Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mosby & Forbes July 6, 1864

24 Hours of Loudoun County History

On the 5th - 6th of July, 1864, Union and Confederate cavalry forces played a game of “cat and mouse” across Loudoun County and ended in a deadly confrontation at Gilbert’s Corner. The events of this 24-hour period bring in the interconnected histories of Regional Parks, including Temple Hall Farm, Aldie Mill, Ball’s Bluff, the new Regional Park in and around Mt. Zion (Gilbert’s Corner), and White’s Ford, which may be the next park in the Northern Virginia Regional Park system.

From the summer of 1863 to the summer of 1864, the dynamics of the war had changed. In the summer of ’63, Lee’s Army was on the offensive and seen as largely invincible. The Battle of Aldie had occurred that summer, as a result of the Confederate Army moving north towards Gettysburg. Gettysburg changed everything, and Lee’s Army was now in trench warfare outside of Petersburg, with Grant using the superior resources of the Union to crush Lee’s Army.

In an effort to shake up the dynamics of the war and cause the Union to pull troops away from Petersburg, Lee sent General Early on a mission to attack Washington.

So, it was in this setting that Col. John S. Mosby, famous Confederate Ranger, received word to assemble his force and disrupt communications between Washington and Harpers Ferry to assist with Early’s offensive. When Mosby put out the call for troops, he never knew whether he would wind up with fifty soldiers or three hundred and fifty. While he had a small group of regulars, many of those that came to join him were Confederate soldiers on furlough that were in the area. When he assembled his group in Upperville on July 3rd, they were 250 strong and even had one cannon. On the 4th and 5th of July, they attacked the Union base across the river at Point of Rocks. They cut the telegraph wires that ran between Washington and Harpers Ferry, and left with a number of wagons full of Union supplies. The battle at Point of Rocks included a victory by Mosby’s forces over the Loudoun Rangers, a group of Union Cavalry that came largely from the Waterford area.

On the evening of the 5th of July, Mosby ate dinner at Temple Hall Farm, home of Henry Ball. Ball had fought at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff three years earlier at the beginning of the war, and was unboundedly familiar with many in Mosby’s party. Elizabeth White, wife of Confederate Cavalry officer Elijah White, was living with her neighbors at Temple Hall Farm.

One of the interesting events of July 5, 1864 is that at the same time Mosby’s troops were camped in and around Temple Hall, the women of Temple Hall, Elizabeth White, Bettie and Kate Ball and their friend Annie Hempstone, went across the river at White’s Ford and were arrested. These women had been identified crossing the river the previous fall and summer without permission and were suspected of being spies. Major Thompson of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry noted “these ladies are bitterly hostile to the U.S. Government, have near relations in the Rebel Army, and are eminently disposed and capable of doing much injury to the Union Cause.” These friends were taken to Washington and held in the Capital Prison. Annie Hempstone wrote years later that they were actually on a mission to smuggle clothes and boots for some members of Elijah White’s 35th Battalion of the Virginia Cavalry who had family in Maryland. And, that after being released from prison, these women came back into Virginia with the boots and clothes tied up in their hoop skirts.
A Photo of the Women of Temple Hall Farm shortly after they were released from Prison. They are Posing with Col. Elijah White (with sword) and some of his officers.
A few hours after the women were arrested on the Maryland side of White’s Ford, Mosby heard the news that Union Cavalry forces under the command of Major Forbes were nearby in Leesburg.

Forbes’ forces, based out of Falls Church, were on a scouting mission of the Aldie area. After riding up Rt. 50 (known at the time as Little River Turnpike) and finding all quiet in Aldie, they proceeded up Rt. 15 to Leesburg, where they heard the news of Mosby’s raid on Point of Rocks, but did not know where his forces were.

John S. Mosby

Mosby moved his group to the Waterford area for the night and laid his plans to engage Forbes the next day. Knowing that Forbes was likely to retrace his steps and go back to Aldie before turning east to head towards their base, Mosby headed out in the morning of the 6th to get ahead of Forbes and ambush him along Rt. 50. From Leesburg, Mosby took the Carolina Road following the path of modern day Evergreen Mill Road. On the south side of Goose Creek, he took a route that brought him to Rt. 50, near what is Lenah Farm Road today.

