Confederate Memorials… and Reason

From time to time I’ve deviated from the main topics of this blog – or shall I say the strict content line – to discuss matters surrounding the memorials for Civil War subjects.  It’s not too far off my preferred line of discussion.  After all, in the functional sense, markers, monuments and memorials tend to be lumped together in the public eye.

But there is enough functional differences that we should keep such in consideration.  To me a marker is public-facing display that is intended as purely informational, conveying historical facts, settings, components, context, and such.  Granted, some markers may “have a passing acquaintance with the truth” the function is still the same – misguided, it may be.

Monuments, in my definition, are something a bit more advanced in the mind.  Their function is specifically to remind one of an event, most usually one in close proximity, in terms of space, to the monument.  We have regimental monuments on many large battlefields that indicate where a unit fought.  We have monuments to people at locations where they may have done great deeds.  The point I’ve always made about monuments is, again with function, they are meant to inspire or at least remind the audience, but with less concern with the all raw historical facts.  They tend to grow out of that kernel of history which someone wishes to remain at the fore.  Certainly something to be remembered, but tied to THAT place at THAT time.  Take a monument away from that context of place and time, and it lies flat.

Memorials, on the other hand, tend to be less about the history and more about what the agent (the party placing the memorial) want to have remembered.  And that word, “remember,” I think is the active part in the function of a memorial.  The intent is that something would be maintained in memory.  The memorial speaks, more so than a monument, to the emotions of the audience.  It is not so much there for a history lesson, but as a construct of heritage.

Those categories cast, it is the memorials that have the world’s attention these days.  Though unfortunately the other two types of public displays are getting lumped into the mix.  In my little corner of the world, the Confederate memorial at the county courthouse has been in the news of late.  I’ve even had my spot on TV discussing the memorial (yes… “day off” scruff and a t-shirt… If I’d know I’d be on TV….) Long time readers know where I stand on these issues.  I have no need of Confederate iconography.  For the most part, it’s heritage and not history.  There are places where that iconography may provide a visual supplement to a point of history, to be sure.

And it is the history that I seek.  And it is the history that is being walked past in our rush to judge the memorials.  The problem here is we are practically ignoring the greater history as if attempting to purge the “bad” out.  I’ve written on this before and need not spend time reiterating the concern.   I will say that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s study continues to get a lot of placement, though it is at best a flawed study of the subject.  Toward that point, the “chilling effect” I mentioned years ago has lead to the removal of some markers (which were clearly markers) and even vandalism against some decidedly non-Confederate public displays.  That trend, I would say, needs to stop and stop now.

Regardless, as I say, I’m not attached to the memorials… though I am concerned that the general public doesn’t know what a memorial is!

Specifically to our Loudoun County memorial, different local politicians have come forward with their ideas.  One has suggested that the memorial be moved to the Confederate Cemetery, across town, a section in the, perhaps ironically named, Union Cemetery.  Such is impractical as there is already a Confederate memorial there… not to mention cemeteries tend to be short on space.  Another has suggested the memorial be relocated to the Balls Bluff National Cemetery.  That would be the place managed by the Veterans Administration where FEDERAL dead are buried.  Most unfitting for a Confederate memorial.  Of course, others have suggested placing the memorial at Balls Bluff, just outside the cemetery.  But, well, there’s already a Confederate memorial there.  I could go on discussing more “move here” options floated.  None of these are reasoned or practical.

We could take the memorial down, right?  Well there are some folks who would disagree.  And they would offer their own reasons and purposes.  I’ve found it best, as a historian, to let those reasons be heard, where supporting merit exists.  And, though I’m not going to enumerate those here, some reasonable people have made a reasonable case for leaving the memorial as it stands.  Don’t read into that.  Reasonable doesn’t automatically mean “right.”  Rather, that the presentation has its merit… and we should discuss that merit, not dismiss.

