Thursday, March 10, 2005

There's Nothing Like a Dame

After the Secession Vote of 1861, the inhabitants of Loudoun County were left with two competing realities to which they could subscribe: Union or Secesh. There was no third way, no Ralph Nader or Ross Perot cop-out, no "none of the above" to check haughtily on some ballot.

You chose. There was no other option.

And in this borderland, nowhere did these two realities compete more vigorously than among La Différence.

When John Mobberly died, in 1865, his body had to be transported down-valley from his native Waters (now Neersville and Loudoun Heights, on the Virginia side of the Potomac from Harpers Ferry) eight miles to Hillsboro for burial. It wouldn't have been safe to bury him up in Waters, so detested was he by his loyalist neighbors. But because his exploits had gained him so much admiration among the Secessionist people of Hillsboro, his burial was apparently attended by the entirety of Hillsboro's Fairer Sex. His funeral cortege paraded from Salem Church, a mile north of Hillsboro, into Hillsboro proper, and then back out again to his final resting place in the Salem Church yard.



Some time soon after his death, a stone was erected over his grave. It is believed that the tombstone was paid for by subscriptions from Hillsboro's womenfolk. The obverse of his gravestone gives the particulars of his life, but the reverse is inscribed with a poem that is worth reproducing here, in the clippety-clop Hallmark rhythms of the time:
God bless thee brave soldier
Thy life's dream is o'er
For country and and freedom*
Thou wilt battle no more
To the land of the blessed
Thou hast gone to depart
With a smile on thy face
And a joy in thy heart
Thrice hallowed the green spot
Where our hero is laid
His deeds from our memory
Shall nevermore fade
The stranger will say,
As he lingers around
'Tis the grave of a hero
'Tis liberty's mound
*I would like it known that three -- count 'em, three -- local famous-guy hotshot historians have omitted this line from their accounts of Mobberly's burial; having unearthed this missing line by the expedient of having actually looked at the tombstone instead of taking somebody's word for it, I hereby demand that henceforth this shall be known as the "Jingo Line" from Mobberly's epitaph. Thank you very much.

Now, let's get another perspective, shall we, from Waterford, about 6 miles away to the east from Mobberly's grave...



In May of 1864, an underground newsletter, The Waterford News, began publication.

A trio of Quaker women from Waterford, Sarah Steer (26), Lizzie Dutton (24) and Lida Dutton (19), took advantage of a friendly relationship between Lizzie and Lida's father, John Dutton, and the editor of the Baltimore American. Their father had been virtually exiled from Waterford to Point of Rocks, Maryland, for his strongly pro-Union views, leaving his daughters behind. In their off-hours, the pro-Union presses of the Baltimore American produced, in probably the same way that most church newsletters are done today, a run of a thousand copies of Sarah, Lizzie and Lida's four-page publication. In time, it came to be praised by Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, and recognized by Abraham Lincoln himself.

The girls' motive in risking the dangers inherent in publishing an underground pro-Union paper inside Dixie (and let's not pussyfoot; this was a very brave thing to do) was complex. First, as they said in their maiden editorial, was to "Cheer the weary soldier and render material aid to the sick and wounded." To this end, the proceeds from sales went to the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a charity that took care of Union soldiers. They also hoped that a defiant voice from the South would help to convince the Union to lift the Federal blockade that kept them hungry and cold.

But a third factor motivated them. They were witnesses to, and victims of, constant harrassment at the hands of the Border guerrillas who raided and stole from them and their neighbors. In the first issue of their newsletter, they describe, surprisingly coolly, given its enormity, an event they witnessed. There can be no doubt that this event, and others like it, burned into these girls' hearts a deep hatred of their tormentors.

The masthead of their first issue gives the date as "5th Month, 28th, 1864," which already clues us in as to its Quaker provenance: The Quakers eschewed the names of the months and days as pagan (and damned rightly, too, by Frigg!), and invented their own nomenclature. Here is the incident described:
We had repeated visits from the Rebels last week. On the morning of the 17th they attacked a small party of our men, having first succeeded in drawing seven of them into a trap, wounded four, took two prisoners, and one escaped. The wounded were taken to the house of Rachel Steer, a kind Union Lady, where they received every attention from our skillful surgeon, Dr. T. M. Bond and many devoted friends. Two of them died and one is rapidly improving, tho' four balls passed through different parts of his body..."
Any of that sound familiar?

They can't have known it at the time, because his activities in Loudoun Valley had only just begun, but this is an eyewitness account of the incident I described not long ago, in which Mobberly rode his horse over the prostrate Sergeant Stewart and stole his boots.

What's more, one of the three editresses of The Waterford News, Sarah Steer, was the niece of "the kind Union lady" Rachel Steer in the quote above.

Once again, it can't be stressed enough: These people all lived within a few miles of each other. It's an idea I think we have lost, in an urbane, bourgeois world with immediate worldwide communication and jet travel, where if you don't like what's happening to you you can just pick up and leave. You had to choose.

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Having read all eight issues of their sweet-hearted little rag, I begin to appreciate the depth of the desperation of those times. I will return later to their newsletter, which is absolutely chockablock with delicious details of life in wartime Waterford. For now, let's just be happy that they existed.



And I just need to make one small but terribly ungallant sally, a long, low Johnny-Reb wolf-whistle directed at Lida Dutton... She's long since shuffled off this mortal coil, so she won't mind... Hubba, and at the risk of repeating myself, HUBBA!

Following the Mobberly Trail? Step right this way. Next up: We Survey the Territory

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Sources:

The Waterford News: An underground Union newspaper published by three Quaker maidens in Confederate Virginia 1964-65, introduced and annotated by Taylor M. Chamberin, Bronwen C. Souders, John M. Souders, (c)1999 Waterford Foundation, Inc., Waterford, VA.

Rough-Riding Scout: The Story of John Mobberly, Loudoun's Own Civil War Guerrilla Hero by Richard E. Crouch, (c)1994 Elden Editions, Arlington, VA

2 comments:

CrayolaThief said...

And her sis on the left ain't such a bad looker neither. She can publish my propaganda anytime. Rowr!

Anonymous said...

Hey don't know who you are but I'm researching my great great grandmother, Lida Dutton. Whoa, you can't talk about my grandma that way! But thanks for spreading the news about the Waterford girls.

C Conrow