Their homes were in the enemy’s lines: Loyalty, military occupation, and irregular warfare in Northern Virginia Border County, 1861-1865
Thompson, Scott F.
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This thesis examines Loudoun County, Virginia, before, during, and after the American Civil War. It is a community study that employs the methodology of microhistory. This is a work of military history, political history, and social history that engages five major, often overlapping areas of Civil War historiography: Virginia, borderlands, loyalty, the civilian experience, and irregular warfare. Since all five themes can be seen in a single county and a small geographic area, a study of Loudoun is essential. Loudoun County mirrors the larger worlds of the state and section in which it resided. As such, this work places Loudoun County’s wartime experiences in the context of the rest of Virginia, the border states, and the Confederate South. Yet, Loudoun also stands out and reveals new elements about each of these themes. While each of the thematic topics has a vast body of scholarship, a small geographic area in northern Virginia adds to all of them. Each of these elements comprising the Loudoun County Civil War experience plays a part in expanding the Civil War field’s understanding of how civilians and soldiers endured irregular war and military occupation in a borderland and how these combatants and non-combatants constructed and expressed loyalties. Using the totality of these circumstances and events as evidence, this piece of Civil War history argues that the war in Loudoun County was both a microcosm of the larger war and its own separate, unique local conflict. Scholars have, for the most part, neglected Loudoun in their numerous histories of the conflict. Other works treat events in the county as mere examples in broader studies of various aspects of the Civil War, but in no piece of scholarship yet produced has Loudoun been the sole geographic area of study and in no work has the county’s ordeals in the war been the sole focus. The Battle of Ball’s Bluff and John S. Mosby’s irregular war are the only military activities in Loudoun to receive substantial attention in Civil War historiography. This work confirms the findings in William Blair’s Virginia’s Private War of a Confederate Virginia identity under which Virginians fought for the Confederacy and their homes. Yet, it reveals the existence of a rival Union version of this identity. Aaron Sheehan-Dean’s Why Confederates Fought argues that white Virginians who aided the Confederate cause fought for their families, localities, region, state, country, and for slavery; as the war developed in its destructiveness and the Union pursued emancipation, this patriotism intensified and became more refined. Loudoun County constitutes a place in which one can see each of those loyalties among unionist and Confederate soldiers and civilians on a local level. The task of this thesis is to tell an aspect of Virginia’s story through a single county. Since Loudoun, a county within a Confederate state, shared a border with two Union border states, this study joins works covering other borderland areas such as Brian D. McKnight’s Contested Borderland: the Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia and Aaron Astor’s Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri. The border area in which Loudoun was located stands out from the western border states in that it was the closest to both the United States and Confederate States capitals. Like Missouri and Kentucky, Loudoun was a bastion of moderate politics and was home to a majority that opposed the two extremes of abolitionism and secessionism during the antebellum period. Due this moderate politics, Loudoun was a Whig Party stronghold from the 1830s until 1860, when voters overwhelmingly chose the Constitutional Union Party ticket. Like the rest of the Upper South, Loudoun joined the secession wave when Lincoln called for volunteers after the firing on Fort Sumter. Loudoun was unique in the coming of the Civil War because John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid took place a mile away. The county was home to a civilian population with divided loyalties. The term “loyalty” in the case of Loudoun County generally refers to citizens’ support for either the United States or the Confederate States and a desire for their chosen side to win the war. Unionists wanted the Federal army to crush the rebellion and preserve the Union; secessionists longed for the Confederacy to win its independence. This thesis borrows Thomas G. Dyer’s definition of disloyalty: when southerners were loyal to one side, they were also disloyal to the opposing side. Loudoun’s unionists possessed a disloyalty to the Confederacy; for the county’s secessionists, disloyalty took the form of opposing the Union. The unionists and secessionists in the county subscribed to the constitutional form of loyalty that James McPherson locates among Union and Confederate soldiers. The unionists’ antislavery views and the proslavery sentiments of the secessionists resemble Chandra Manning’s argument that Civil War soldiers identified slavery as the central issue of the war from its beginning. However, as Philip S. Paludan and Jonathan Sarris discovered in the Appalachians and as Victoria Bynum has found in the case of Jones County, Mississippi, concerns about their safety and that of their neighbors and communities also shaped Loudouners’ loyalties. After they chose to support one of the two rival republics, the actions of soldiers in their neighborhoods reinforced their political allegiances. While these historians identify either localism or ideology as the nature of Civil War loyalties, the civilians of Loudoun County subscribed to an allegiance that mixed both. This thesis argues that an ideological allegiance to one of the two republics, localism, ethnicity, geographic location, and religion determined Loudoun’s loyalties during the Civil War. The minority of unionists tended to live in northern Loudoun; most members of the secessionist majority resided in the southern part of the county. The pro-Union citizens descended from eighteenth century Quaker, German, and Scots-Irish migrants, who were nonslaveholding farmers. The pro-Confederate citizens descended from slaveholding settlers from England. Unionist Loudouners opposed slavery and believed that the federal government should have supremacy over the states comprising the compact called the Union; secessionists defended the peculiar institution and adhered to the notion that states could freely depart from this compact. African American unionist Loudouners, both slaves and free blacks, supported the Union war effort’s emancipationist component and sought to