On the other side, what if that memorial is left in place?  Well, I don’t think anyone can say it represents all of today’s Loudoun.  It is, at best, a reminder of what Loudoun was in 1908, not 1861 or 2017.  And there is a lot of the Loudoun of 1908 that does not set well with the Loudoun of 2017.  Again, I won’t enumerate all the reasons offered for removal.  But I will say those sound reasonable.  Yes… having merit and not to be dismissed.

Some have even suggested the memorial be removed, but the pedestal remain for “introspection.”  Well, that might remove the bronze statue, but would leave the words that really drive home the point (which are inscribed on the base).  Besides, I tend to see memorials such as this one reflecting a great scar upon our national history – for better or worse.  What good would it be to attempt to remove the scar, yet leave remains of it?  A partially open wound which may be periodically rubbed with salt?  We sort of have that already.  Better to just have a patch of grass there, in my opinion.

You see, I don’t think there are any simple solutions here.  Remove, move, or leave in place… if we put that out as a referendum, the results would be mixed at best. None of those options are going to leave even a slim majority of people happy.  It is a complex problem…  derived from a complex history.

But it is a problem we need to sit down and discuss.  Reasoned discussion, that is.

Like anyone else on this issue, I don’t have a quick, simple solution.  Though, I do have a complex one….

Before anyone decides what to do with Loudoun’s Confederate memorial, I think there should be an deeper discussion that brings to the fore the full historical background.  Starting with this:


What was said at this event?  John Daniel’s speech might be found in his papers, in the University of Virginia’s library.  To tell the truth, I’ve never gone looking (him being a post-war figure).  But if the speech given at Leesburg does exist, then that’s the first place to look.  Beyond that speech, what ELSE did Daniel say about the Confederacy, its legacy, and the world of 1908?  I have some presumptions of what I THINK was said.  But that’s not how history works… you actually have to use the sources, not what you think of the sources.  I would want that speech, if it can be found, given full distribution for evaluation… as a source document for direct, and spotlighted, interpretation.

And that is just the starting point.  There’s a lot more of the history that SHOULD be discussed.  Including things that happened in, and around, the location where the statue stands today.  Furthermore, unlike what some in this discussion might want you to believe, there were reasons – REASONS, plural – for the memorial’s placement. We should let the words of those who placed the memorial help frame the discussion of the memorial. That’s called full historical context.

From that context, we need to promote understanding of the history.  Right now, there are simply too many emotional reactions – from all sides of the issue – to the memorial clouding the history.  We need to put that emotion to the side.  We need to circle the history, determine it, describe it, and, finally, USE IT!

Use that history to explain the complexity of the issue.  From that, we can … and should… come to a common understanding.   That, I would submit, would be the foundation for a solution that more than a simple majority will agree upon.  Leave it, or move it, or remove it… let the decision weigh from the evidence of history.

P.S.:  I’ve used the word “reason” a lot in this post, taking advantage of the several definitions of that word. And that was for a reason!


Update on the Northern Virginia North-South Corridor

The proposed North-South Corridor came up in local news again this week. I’ve mentioned this in the past and how it could impact the Manassas battlefield. This proposal essentially replaced the stalled Tri-County Parkway. In short, this would provide a high speed corridor, with multi-lane highways and no at-grade crossings, from I-95 through the Manassas area and Loudoun County to Virginia 7 outside Leesburg. The Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment offered this graphic to show the changes proposed, with a focus on the changes proposed for Loudoun County (courtesy Leesburg Today):


The Leesburg town council held a public hearing on the proposed corridor on Tuesday, July 23. From Leesburg Today:

Leesburg Council Goes On Record Against North-South Corridor


The Leesburg Town Council Tuesday night adopted a resolution formally opposing plans to develop a limited access highway, in the form of the state designated North-South Corridor, through Prince William and Loudoun counties.

The vote was 5-2 and followed an hour-long pubic comment period during which activists working to combat climate change and several Prince William County residents urged the council to oppose the project.


