It is not uncommon, when waiting at a traffic light next to some depressing strip mall full of Southeast Asian lingerie importers and decrepit Gymboree franchises in the sleepy Northern Virginia suburbs, for one's gaze to alight on one of those flyblown and illegible roadside historical markers that commemorate some long-ago, deservedly obscure event:
Chunkahominy Road: During the disastrous Chaulmoogra Campaign of 1863, Colonel Rampant "Hap" Apathee and the Nineteenth Kewland Zouaves encamped at the Exxon on your right for three days to "freshen up" before turning east on the northward southwest push into Maryland, which resulted in the self-directed enfilade historians have come to call 'The Nineteenth's Nervous Breakdown.'If you believe the Lovettsville Historical Society (and you'd have to be some kind of plumb fool not to), such a marker may very well deserve to be placed very near the place I lay my downy head. On January 17-18, 1865, at Georges Mill Schoolhouse near Irish Corner, a skirmish took place. Two accounts exist of the engagement, one Union and one Secesh, and they're so completely at odds that you wonder if the the writers saw the same battle at all.
The Union account:
Report of Brig. Gen. Thomas C. Devin, U.S. Army, commanding Second Brigade, First Cavalry Division, Middle Military Division
Your dispatch received at midnight of Tuesday, January 17th, Colonel White, Of Rosser's cavalry, with a force said by citizens to number 220 men, crossed the Short Hill by a mountain path within five miles of Harper's Ferry, and surprised the vedettes of Sixth New York on that road without a shot; charged the reserve, who were all on hand and resisted stoutly, but were forced back on the camp. The men of the Sixth turned out of the huts, formed in their streets, and in three minutes flanked and drove White out of the camp, killing 3 of his men, who were found, and wounding, more or less severely, 11, who were carried off. As soon as the Sixth could obtain permission they saddled and followed White to Purcellville, but could not overtake him.
The Reb account:
In January, 1865, Colonel White came to Loudoun and taking a view of the situation, resolved to try a raid into the federal camp.
[John] Mobberly, Lum Wenner and others who knew the Lovettsville country almost as well as if they had made it, scouted for him and with great difficulty obtained the information that the 6th New York Cavalry was encamped nearest the Short Hill and had about two hundred and fifty men in camp.
On the evening of the 17th, the Colonel quietly collected what force he could in that part of the county ... and about 9 o'clock the little squadron moved from the rendezvous and passing Neersville, crossed the Short Hill by a narrow path near St. Paul's.
On clearing the mountain a small advance guard, led by Mobberly, was sent out to capture the pickets, but very soon firing was heard, and dashing rapidly forward the Colonel found that Mobberly and Frank Curry had been compelled to shoot some of the enemy at the reserve of the post, and knowing that success depended on surprising the camp, he continued the charge. [This "Mobberly had been compelled to shoot" business is a very nice little foretaste of Mobberly's personality, by the way -- he'd rather shoot him some Yankees than preserve the element of surprise...]
Great confusion was the result of the attack.... Capt. Bell [of 6th New York] coolly proceeded to rally such of his men as were not too much demoralized, and in a very brief space had about two hundred of them in line on the opposite side of the extensive ground, with whom he advanced very unexpectedly upon the raiders, who were compelled to retire very precipitately....
The two accounts, though differing radically, do share some elements in common; for example, they agree that Mobberly had scouted out a path over Short Hill and led the larger Reb force under Col. White into an encampment behind Georges Mill Shoolhouse.
OK, all very interesting, but...awfully abstract, don't you think?
So what if I showed you this:
That's the portion of Short Hill that Mobberly led the Rebs over. How do I know this?
Because I found this:
That's Egg Path, the mountain trail that I first blogged about in "One Hardscrabble Sumbitch" a couple weeks ago. It fits all the descriptions above: On the other side of Short Hill, it emerges near St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Neersville, "within five miles of Harpers Ferry."
Notice in the Reb account that Mobberly "knew the Lovettsville country almost as well as if [he] had made it." Mobberly was all over Short Hill Mountain in 1864-65, knew every nook and cranny of the place, encamped on it with his band of psycho buddies (including, let's not forget, Union Deserter French Bill), and made himself the scourge of the farmers of Lovettsville. If you had been sitting in my living room in 1865, chances were very good that those cracking twigs up the hill were Mobberly and his berzerkers sneaking around up there, and if you knew what was good for you you'd put another log on the fire, pull your blanket up around your ears, and hope to hell Mobberly wasn't here to relieve you of your horses or your daughters, 'cos if he wanted 'em, he took 'em, and you had no say in the matter.
Turn 180 degrees from where that first photograph above was taken, and you'll see this:
That's Georges Mill Schoolhouse, today a private residence, and as far as I can tell, the field to the left is where encampment stood, and where the action took place.
And a few yards further to the left, since we are, after all, commemorating This Hallowed Ground, a token of the esteem in which we hold our legacy:
If I am fortunate enough to be remembered after my death, I would like the following inscription on my tombstone:
TYVEK TYVEK TYVEK
TYVEK TYVEK TYVEK
TYVEK TYVEK TYVEK
Next up on the Mobberly Trail: Yo, wolves and buzzards! Come and get it!