Who was John Quincy Marr?

Introduction

John Quincy Marr (27 May 1825 to 01June 1861) was a Virginia militia company captain and the first Confederate soldier killed by a Union soldier in combat during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Marr was killed at the Battle of Fairfax Court House, Virginia on 01 June 1861. Previously one of Fauquier County’s two delegates to the Virginia Secession Convention of 1861, Marr initially opposed his state’s secession from the Union but ultimately supported secession, as did voters shortly before his fatal skirmish.

Early Life

John Q. Marr was born on 27 May 1825 in Warrenton, Fauquier County, Virginia. He was the son of Catherine Inman Horner Marr (1797-1879) and John Marr, Esq. (1788-1848), who had married in 1816. The elder John Marr was the grandson of a French immigrant with the surname “La Mar.” The elder John Marr had been a Commissioner in Chancery in the Supreme and County Courts, much like a court-appointed trustee in later times, as well as a justice of the peace. He owned enslaved black persons, as would his widow and son John Q. Marr by 1860.

John Quincy Marr graduated second in the class of 1846 from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). However, his father died on 03 June 1848, and his elder brother Robert Athelstan Marr (1823-1854) was a naval officer. Although John Q. Marr taught at VMI as an assistant professor of mathematics and tactics after graduating, he returned home in 1848 to care for his mother and sisters Sarah/Sally (1819-1895), Margaret (1830-1903), Frances (1835-1918) and Jane (1840-1927), since his younger brothers Thomas Scott Marr (1830-1897) and James Ripon Marr (1832-1879) left home by 1850. The local judges gave him the same appointments held by his father; Marr also served a two-year term as sheriff of Fauquier County.

Road to Civil War

After John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Marr organised the “Warrenton Rifles” militia company.

In early 1861, Fauquier County voters elected Marr as a delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention. Although initially opposed to secession, and called home by a “family affliction” during the deliberations, he later signed the ordinance of secession.

On 05 May 1861, Marr was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia forces, but he never received the commission because it was sent to Harpers Ferry by mistake.

Death

On Saturday 01 June 1861, a company of Union Army cavalry on a scouting mission entered the streets of Fairfax Court House after driving back one Confederate picket and taking another prisoner. At that time, two companies of cavalry and Marr’s Warrenton Rifles infantry company occupied the town. The Confederate cavalry began to retreat and cut off part of the Warrenton Rifles from those who faced the Union cavalry charge. Only about 40 men from the company were in a position to combat the Union cavalrymen.

Lieutenant Charles Henry Tompkins of the 2d US Cavalry Regiment led the Union force of between 50 and 86 men who separated into two groups as they rode through the village. Captain Marr challenged the riders, asking “What cavalry is that?” These were his last words. Scattered shots were fired as the Union cavalry rode through and Captain Marr fell dead. Marr was not in the immediate presence of any of his men on a dark night so soon after he fell, no one knew where he was or what may have happened to him. His body was found later in the morning.

After Marr fell, first appeared former and subsequent Virginia governor and later major general William “Extra Billy” Smith, who had just resigned his seat in the US Congress. He was from Warrenton and had helped raised the company. He took command in the absence of the company’s leaders. Soon thereafter Lieutenant Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Richard S. Ewell, who had just been placed in charge of Confederate forces at Fairfax Court House, came upon the company. Lieutenant Colonel Ewell had received a shoulder wound as he emerged from the village’s hotel as the Union force first rode through the streets so he was bleeding as he took charge of the infantry company in the field and redeployed 40 of them. Ewell soon went off to send for reinforcements and Smith redeployed the men again in the same general area but in a less exposed position about 100 yards forward. After the Union cavalry rode through the village, they regrouped and returned through the village streets. A volley from the redeployed men of the Warrenton Rifles turned them back. The Confederates fired additional volleys at the Federals as they tried to pass through town again on their way back to their base near Falls Church, Virginia. After a third failed attempt to ride past the Confederates, the Union men were forced to leave town toward Flint Hill in the Oakton area of Fairfax County to the north of the City of Fairfax with several wounded men.

Confederate casualties in the affair were one dead, four wounded (including Lieutenant Colonel Ewell), one missing, according to their report. A later account states that only two were wounded, but five were captured. The Union force lost one killed, four wounded (including Lieutenant Tompkins) and three missing, who had been taken prisoner. The Union soldier killed was identified as Private Saintclair. Governor Smith later reported that Marr had apparently been hit by a spent round ball because he had a large bruise above his heart but his skin had not been penetrated.

Aftermath

Captain Marr’s body arrived in Warrenton that evening. The following afternoon a large crowd attended a ceremony in the clerk’s office yard before his burial in the Warrenton Cemetery.

Charles Henry Tompkins received the Medal of Honour for his actions at the 1861 battle. His was the first action of a Union Army officer in the American Civil War for which a Medal of Honour was awarded, though not until 1893. His citation reads: “Twice charged through the enemy’s lines and, taking a carbine from an enlisted man, shot the enemy’s captain.” No other account referenced on this page states that Tompkins personally shot Captain Marr.

A monument to Captain Marr was erected on 01 June 1904 near the entrance of the Historic Fairfax County Courthouse, which was moved October 2020 to the Stuart-Mosby Civil War Cavalry Museum in Centreville, VA. The monument reads: “This stone marks the scene of the opening conflict of the war of 1861–1865, when John Q. Marr, captain of the Warrenton Rifles, who was the first soldier killed in action, fell 800 feet south, 46 degrees West of the spot. June 1, 1861. Erected by the Marr Camp, C.V., June 1, 1904.”

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