The final version of the council’s resolution differed significantly from one proposed by Mayor Kristen Umstattd in June. Amendments were made following Monday night’s briefing by the VDOT project manager involved with the reccently completed study on how to develop a new link between I-95 and Rt. 7. VDOT’s Tom Fahrney said the Commonwealth Transportation Board earlier this year accepted, but did not endorse, a consultant’s recommendations of a high-capacity highway including HOV and toll lanes in the corridor. Fahrney said the consultant’s recommendations don’t match plans adopted by the localities and would likely remain on the shelf unless conditions change.

The final resolution deleted referenced to truck traffic, which Fahrney said was not expected to increase significantly in the area, and to threats to the Manassas National Battlefield, after Fahrney said construction of the Bi-County Parkway could not proceed without approval of the National Parks Service and other agencies. The resolution continues to voice objection to the possibility that transportation funds could be allocated to the North-South Corridor project ahead of more pressing regional needs, including construction that would improve east-west commuter movements. The council’s resolution also restates the need for funding for interchange construction on the Leesburg Bypass and Rt. 7 in Leesburg, as well as continued support for the county’s local bus system.

(Read more at Leesburg Today)

I think this was the right move, and applaud the council’s resolution, particularly the amendments. In the past the corridor, like the Tri-County Parkway before, has been offered as a relief for Northern Virginia’s traffic woes. After many years a commuter in said traffic, I consider myself an expert on that subject (earned after 1,000 hours stuck in said traffic!). The traffic problem is east to west, not north to south. And until a new bridge is in place across the Potomac, all the North-South Corridor would do is dump more traffic into Loudoun with no place for it to run.

However, there is one good point within the North-South Corridor which, I think, should be acted upon separately. The proposal includes a plan to close off through traffic on the Manassas battlefield (US 29 and VA 234). In my opinion, we need to first enact some means of redirecting that traffic – and not necessarily the option proposed as part of the North-South Corridor, but some arrangement that protects the battlefield in the best possible manner. Once that is complete, and we have time to reassess traffic patterns, can we start thinking about additional North-South Corridor options.

Marching Through Loudoun: June 27, 1863

In contrast to previous days, June 27th was a relatively orderly crossing at Edwards Ferry. While serious command issues rose and came to a sharp conclusion, the troops kept crossing the river. At least through the morning, Major-General Winfield S. Hancock remained in the Edwards Ferry vicinity, tracking movements.

First in the line of march on this morning 150 years ago was Brigadier-General Crawford’s Pennsylvania Reserves. He reported the command was on the bridges by 9:25 a.m. “I will join General Meade to-night. Sedgwick left Dranesville this morning. Road is encumbered by trains of Third Corps.”

Around the same time, Brigadier-General John Buford’s division crossed at Edwards Ferry, NOT the Mouth of the Monocacy as ordered the previous day. Here is one of those gaps of information that I’d love to resolve. Were the previous day’s orders countermanded? Apparently so, as Assistant Adjutant-General A.J. Alexander reported Buford’s movement. But I’d love to see the full conversation and what prompted the change.

Around mid-day, Hancock reported on the progress as he returned from Edwards Ferry:

General Sedgwick and part of his command have arrived and the trains are rapidly crossing. The supply train of the Fifth Corps and General Crawford’s trains are in advance. General Crawford’s troops have crossed. The artillery are well out on the road I came.

Around 1 p.m., headquarters inquired, via telegram, as to the state of the crossing. The response came at 8:35 that evening, from Brigadier-General Henry Benham, who at last had moved up from Washington:

I have been here awaiting the passage and taking up of the bridges since 11 a.m. During this time the cavalry supply train and about two-thirds of the Sixth Corps have crossed on lower bridge. Vermont Brigade and Wright’s division are now to cross on upper bridge. The First Division of cavalry have passed, and there is now passing the First Brigade of General Gregg’s division. It is now almost entirely across. I understood that this cavalry division was to be the last to cross.

So as the sunlight faded on June 27th, the last parts of the Army of the Potomac had left Virginia. Brigadier-General David M. Gregg brought the rear guard across, and the Army of the Potomac left Loudoun County. The only action left, with respect to activity in Loudoun, was to pull up the bridges.


