The Confederate Officer

The Confederate Officer: Elijah White

Elijah Viers White was born and grew up on the Maryland side of the Potomac, near Poolesville. By his own account, he left there in 1855 at the age of 23 and went to Missouri to fight on the side of the pro-slavery forces waging a bloody civil war against abolitionists in the Kansas Territory. When he returned to Virginia a year later, he purchased a 355-acre farm in Loudoun County near Ball’s Bluff and moved his family to Virginia.

When the war broke out in 1861, White was a member of Capt. Shreve’s militia company, the Loudoun Cavalry, but he soon left them and joined Turner Ashby’s company in the Shenandoah Valley. Home on leave when the fighting started at Ball’s Bluff that October, White spent the day serving as a volunteer courier and scout for Col. Hunton’s 8th Virginia Infantry. As a reward for his part in the Confederate victory, he was commissioned captain and given permission to recruit his own company of cavalry “for service on the border.” While most of his men came from Loudoun, Fauquier, and Jefferson counties, he was joined by Capt. George Chiswell’s men from White’s own home turf in Montgomery County, Maryland, and by October 1862 had enough men to be formally organized as the 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry.

The command spent several months waging a partisan campaign in support of Gen. D.H. Hill in Loudoun County and Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson in the Lower Shenandoah Valley. When Hill evacuated Loudoun in March of 1862, the 35th stayed behind with Col. Thomas Munford’s 2nd Virginia Cavalry to continue their operations from a new base in Fauquier County. In October of 1863, White had to deal with the threat of mutiny when his battalion was ordered to join the regular cavalry as part of what would later be known as the Laurel Brigade and leave their beloved border region. Capt. Chiswell’s “Maryland Exiles,” in particular, argued that they were citizens of Maryland and owed no particular allegiance to the Virginians commanding the army and its cavalry corps. Only White’s emotional reminder that he, too, was a Maryland native kept them with the battalion.

For the rest of the war, the 35th only rarely operated as a full unit in Loudoun County, but small groups often returned to the area to recruit men and replace dead or worn-out horses. The battalion went on to participate in some of the most important cavalry campaigns of the war, earning a reputation as hard fighters whose enthusiasm in battle eventually gained them the nickname “White’s Comanches.” White himself ended the war as the de facto  commander of the Laurel Brigade, which he disbanded rather than surrender with the rest of Lee’s army at Appomattox.

When the war ended in Virginia, White returned to his Loudoun farm as a local hero. In 1867, he was elected Sheriff of Loudoun County, and he later served for a time as president of the People’s National Bank of Leesburg. In another successful business venture, he took over operation of Conrad’s Ferry, changing the name to White’s Ferry, as it is known today. In 1877, White was appointed an elder in the Primitive Baptist Church and was instrumental in establishing a number of thriving congregations throughout Loudoun County. He died in 1907 and is buried in Leesburg’s Union Cemetery.