Forbes’ group stopped at the field across the road from Mt. Zion Church (the property recently acquired by the Regional Park Authority) for several hours to make dinner. Growing impatient for the Union Cavalry to move towards his trap, Mosby’s force moved west to find Forbes.

The two forces were roughly equally matched with about 150 mounted cavalry each. As the Union forces saw the approaching Confederates, Forbes lined most of his group up on the south side of the road, with his advance guard on the north side. The first shot was fired by the one cannon Mosby had, which was in the middle of the road. The Union forces returned fire with rifles. Then the Confederates gave a yell and charged.
William H. Forbes
The fighting lasted about an hour, and in the course of the hand-to-hand combat that ensued, Mosby and Forbes fought each other with Forbes cutting through Mosby’s clothes with his sword. In the end, Forbes’ horse was shot by Mosby and pinned his leg, causing him to be captured. The Union line broke and fell into a disorganized retreat, with some of the Union Cavalry being chased for miles.

Three days later, General Early and his 15,000 Confederates attacked the City of Washington at Silver Spring, Maryland, and a nervous President Lincoln witnessed the fighting. As a result of the attack on Washington and, to a lesser degree, the skirmish at Gilbert’s Corner, General Grant ordered additional troops posted around Washington to help secure the Capital, pulling forces away from the front lines. The events of July 5th and 6th, 1864 in Loudoun County did not change the course of history, but do illustrate the important role our area played in the Civil War. The addition of public parkland at Gilbert’s Corner, where this skirmish took place, and the efforts to gain approval for new parkland at White’s Ford, will help round out the system of historic parks in Loudoun owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, that preserve today the important places and events of the Civil War in Loudoun County and help to make this area a center for historical tourism.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Addressing the Causes of Global Climate Change

With the climate summit in Copenhagen winding down, it is a good time to reflect on the environment. As disappointing as it is that no agreement was reached on reducing greenhouse gases, it is important to remember that agreements and targets alone do very little to get results. The real focus needs to be on actions. With carbon reduction, we need to change the way we have been lived and approached many issues for the last 100+ years. Since the dawn of the industrial age we have focused on burning fossil fuels to run our economy. We are now in a transition time where we are trying to both consume less fossil fuel and shift to more sustainable alternatives.

Some of the steps the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has taken include the following:

  • Since 2005 we have been tracking all of our energy consumption and working to conserve where ever possible.

  • We have an annual award that goes to the park that has had the largest percentage reduction in energy consumptions (carbon emissions). And every park has a site specific energy conservation plan.

  • NVRPA was the first park agency to sign on to the Cool Cities/Cool Counties initiative. These programs follow the guidelines of Kyoto Protocol, with no increase in carbon emissions past 2010, and a 2% reduction for every year from 2010 – 2050.

  • For years Bull Run Regional Park was the site of the largest holiday light show in the region. In 2006 NVRPA invested to create the largest all LED light show. This show uses just 10% of the energy of the old show and is hugely popular.

  • We have put electric utility vehicles at 5 of our parks. These vehicles have replaced gas vehicles.

  • NVRPA has an energy conservation policy that encourages us to look at the life cycle cost of any energy consuming equipment. This has led to the use of high efficiency pumps, heating systems and other equipment that has been replaced over the last few years.

The public looks to parks for environmental information and education. We want to lead by example and be early implementers of some of the new technology that will help us transition to a more sustainable model. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is either using or in the process of implementing the following technologies:

  • Photovoltaic Solar Energy Generation

  • Geothermal Heat Pumps

  • Electric Vehicles

  • Hybrid Vehicles

  • LEED Certified Buildings

  • Solar Hot Water Heaters

  • Recycling rain water to flush toilets

    As managers of over 10,000 acres of forests and other natural areas we are seeing the affects of global warming on our natural environment and we want to be on the leading edge of addressing the causes of global climate change.

No Child Left Inside

Richard Louv's best selling book Last Child in the Woods brought national attention to "nature deficit disorder." In brief children are spending less time outdoors, and particularly less time in unstructured interaction with nature.

At the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority we have been working to engage children with nature through the following actions:

  • NVRPA was one of the first park agencies to sign onto No Child Left Inside a coalition that is working to advocate for outdoor/environmental education.

  • In 2009 we initiated a program that would allow area youth to volunteer some of their time and effort in our parks in exchange for access to park facilities that have fees associated with them. This program was to reduce potential barriers that some youth might have to using facilities like waterparks, and hopefully provided some insight into the fields of park management and maintenance.