(UPDATE: Minor change to the map today.  Gregg’s cavalry division “took over the picket line” from Buford’s on June 26.  I interpret that to mean Gregg stayed in the vicinity of Aldie until the morning of June 27.  Gregg arrived in Leesburg around 1 p.m. that day.)

In his report, Benham added his concerns about pulling up the bridges in a timely manner. No doubt that sat well among the headquarters staff with whom he’d argued with over the last several days. Benham had a “land pontoon” train, with under 1,000 feet of bridging, ready to move from Poolesville. He planned to move remainder of bridging, that pulled out at Edwards Ferry, back to Washington by way of the C&O Canal. Some components of the bridges were out of the water by midnight (taking advantage of 83% moon illumination that particular night). But most of the work would wait for the following morning. Somewhat anti-climatic, but the great crossing was over.

One other Loudoun County crossing occurred, starting that evening and completing in the early hours of June 28. Major-General J.E.B. Stuart with three brigades of cavalry reappeared earlier on June 27 after taking a wide route around the marching Federal infantry. The Confederate troopers fought a brief engagement at Fairfax Courthouse. After a rest, the column moved to Dranesville where they found Sixth Corps campfires still warm and captured a few stragglers. But Stuart had orders to join with Lieutenant-General Richard Ewell somewhere in Pennsylvania. To get there, he needed a safe crossing of the Potomac. And good fortune smiled on Stuart that evening. Rowser’s Ford, which depending on where you stand is on the extreme eastern tip of Loudoun County, was free of Federal pickets, according to a civilian who met Brigadier-General Wade Hampton. Although the river was higher than usual from the rains.

Hampton’s brigade crossed early in the night, but reported to me that it would be utterly impossible to cross artillery at that ford…. A ford lower down was examined, and found quite as impracticable from quicksand, rocks, and rugged banks. I, however, determined not to give it up without a trial, and before 12 o’clock that night, in spite of the difficulties, to all appearances insuperable, indomitable energy and resolute determination triumphed; every piece was brought safely over, and the entire command in bivouac on Maryland soil.

In all actuality, the crossing likely continued well into the early morning. But Stuart was across the Potomac, although a little late.

While Stuart crossed, on the other side of Maryland, Major-General George Meade received word he was the next commander of the Army of the Potomac. Exit Major-General Joseph Hooker.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part II, Serial 44, page 693; Part III, Serial 45, pages 353 and 354.)

Camp to the “left of the Magnetic Iron Ore” : Finding Eleventh Corps Camp

One intriguing aspect of the marching through Loudoun County is the location where the Eleventh Corps camped during their stay.  Most of the other units found camps near well known placenames – Leesburg, Aldie, Guilford Station, Gum Springs.  But the Eleventh camped at “Trappe Rock.”  The placename is not marked on any modern maps.  And we can’t trace an evolution to modern placenames (Farmwell to Ashburn, for instance).  Instead this is a vague reference to some place known then, but not known today.

Trap rock is supposed to be stuff like this:

Maybe it is out there along Goose Creek and I’m just not adventuring far enough into the underbrush.

At one time I thought it may refer to outcroppings in the quarry astride the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Park. But I’ve dismissed that option as being impractical for several reasons.

Going back to the orders that sent the Eleventh Corps to “Trappe Rock” those read:

The First Corps, General Reynolds, and Eleventh Corps, General Howard, will march at 3 a.m. for Leesburg from Centreville, one corps taking the route by Frying Pan, old Ox Road, and Farmwell Station, crossing the railroad; the other by Gum Springs, Farmwell, crossing Goose Creek near Trappe Rock.

Another clue is from the supplemental instructions sent out on June 16.   At that time, the orders for the First and Eleventh corps were intermixed. The respective commanders, Major-General John Reynolds and Major-General Oliver O. Howard, were told to decide amongst themselves who went to Trappe Rock and who went to Herndon Station (and eventually Gilford Station).  The supplemental instructions issued at noon that day read in part:

If the column via Gum Springs can find a better and more practicable road via Bitzer’s, the dam and lock to the left of the Magnetic Iron Ore (see the map), there is no objection to going that way.  A road may be found via Gum Springs, T. Lewis, Freeman’s, Moran’s, Bitzer’….

