WRITTEN BY KEVIN R. PAWLAK, DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION AT THE MOSBY HERITAGE AREA ASSOCIATION
With Veterans Day coming up this weekend, it’s the perfect time to reflect on Loudoun County’s extensive military history. To honor our veterans and explore our past, we asked, Kevin Pawlak, Director of Education at the Mosby Heritage Area Association, to be this week’s guest blogger. Read on to discover Loudoun’s incredible stories of bravery and patriotism!
Loudoun County’s terrain, road and trade networks and proximity to multiple Potomac River crossings, fated Loudoun to be in the crosshairs of armed military conflict. Armies constantly crisscrossed through the county and, on multiple occasions, soldiers engaged in battle across Loudoun’s fields, streams and forests. Indeed, its very name seemed to foreshadow the years of conflict that has raged here throughout the county’s history: the county derived its name from John Campbell, the Fourth Earl of Loudoun, Britain’s Commander-in-Chief in North America in 1757.
The first recorded armed conflict occurred in the 1500s or 1600s between the Delaware and Catawba tribes somewhere along today’s Route 15 Corridor south of Leesburg. In April 1755, British and colonial soldiers belonging to General Edward Braddock’s column passed through Loudoun. Their ultimate goal was to clear French forces from the Forks of the Ohio. This column met their demise at the Battle of the Monongahela, and their leader, Edward Braddock, died during the battle. Americans remember this event as “Braddock’s Defeat.”
"From military thoroughfare to the battlefield to the home front, Loudoun’s history is intertwined with the American military tradition."
During America’s War for Independence, Loudoun militia drilled on the grounds of the courthouse in Leesburg (where a monument to the patriots of that conflict stands today), while women and children on the home front harvested food for George Washington’s army. Continental soldier and Loudoun native John Champe famously deserted (as planned) the American forces to capture the turncoat Benedict Arnold. The plot failed, but Champe became a hero. Continental forces that eventually found themselves at Yorktown trod along the Carolina Road during their southward journey.
Loudoun County equally contributed to American efforts during the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War. During John Brown’s Raid on neighboring Harpers Ferry to end slavery in the United States, Loudoun militia units reacted and were on alert to the alarming situation brewing just across their border.
The Civil War marked the climax of Loudoun’s military history. Men from the county formed the nucleus of 11 different military companies for the Confederate States Army. Loudouners, divided in their sentiments to North and South, likewise supported and joined the United States Army, including over 250 African Americans. This divisive conflict divided families, seen in no better episode than when William Snoot attempted to kill his brother fighting in the Union Army at the Waterford Baptist Church. Edward Baker, the only sitting United States Senator to be killed in battle, fell at Ball’s Bluff outside of Leesburg in October 1861.
"The Civil War marked the climax of Loudoun’s military history."
From 1861 to 1865, 46 battles occurred within the county’s borders. The Confederate Army used Loudoun’s roads and Potomac River crossings to invade Maryland in September 1862; the Union Army utilized the same features to invade Virginia in the fall of 1862. Cavalry clashes occurred at Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville while the Union Army trudged northward on the road to Gettysburg in the summer of 1863. John Mosby’s Confederate Rangers constantly roamed through Loudoun County during the war’s concluding 28 months. Those civilians who had not fled the area suffered tremendously during this time period.
Such a contentious war wrecked much of Loudoun’s infrastructure. County citizens continued to serve in America’s military during the First and Second World Wars of the 20th century. The county lost 31 citizens in World War I while they served overseas in segregated units. Virginia’s wartime governor Westmoreland Davis lived at Morven Park outside Leesburg. During World War II, Loudoun men and women served the cause at home and abroad, and 68 county citizens died during the war.
Warfare continued to be close to home in more recent memory. Two of Loudoun’s citizens died in the Korean War, five in Vietnam,and two more in America’s most recent conflict in the Middle East.
Loudoun’s military history pedigree is important, though not just for the actions that occurred here, but also for a few critical military figures that called Loudoun home at one point in their lives.
- James Monroe, the Secretary of War during the latter months of the War of 1812 and future Commander-in-Chief, lived at Oak Hill.
- The father of the United States Air Force, Billy Mitchell, lived out his remaining years at Boxwood Farm near Middleburg.
- George C. Marshall, a World War I veteran and United States Army Chief of Staff during World War II, owned and lived in Leesburg’s Dodona Manor from 1941 to 1959.
"From 1861 to 1865, 46 battles occurred within the county’s borders."
The military history of Loudoun County runs deep, as numerous monuments, interpretive signs and headstones denote. From military thoroughfare to the battlefield to the home front, Loudoun’s history is intertwined with the American military tradition.