topple the republic whose leaders owned members of their race as property. Loudoun’s slaves tried to free themselves from bondage by running across the Potomac border to freedom. This short path to liberty was a luxury slaves in other areas of Virginia and the Confederacy lacked. These civilians conducted relatively peaceful relations with each other, which contrasted with the violent relations in other southern counties studied by Paludan, Sarris, and Bynum. Secessionists helped free unionists taken as hostages by the Confederate army, and unionists provided aid to secessionists who lost their property to Union forces. Due to Loudoun’s border with Maryland and its position at the northern tip of the Confederacy, the Union and Confederate armies frequently crossed through, contested, and occupied the county during operations. As a result, Loudoun’s unionists and secessionists lived under a military occupation for four years. This chapter’s findings on Loudoun’s war experience reflect those of Noel Harrison’s work on the other northern Virginian counties of Fairfax and Alexandria, namely, that the Union and Confederate armies harassed civilians and damaged their property in the first full year of the war. Throughout the war, both armies conducted what Mark Grimsley identified as a pragmatic civilian policy, which involved whatever actions were deemed necessary to win the war, protecting friendly civilians, and punishing enemy civilians. This chapter reveals that Loudoun County constituted what Stephen V. Ash referred to as a “no man’s land,” an area in the occupied South over which neither side possessed complete control. By “control,” this thesis refers to the ability of either the Union or Confederate armies to maintain a presence in the county without or with little resistance from forces of the opposing side. Through such control, either side could thereby extend the territory over which its respective government had authority and oppress civilian supporters of the enemy republic. The Union and Confederate armies jointly occupied Loudoun, temporarily garrisoning towns and crossing through farmland, either on scouts or along the way to large battlefields in Pennsylvania, Maryland, or central Virginia. Troops from both sides frequently entered towns one after the other and clashed with each other. Out of military necessity or as punishment for supporting the other republic, civilians endured foraging raids, voter suppression, arrest, imprisonment, assault, and conscription. Also during the occupation, Loudouners fled to Maryland to escape oppression. They expressed their loyalty when they published a pro-Union newspaper, waved flags, and cheered for, fed, and nursed soldiers of the republic they supported. The local circumstances in which Loudouners lived added a new component to their loyalties. They opposed either the Union or Confederacy for putting themselves, neighbors, and families in danger. Likewise, they supported the country that defended them and their communities from persecution. Thus, Loudoun County’s Civil War allegiances combined ideology and localism. A number of these unionists and secessionists formed irregular military units which fought numerous skirmishes with each other. Loudoun is the only locality in which a divided community of unionists and secessionists formed their own rival partisan military units to defend their local area from enemy invasion and occupation. A group of unionists formed the Loudoun Rangers and a portion of the secessionists enlisted in Elijah White’s Thirty-fifth Cavalry Battalion and John Mobberly’s guerrilla band. They used the tactics of quick, stealthy hit-and-run attacks, scouts, and ambushes behind enemy lines and along the Potomac River border area. With the exception of brief coverage in Daniel Sutherland’s A Savage Conflict, each of these units has not received any attention in the Civil War irregular warfare scholarship. Since this thesis examines a local irregular war, it will build on the growing body of scholarship over the last three decades on irregular warfare, inner civil wars, and military occupation in Civil War America. It joins works by Phillip S. Paludan, Jonathan D. Sarris, and Victoria E. Bynum in examining irregular conflicts and civil wars in local communities scattered throughout the Confederacy. The chapter will also add to the work of Kenneth Noe on counter-irregular warfare by discussing military units whose purpose was to target irregular combatants infesting a particular geographic area. Previous scholars such as Stephen Berry, Lorien Foote, Chandra Manning, James Mcpherson, Reid Mitchell, James I. Robertson, Aaron Sheean-Dean, and Bell I. Wiley have argued that Civil War soldiers fought for ideology, patriotism, nationalism, honor, manhood, their comrades, and/or their homes. The Federal and Confederate irregulars in Loudoun fought for their respective republics through defending their local area, to which they had a sentimental attachment. They loved living in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains and next to the Potomac River. These soldiers served in independent units possessing the freedom to fight only in and around Loudoun and objected to fighting anywhere else. When their government threatened to end or limit their local, independent borderland service, they angrily protested and/or mutinied. These irregular troops therefore shed further light on the mixture of ideology and localism in Loudoun County’s wartime loyalties. Loudoun County’s irregular warfare had three different, distinct types: “guerrillas,” “partisans,” and “regular cavalry raiders.” The types of unconventional warfare in Loudoun County constitute a version of Robert Mackey’s distinction between these three types. Other historians use these terms interchangeably. The first term refers to disorganized, armed groups of civilians or soldiers lacking any connection to or control by the regular army of the side for which they fought. Loudoun witnessed the formation of a guerrilla band formed by partisans who, with authorization from their commander, broke off of their battalion to fight their own irregular war when the battalion became a regular cavalry battalion. The second term encompasses organized, mostly independent irregular companies or battalions not connected to a regiment or brigade and subject to special orders from their government and regular army. Partisans were, like regular troops, formally mustered into their units, wore uniforms, received military pay, and officially represented a government. Yet, they fought with guerrilla tactics. The third type of irregular was composed of conventional cavalry soldiers from a regiment or brigade who occasionally left their units for raids in which they enacted irregular tactics.