Thursday, February 10, 2005

Mosby's Men Took My Wool

We have a tendency, understandable given the way history is taught, to think of the Civil War as a five-year event that was punctuated by cataclysmic events: Sumter-Manassas-Antietam-Gettysburg-Appomattox. This is the impression you would get if everything you knew about that war came from your high-school history books or Ken Burns' film. This is fine; the progress of these major battles did profoundly affect political decisionmaking and indeed the course of history.

Northern Loudoun County only stood on the periphery of these major events. Lovettsville was marched through countless times, but never marched to by any significant forces. What happened here instead was a three-year-long partisan conflict, conducted by irregular forces in low-intensity warfare, and marked by an intense -- and still discernible-- hatred.

The prosperous farmlands surrounding Waterford and Lovettsville were ravaged by foraging by both sides. Mosby's constant and very effective harrassment of regular Union forces was fueled by horses, food, crops and other forage taken directly from local farms. To take this source of sustenance from Mosby, the Union conducted the Burning Raid of November 30 - December 1, 1864, torching every building that wasn't a private home, and driving off livestock. This raid, you should note, was conducted on an area that had voted overwhelmingly to remain in the Union.

I've picked out a few extracts from the diary of Christian Nicewarner, whose grave sits cheek-by-jowl with that of John Stevens in the Mount Olivet Methodist graveyard on Mountain Road. A laconic fellow:

Oct. 30: "Gin" & turkeys stolen at night
Nov. 22: Horses stolen
Dec. 19: Tents burned in Russel's field
Dec. 22: Went to Maryland to look for horses

Mar. 16: John Thompson's barn burned
April 28: Mann, Everhart horses stolen
April 29: Arnold colt stolen
July 19: R. L. Wright's barn burned
Nov. 6: Catherine Grubb house burned down

Feb. 4: D. Axline horses taken at night
Feb. 12: Rebels came and took C. Hough and horses
June 4: J. Compher horses taken
June 7: S. George horses taken
June 18: Team taken by Mosby's men.
July 10: Mosby's men took my wool
July 28: Queen, Charlie & Ball stolen by Mosby's men
Sep. 3: Went to Upperville in search of horses
Nov. 30: Federal Cavalry burned barn, hay, wheat, corn and drove off horses, cattle & pigs.
Dec. 1: Father's barn burned on Wednesday

Welcome to the Civil War.

The winter of 1864-65 was legendarily cold and snowy. Imagine facing the prospect of such a winter when your barn and the barn of every farm around had been burned and the livestock driven off. And these were pro-Union people.

That cluster of events around June and July of 1864 is particularly sobering for me. Those farms -- Samuel George, Joseph Compher, Christian Nicewarner -- are all within a short walk of my house. And the name Everhart, from April 1863, appears on the surveyor's plat of my house as owning the lot immediately uphill from mine. That land is still in that family. The Wires, direct descendants of Samuel George, now run a B-and-B on his farm. It's beautiful.

We're going to return to Nicewarner's diary in future dispatches, because, as you may have guessed, the fellow doing all that horse-thievery, creeping in over the mountain at night to liberate the property of the good farmers of Lovettsville...

Yep. John Mobberly.

Next stop on the Mobberly Trail: Enter a Criminal Mastermind

1 comment:

Bill Etue said...

I'm an amateur historian living in Faifax County. I will be leading a tour of 25 people on November 15th 2008 which includes several locations on Harpers Ferry Road

I would like yo speak with you, but don't know your name. Could you e-mail me or phone me and let me know your phone number?
Bill Etue (703) 620-3153