  • In 2009 we renovated the Nature Center at Potomac Overlook to enhance its appeal. It is now the only nature center we know of that is focused on energy, where it comes from, how it is used by people and the natural world, and what are the impacts of its use.

  • For the last several years we have had a roving naturalist program during our peak months. This program brings nature education to thousands, whether that is a waterpark, campground, or special event. In terms of reaching the largest numbers of public with environmental education this is our most effective program.

  • With the generous donation from a long-time park supporter, we are embarking on building a children’s garden at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens that will initially focus on Native American and early colonial settlers, mixing fun, imagination and historical and environmental education.

In the end the issue of children spending less time outdoors is less a child issue and more of a parent issue. As parents we need to look for opportunities to get our children outdoor and engaged with nature. If parents would make a new years resolution to take their child for a walk (hike) in the woods this year it would be a great start. Walking along surrounded by nature is a great time to bond and have the kind of conversation about school and life in general that it is hard to have during the hussel and bussel of daily life.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

155 acres Battlefield Preserved

Fairfax, VA (December 9, 2009) – The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) is pleased to announce the addition of 155 acres of new parkland. This land is made up of two adjacent parcels along Route 50 near its intersection with Route 15 in Loudoun County.

Eighty-eight acres of the land is property directly across Route 50 from Mt. Zion Historic Church. This property was owned by the Mt. Zion Church Preservation Association, and financed by the Virginia Resources Authority.

“At the urging of Supervisor Jim Burton and Delegate Joe May, we purchased this property so it could become public parkland,” remarked Su Webb, NVRPA Chairman. The second property is 67 acres that was purchased this year by Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and is being leased by NVRPA to make a combined parkland area of 155 acres.This new area of parkland is rich with Civil War significance and is part of the study area for the Battle of Aldie which took place on June 17, 1863. It is an area that saw a lot of troop movements during this period.

The most heated action in this area happened nearly a year later on July 6, 1864 when a cavalry skirmish took place next to Mt. Zion Historic Church between the forces of Col. John S. Mosby, Confederate Rangers and Union forces (13th New York Calvary) under the command of Major William H. Forbes. Both sides had nearly 150 mounted soldiers.

The Union forces were on their way from Leesburg back to their base in Falls Church. They were unaware that Confederate forces had heard about them in Leesburg and were looking for an opportunity to engage them. The Union forces had stopped in this area to take a break when Mosby’s forces attacked.

During the course of the one hour battle, Mosby and Forbes came into direct contact. Forbes tried to strike down Mosby with his sword, but the blow was blocked by Thomas Richards, one of Mosby’s Rangers. Mosby shot Forbes’ horse from under him and in the end Forbes was one of the 57 Union prisoners captured that day by Confederate forces. Thirteen Union soldiers were killed and thirty-seven wounded in this battle, while the Confederate forces had one killed and five wounded.

This new parkland is also significant as the home site of Alexander G. Davis, a farmer originally from Connecticut who lived on this property during the Civil War. On October 18, 1861 he was attacked and beaten because he was a northerner. He was considered too old for active military service, but after this attack he served as a civilian scout for the Union throughout the war. At one point in the war Davis organized and led an unsuccessful attempt to catch Mosby with a wagon train that appeared to be unprotected.

In addition its Civil War history significance, the new parkland includes part of the Carolina Road which was an active route between Frederick, Maryland and the Virginia/North Carolina border. It was originally a Native American trail used by the Algonquin and Iroquois Indians and a popular north/south route during the 18th & 19th Century. It roughly follows the course that Route 15 is today.

In September 2009, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors took action to transfer the Mt. Zion Historic Church property to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. The Church property as well as the new 155 acres of parkland will be managed out of Aldie Mill Historic Park, also owned and operated by NVRPA.

“This deal to expand parkland in the Gilbert’s Corner area included a lot of partners and stakeholders. We worked closely with the Commonwealth of Virginia, Loudoun County, PEC, and the Mt. Zion Church Preservation Association,” commented Su Webb, NVRPA Chairman.
“The primary goal of this new parkland is to preserve the historic and scenic values of the area. With this general goal in mind, we will be working with community groups and stakeholders like Journey Through Hallowed Ground, PEC and others to help create a vision and plan for the area,” continued Ms. Webb.