingent would be ordered to torch the Little White Church and then later developed a love interest with Mary “Rebecca” Tennison from Annandale. However, no one can really be sure exactly when the church was burned to the ground or when he might have met Rebecca.  However, the torching of the Little White church and his chance encounter with Ms. Tennison would prove to be two events that Sergeant Wakefield would never forget.

     In July 1864, the regiment became a part of Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah and in the fall of that year would play a major role in the critical fighting around Winchester, Tom’s Brook and Cedar Creek.  It would be at Tom’s Brook where Sergeant Wakefield’s military combat service would eventually end.

     On October 5, 1864, Sergeant Wake-field was transferred to Company C. and promoted as First Sergeant.  His tenure as First Sergeant would be short lived because on October 8, 1864, near Tom’s Brook Colonel Lowell would have a horse shot out from under him and First Sergeant Wakefield would receive a bullet wound in the left lung.  That evening Colonel Lowell would write, “We had another skirmish yesterday with their cavalry.  Lieutenant Tucker wounded and Sergeant Wakefield; --the roan horse killed, and today I shall have to ride the gray unless I can find Sergeant Wakefield’s.  Enos has been looking for him for two hours.”

     Wakefield’s horse, its saddle creased by a rebel bullet, was found later that day and Lowell would mount him throughout the next day’s fighting.  Even though First Sergeant Wakefield could no longer provide service for the Union Army, his horse still could.

    Sgt. Wakefield was so near death that he was taken as a corpse on the battlefield and barely escaped being buried alive when the men who were filling his grave noticed signs of life.  Elhanan had plenty of life still in him!   In the official muster rolls dated March 17, 1865, he was admitted to Rulison General Hospital at Annapolis, Maryland on January 4, 1865 due to a gun shot wound received at Tumbling Run (Tom’s Brook) on October 8, 1864.  

     In First Sergeant Wakefield’s discharge examination on March 28, 1865 it stated that he received a penetrating gun shot wound to the left lung, in action at Fisher’s Hill (Tom’s Brook) on October 8, 1865, followed up to the present time by frequent hemorrhaging.  The final determination was that First Sergeant Wakefield was not a fit subject for the Veterans Reserve Corps and that he was officially totally disabled.  The soldier also stated that his desired address was Alexandria, Virginia. According to the Southern Claims records Sergeant Wakefield knew Lucinda Tennison, the mother of Rebecca since the spring of 1864 and went and lived with the Tennison family in March 1865 while recovering from his wounds.  

     Lucinda Tennison had practically resided in Annandale her whole life and stated, “I guess I did more for the sick and wounded Union soldiers than any other woman on that road.”  She also recounted that she cared for George W. Bradshaw of the Third New Jersey after Second Bull Run and further stated,  “I lived within hearing of the battle, and they retreated past my house.  I did all I could for the Union soldiers.”  It would seem that Lucinda Tennison definitely had northern sympathies.  However, on August 25, 1864, Captain Joseph Schneider accused Lucinda, after Mosby’s men on the Little River Turnpike attacked his unit that Mrs. Tennison had harbored some of Mosby’s raiders with whom she was acquainted, but there is nothing in the official records that shows that she was punished for this offense.

    Obviously Elhanan’s affections for Rebecca grew even stronger while staying at the Tennison place because on September 5, 1865, shortly after the cessation of the conflict, Elhanan Wakefield would wed Rebecca M. Tennison in Fairfax County, and two years later would buy the farmhouse in an auction in Fairfax and make it their own home.

     According to the history of the Annandale Church titled “A History of Annandale United Methodist Church” the same Elhanan Wakefield who had ordered the torching of the church assisted in the rebuilding of the chapel. His occupation as carpenter would pay dividends in repairing the Little White Church. This was something that was probably very important to him.  The history also says that Mosby operated in the area when the church was burned down to the ground and this may be one of the reasons why the church was initially ordered torched.  However, no one can really be sure.

     The history further asserts that Ranger Charles F. Linthicum, was pastor of the church during 1860 to 1861.  But, after a review of the muster rolls for the Forty-third Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, there is no indication whatsoever that Charles Linthicum served with Mosby’s command. Following the war, another Mosby Ranger, Frank A. Strother, served as pastor from 1907 to 1911. 

     Elhanan was especially interested in religious work and would become the first Sunday School Superintendent of the Annandale Church.  Although he served as a Local Deacon of the denomination, he never became a regular itinerant preacher of the Little White Church, but would later withdraw and become a minister of the Methodist Protestant Church and would be one of the founders of the historic Wakefield Chapel, which is now owned by Fairfax County. 

     Reverend Wakefield, was a proud man and never filed a pension with the U.S. government, but suffered continually from his wounds he received from the war.  According to the Fairfax Herald dated October 2, 1903, Reverend Wakefield had an X-ray conducted that revealed that he still had two balls in his shoulder, which was the source of his misery that stayed with him his entire life. 

    Besides preaching, Elhanan would also give talks and presentations about his Civil War experiences.  According to the Fairfax Herald Reverend Wakefield delivered a lecture at Yale University on the subject of the Civil War on April 1, 1905.

     In 1907 Rebecca died and in 1913 Wakefield remarried again. 

     In January 1920, he died at his home in Idlywood, in Fairfax County at age 85 or 86 years old and was buried alongside his first wife in the churchyard at Annandale Chapel.  On the tombstone under his name is the inscription “Second Mass. Cavalry,” with the added lines “And now he has gone to be a soldier in the army of the lord.”  

     George H. Williams, a Confederate Veteran of the Eighth Virginia Infantry, and a member of the Annandale Chapel wrote an obituary for First Sergeant Wakefield and stated, “In his 85th year he heard the command “Come up higher,” and he obeyed.” 

“Servant of God well done
The battle is fought, the victory won,
And thou art crowned at last.”

     Being a man of god and having rebuilt the Little White Church that he personally had torched must have eased his conscience considerably so he could visit his maker in peace. 

     A Fairfax County Park Authority marker located at Wakefield Chapel that bears the name of Elhanan Wakefield, a former Yankee soldier, incorrectly states that he and his first wife are buried in the cemetery across the street from the chapel.