Those are specific place names on the McDowell map, and are easy to correlate.


There are two “Trappe Rock” mentions in that area of Goose Creek.  Only one is near a “Magnetic Iron Ore” notation.  We also see that Major-General Dan Butterfield was hovering over the McDowell map when writing these orders.

Of course, as mentioned earlier, the orders of June 16 were invalid within hours of their issue.  Instead of just marching past “Magnetic Iron Ore” and “Trappe Rock” the Eleventh Corps was to hold there.  In an update to Brigadier-General Alfred Pleasonton on June 17, Butterfield noted, “General Howard is at Goose Creek (Trappe Rock mill-dam and canal lock).”  Looking at the Goose Creek map, there was indeed a mill, dam, and canal lock in that vicinity.  It was know as Cochran’s Mill, thought it is unclear to me when that name was in effect (pre- or post-war).  That location matches to the area upstream of the present day, and abandoned, Balls Ford Bridge.

Belmont Ridge Rd 14 June 09 114

If so, the area has changed a bit since the Eleventh Corps camped there:


(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 150 and 151.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 17, 1863

150 years ago today, elements of the Army of the Potomac entered Loudoun County. The army had passed this way before. The previous fall the army advanced through Loudoun following Army of Northern Virginia, falling back from the killing fields of Antietam. And just thirty-two weeks later the Federal army was back pursuing the same Confederate army. Except this time everyone was heading north.

Earlier on June 16, 1863, Brigadier-General Gouverneur Warren, chief engineer, advised that, “Leesburg is a very important place, as the lowest fords of the Potomac are in this vicinity.” Warren’s suggestion carried weight.  When Army headquarters posted the march orders late that evening, Leesburg featured prominently as a destination:

The Twelfth Corps, General Slocum, will march at 3 a.m. to-morrow for Leesburg, via Hunter’s Mills, crossing the railroad, Dranesville, and the Leesburg turnpike.

The First Corps, General Reynolds, and Eleventh Corps, General Howard, will march at 3 a.m. for Leesburg from Centreville, one corps taking the route by Frying Pan, old Ox road, and Farmwell Station, crossing the railroad: the others by Gum Springs, Farmwell, crossing Goose Creek, near Trappe Rock.

The Fifth Corps, General Meade, will march from Manassas at 3 a.m. for Leesburg, via Centreville and Gum Springs. The corps marching from Centreville by Gum Springs will keep to the right of the road in the fields near Gum Springs, to enable the Fifth Corps to pass on by the old Carolina road to Leesburg.

The before-mentioned corps will encamp on Goose Creek to-morrow night.

Headquarters at Farmwell Station to-morrow night. Corps en route will report their march and place of camp to morrow night at 7 p.m. at that point and for orders.

The corps will keep up communication with each other from time to time, if necessary.

The routes and places are by the McDowell map of January 1, 1862. In this, as in all future marches, the corps will, in case of attack, march to the sound of heaviest firing.

The Third, Sixth, and Second Corps will follow to-morrow p.m., the Second Corps following the Twelfth; the Fifth Corps following by Germantown and Frying Pan; the Third Corps following by Gum Springs. Each corps commander will guard and care for his trains.

The Reserve Artillery will follow with the Twelfth Corps, General Slocum.

It is suggested to corps commanders that easier marches for the commands will be made by lying by in the middle of the day, and marching early in the morning and late at night.

The orders used place-names defined on the “McDowell Map.” That being the army’s point of reference, I’ll use it too. The map below shows the intertwining lines of march for the First, Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps. The remaining corps and artillery reserve were to follow those four leading formations.


Had those orders stood, four corps – First, Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth – and the reserve artillery would converge on Leesburg. But Major-General Joseph Hooker’s appreciation for the situation changed overnight. Sensing reports of Confederate movements in Maryland were exaggerated (“rumor” was the word out of his headquarters), Hooker ordered his cavalry to start probing towards Aldie.

