Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Ghost of a Civil War Veteran’s Legacy Home in Old Town Manassas

Celebrating the 150 Anniversary of the Ending of the Civil War

By Robert Hudson Westover

With the 150th Anniversary of the ending of the Civil War just around the corner (April 9, 1865 - with Lee's surrender to Grant or May 9, 1865 via official Congressional declaration) my husband, Tom, and I are honoring Union Army Officer Lieutenant George Carr Round. 

After moving into our new home, Bennett Hill, in Old Town Manassas, Virginia, we discovered that its builder, George Carr Round, had quite an illustrious history. In fact, Lt. Round was a hero of both the Civil War and the years of reconciliation that followed.

Among Mr. Round’s many efforts to bring reconciliation to the emotional wounds caused by the horrific fighting between the armies of the North and the South (which lasted for generations after the war) was the 1911 Manassas National Jubilee of Peace*.

The Jubilee of Peace was a week-long event that, for the first time, brought surviving veterans from both sides of the conflict together for a celebration of national reconciliation. The event was deemed so important nationally, that President Taft attended and delivered a twenty minute speech on the closing day ceremonies. 

George Carr Round 
(Photo: The Manassas Museum)

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Lt. Round moved to Manassas shortly after the Civil War almost by accident. He had intended to move to North Carolina, but got off the train to stay the night in Manassas. He was headed further south because some of his family were living in the Carolinas. But aside from relatives, North Carolina held a special significance for Mr. Round. It was on the dome of the state capital building that by order of General Sherman, Round climbed to the top and set off a signal for the troops.

Lt. George Carr Round as a Union Solider
(Photo: The Manassas Museum)

He nearly lost his life doing it when one of the flares exploded while he was handling it. Round survived with a minor injury and, undaunted, quickly sent off what would be the last signal message of the Civil War which spelled out in bright lights: Peace on Earth Good Will to Men. 

But, instead of North Carolina, it would be Manassas for Round. He fell in love with the area and never left.

George Round bought the Bennett plantation and married Emily Bennett. It was for his eldest daughter, Norma, that he built Bennett Hill. There is some discrepancy over the actual date of the building of Bennett Hill. The National Register of Historic Places records it being built in 1908, but a wood plaque found while doing remodeling in the kitchen attributed the building of the house to 1902. 

At nearly 6000 total square feet, Bennett Hill was a mansion by turn of the Nineteenth Century standards, when the average American home was only about 600 square feet. In fact it was even larger than the nearby Liberia Plantation house which once dominated the small farming community. 

Bennett Hill in Old Town Manassas was built by Civil War 
veteran Lt. George Carr Round for his daughter. It is listed 
on the National Register of Historic Places. 
(Photo: Robert Westover)

During the Jubilee of Peace there’s little doubt that Bennett Hill played a major role as the location for many events. The home is very close to the central activities of the Jubilee and has large and accommodating rooms and an expansive lawn for garden parties.

Not only did Mr. Round build Bennett Hill he also built the grand Victorian home next door for another daughter. Added to all this wonderful architecture is the land he donated for the historic Manassas Court House just two blocks away from Bennett Hill. Round's philanthropy did not stop with the court house as he later founded the Manassas school system and served as its first elected superintendent as well.

George Carr Round orchestrated The Manassas National Jubilee of Peace
and is seated to the left of President Taft (standing center)
during the official ceremony

But perhaps Round's most important contribution to American history is his tireless effort to have the Civil War Manassas Battlefield preserved as a National Monument.He literally lobbied Congress year after year and even testified before the House of Representatives to get the site preserved. Unfortunately, George Carr Round died in 1918 and did not live to see the battlefield preserved. However, President Roosevelt made Round's dream a reality in 1940 and the Manassas Battlefield was preserved for generations to come.

The North and the South meet in peace.
Round (right) represents the Union Army
and the man on the left is an unknown
Confederate soldier.

Although Round's ghost doesn't literally walk the halls of Bennett Hill his noble spirit is there and is reflected in the grand yet graceful facade of the structure. It is indeed a privilege to own such a rare and beautiful home and to have discovered so many interesting facts about its builder.

*It is important to point out that the 1911 Peace Jubilee did nothing to reconcile, heal or overcome the horrific and brutal pale of Jim Crow laws over which much of the South was governed until the 1960s.

(The links below lead to articles that pay thoughtful tribute to Mr. Round.)