And army headquarters adjusted the march orders. Second Corps was to, “encamp in the vicinity of Sangster’s Station to-night. Sixth Corps at Fairfax Station, Twelfth Corps at Dranesville, Eleventh Corps at Guilford Station. First Corps at Goose Creek, Fifth Corps at Gum Springs, Third Corps at Centreville; headquarters near Fairfax Station.” However, as Major-General John Reynolds pointed out, army headquarters had confused the routes of First and Eleventh Corps. Coordinating with Major-General O. O. Howard, he switched the designated stops for the respective corps. With the changes to the march, the infantry and cavalry forces took up these general positions in Loudoun and adjacent Fairfax County (the county boundary, in case you don’t recognize it, is the dashed line running from upper right starting at the Potomac above Drainesville):


Not depicted on the map is the cavalry division of Major-General Julius Stahel. My excuse is that division was not with the Army of the Potomac at the time in question, but rather part of the Washington Defenses. Furthermore, I’d have to break out symbols for regiments as Stahel’s troopers were scattered all about. However, one of those detachments performed a valuable duty on June 17 by patrolling into Leesburg, verifying no Confederate force was there.

By late evening, Major-General Daniel Butterfield, Army Chief of Staff, summarized the situation in an update to Major-General Alfred Pleasonton, commanding the Cavalry Corps:

General Howard is at Goose Greek (Trappe Rock mill-dam and canal lock). ….

The advance of the infantry is suspended until further information of the enemy’s movements. Two regiments of Stahel move early to-morrow morning to Warrenton, Sulphur Springs, Rappahannock Station, &c. ….

If Lee’s army is in rear of his cavalry, we shall move up by forced marches with the infantry. Give us any indications of it as soon as possible.

In other words, the Army of the Potomac had to pause. Sure, we know well that one corps of the Army of Northern Virginia was already crossing the Potomac, and two more were marching fast for Maryland. But Hooker didn’t know that… or at least didn’t know it as fact. Put yourself in his shoes for a moment, and think about his primary responsibility – Washington.

For June 17, the itinerary of the Army of the Potomac stated:

The First Corps marched from Manassas Junction to Herndon Station; the Second Corps from Wolf Run Shoals to Sangster’s Station’, the Third Corps from Manassas Junction to Centreville; the Fifth Corps from Manassas Junction to Gum Springs; the Eleventh Corps from Centreville to Cow-Horn Ford, or Trappe Rock, on Goose Creek; and the Twelfth Corps from Fairfax Court-House to near Dranesville. The Cavalry Corps moved from Manassas Junction and Bull Run to Aldie.

One additional force, too small to mention in the itinerary, but which Butterfield noted in his letter to Pleasonton is worth mention. The regular engineer battalion, with bridging equipment, would move up to the Mouth of the Monocacy. Captain Charles Tunbull and his men were due to arrive the next day.

So as the sunlight faded 150 years ago today, the Army of the Potomac had two infantry corps and the cavalry corps camped in Loudoun, with two more corps just over the county line. The marches in Loudoun had just begun.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 142; Serial 45, pages 151-2, 171, and 177.)

Roads to Gettysburg – Marching through Loudoun

I mentioned these events earlier, but let me post a reminder today:

Roads to Gettysburg – The Army of the Potomac Marching through Loudoun

During the last week of June 1863, most of the Federal Army of the Potomac crossed through Loudoun County marching north in pursuit of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  To leave Loudoun for Maryland, the Federals built a set of bridges over the Potomac River at the mouth of Goose Creek.  The crossing is considered one of the greatest in American history.   Most of the troops which would fight days later at Gettysburg Pennsylvania marched over those bridges.  In observance of this event, the Loudoun Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee presents a series of programs highlighting the passage of the army.

June 22:  “Marching through Loudoun” – car caravan tour of the routes used by the lead Federal troops marching towards Edwards Ferry.    The tour starts at Claude Moore Park, in Sterling, at 9 am and conclude around noon in Ashburn.  The tour will feature several sites related to the march of the First and Eleventh Corps.

June 26:  Dedication of the new Edwards Ferry Civil War Trails Marker, 7 pm, at Kephart Bridge Landing at Elizabeth Mills Riverfront Park (43942 Riverpoint Drive, in Lansdowne).  After the dedication, local historians will lead a tour to the bridge sites. The tour’s timing is 150 years to the hour of the crossing of General Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps.  Tour will conclude by 9 pm. Dress for a moderately paced hike.  Bring water and insect repellant.

June 29: “Bridges to Gettysburg” – a walking tour of the Edwards Ferry crossing site.  Meet at the Kephart Mill site (43942 Riverpoint Drive, in Lansdowne) at 9 AM.  A one mile hike to the bridge sites, with several stops along the way to consider Goose Creek Canal and structures located in Elizabeth Mills Riverfront park.  The tour will conclude by noon.  Dress for hiking.  Bring water, insect repellant, and sunscreen.

II Corps Trip

I’ll be leading these tours, so feel free to contact me (via comments here or by email – if you have any questions.

Yes, let’s tell that story. It’s time to bring the USCT to the fore.

Yesterday Emmanuel Dabney posted his thoughts about the future of Civil War history, leaving readers with a set of questions about the focus of interpretation:

So what do you think? If you are interpreting USCTs at a museum, historic site, or battlefield, how have you incorporated their stories in your interpretation? If you haven’t, why not?

His questions are direct, and right on target, in my opinion.

Back at the first of January, I had the privilege of speaking along side some of the other Loudoun County historians regarding the Emancipation Proclamation. My assigned task was to relate the military aspects of the proclamation. As you probably gather from my writings, I tend to focus on how things are applied, in the practical sense. So discussed the proclamation as an executive order – how it was applied by the military, and that emancipation was thence tied to success on the battlefield. But I also put emphasis on the oft forgotten section of the proclamation which authorized the USCT. The contribution of the USCT in the war was nothing short of crucial. In the end, their weight tipped the scales in the favor of the men in blue.

Emancipation depended the military… yet at the same time, the military depended on emancipation. The two were welded into a composite instrument by way of the proclamation.

One of the other speakers at the event was Kevin Grigsby, another of our Loudoun historians. Kevin has identified about 250 black men from Loudoun who served in the USCT. They fought on battlefields in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and of course Virginia. You’d think with such widespread service, their stories would be well known and shared. In a recent article run in the Washington Post, Kevin offered his take on why this is not the case:

“I don’t want to say they lived an anonymous life,” he said. “But they just kind of settled back in. There weren’t parades or statues or monuments; they came back as victors.”

“I can’t even imagine what it was like for an African American . . . to have had that moment,” Grigsby said. “In some cases, you went from a slave to a liberator . . . to a protector and then, within so many years, you begin to see that freedom slowly peeled back and you have the rise of Jim Crow.”

“So it’s no wonder that it took all these years later to kind of start discovering, wow, we had a lot of Civil War vets who were African American here,” he added. “You have to remember you are in Virginia, and that story kind of got overlooked.”

That is, to me at least, a good explanation as to why the USCT story was, for lack of a better word, buried. And that us back to Emmanuel’s set of questions.

I’ve mentioned here a time or two, a hallmark of the sesquicentennial, as compared to the centennial, is the diversity of stories… or shall I say broader spectrum of colors. It may be in Cleveland or here in Loudoun, but there is a strong current pushing us to a place with a more complete understanding of the war. We have every opportunity to bring these overlooked and overshadowed stories to the fore.

While no major actions in Loudoun involved USCT, those veterans lay in the county’s cemeteries.

Waterford 055

That is where, in my opinion, we in Loudoun might tell the story of the USCT. The way I see it, the cost of a historical marker is a comparatively small investment considering the return. Particularly in order to speak to a portion of our collective history that deserves to be told in rich, bold colors.