“The Eyes of the Nation Were Upon Us”
Background to Lovettsville’s second Civil War Trails Marker, “Union Gateway to Virginia”
[Following is an expanded version of the remarks delivered by Edward Spannaus of the Lovettsville Historical Society, at the dedication ceremony on May 4, 2013.]
We were pretty well agreed that the theme of the second Civil War Trail Marker would be the idea of the passage of the armies through Lovettsville, that Lovettsville was the “Union Gateway to Virginia.” I suggested two other elements: that the marker be placed here, the location of the old hotel, and second, that we cite the flag-raising at the end of the war, on May 3, 1865 – said to be the first in Loudoun County.
There of course was no Town Square, no “Squircle” and no Route 287 at the time.
Broad Way, formerly known as just “Main Street,” was the old colonial road that led from Waterford to the Potomac. The Berlin Turnpike, known as South Loudoun Street in the Town, was only built in the early 1850s. This intersection, now Broad Way and South Loudoun Street, was the crossroads, the old town center. The troops passing through, whether a squad of scouts, or infantry regiments, didn’t stop at the 7/11; they all passed down these streets and around this corner, and smaller groups would refresh themselves in the hotel’s saloon.
The old hotel on this site, called the Reamer Hotel, was the gathering place, the watering hole, the meeting place. We know that Gen. (Ambrose) Burnside made his HQ here as he passed through. Whether (Gen. George B.) McClellan’s headquarters were at the hotel, or in a field tent, we don’t know.
1862: The eyes of the nation were upon us
Why did the Army of the Potomac cross here? Quite literally, the eyes of the nation were upon us, when McClellan finally crossed the Potomac and invaded Virginia at the end of October.
In looking at this, and imagining it in your mind’s eye, try and put yourself the shoes of those anxiously watching these events at the time. We, today, know how the story ends, but they did not. As in any great conflict, the outcome was not clear, nor was it pre-determined. We can look back over time, and see the events of 1862 as part of a linear path to victory in 1865 – but no one would have thought that at the time.
The Battle of Antietam, on September 17, 1862, had been a turning point. The period leading up to Antietam was the low point for the Union, and the peak of Confederate forces’ success. The imperial powers of Europe, Britain and Hapsburg-allied France, were moving toward recognition of the Confederate States of America as an independent nation. Antietam was actually a stalemate, but constituted a Union victory in that it stopped Lee’s drive toward Pennsylvania (and probably Philadelphia), and caused Lee to withdraw back to Virginia. Had McClellan immediately pursued Lee’s army, he might have destroyed it – but that was not McClellan’s nature. McClellan was not just slow and overly cautious: his goal was never a Union victory, but he waged only limited war in hopes of a negotiated settlement. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation after Antietam, McClellan was enraged, and even briefly considered the proposals of many around him, to march on Washington and seize the reins of government.
Rather than pursue Lee, McClellan remained in place. Yes, his army was in bad shape and in need of recuperation and re-supply after Antietam, but Lee’s army was in much worse shape. To Lincoln’s chagrin, McClellan didn’t move. His troops remained north of the Potomac, spread from Antietam, to Harpers Ferry, Berlin (now Brunswick), and Point of Rocks. Two weeks after Antietam, Lincoln visited McClellan in camp, but there was no meeting of the minds.
McClellan’s plan was to eventually to cross the river at Shepherdstown and/or Harper’s Ferry, and proceed up the Shenandoah Valley toward Winchester. Lincoln wanted McClellan to cross the Potomac while the roads were still good, and advised that he cross east of the Blue Ridge where more reinforcements would be available, and so he would be positioned between the Confederate army and the national capital. In this way, Lincoln reasoned, the Union Army of the Potomac would closer to Richmond than Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia — which was mostly in the Valley.
Probably another reason for using Lovettsville as the gateway to Virginia was that this was predominately a Unionist area, and there were many Loyalist scouts who could guide the Union forces as they proceeded further into the state. (Taylor Chamberlin and John Souders, in the course of researching their book Between Reb and Yank, discovered a clandestine intelligence network of Unionists in the Lovettsville area, who were reporting to the command at Harpers Ferry). This was undoubtedly a factor in the choice of this route, but paramount were the parameters of Lincoln’s recommendation and orders.
During October, there were increasing Federal raids into north Loudoun, and an increasing presence of bluecoats in and around Lovettsville, in preparation for the movement of the main Army – which finally began on Oct. 26, when the construction of a pontoon bridge across the Potomac at Berlin was completed.
Let us listen to some contemporary accounts:
Sara Edmonds wrote, in her Nurse and Spy in the Union Army: Comprising the Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battle-fields:
“On the 25th of October, the pontoon bridges
being completed at Harper’s Ferry and at Berlin,
the army once more advanced into Virginia. The
ninth corps and Pleasanton’s cavalry occupied
Lovettsville, a pretty little village reminding one
of New England.”
The New York Herald: “Advance of the Army of the Potomac Into Virginia.” (Special Dispatch to the Baltimore American) datelined HARPER’S FERRY, Oct. 26, — 6 P.M. (published October 28, 1862). This was also published in New York Times on Oct. 28 with the headlines:
“From the Army of the Potomac. Symptoms of a General Movement. A Large Force Thrown Across the River at New-Berlin. Gen. Pleasanton’s Cavalry Gone Toward Leesburgh. Gen. Burnside’s Second Army Corps at Lovettsville. Reinforcements Steadily Going Over the River.
“I am happy to be able to inform you that the advance of the Army of the Potomac commenced this morning, and I have reason to believe that before tomorrow night the movement will be general along the whole line, placing the Potomac in our rear. At daylight this morning the cavalry force of General Pleasanton, with four pieces of artillery, crossed the new pontoon bridge at Berlin, eight miles east of Harper’s Ferry, and proceeded direct to Lovettsville, in London [sic] county.
“At Lovettsville our cavalry entered about eight o’clock in the morning, and the few rebel pickets stationed there fled before them in the direction of Leesburg. The people of this loyal town, especially the ladies, received our troops with great enthusiasm, and the Stars and Stripes were thrown out in all parts of the town. Many of their fugitive husbands and sons returned with the cavalry, and the demonstration was most earnest and unmistakable. Without stopping, except to leave pickets and a guard, General Pleasanton moved on in the direction of Waterford, expecting to reach Leesburg early in the afternoon.”
The New York Times account continued:
“Shortly after the cavalry advance had crossed, Gen. BURNSIDE, with his Second Army Corps, commenced crossing at the same point …
“It was the intention of Gen. BURNSIDE to rest for the night at Lovettsville and move forward on Monday morning…. The troops were in fine spirits, notwithstanding the bad weather, and cheered most lustily when they reached the Virginia shore….”
The New York Times reprinted the following from the Baltimore American, datelined Oct. 27:
“… Today there has been no movement beyond a gradual but heavy reinforcement of Gen. BURNSIDE, in position. He has taken the Virginia side of the Potomac, near Lovettsville…it is evident that the movement is no mere reconnaissance, but in reality an advance of the left wing of the army. [describes movements] Gen. BURNSIDE’s forces are massed in the vicinity of Lovettsville.”
A Letter from New York 1st Artillery Reg’t, in Camp Near Lovettsville, Va., Thursday night, Oct. 30.
“I didn’t have time to mail this letter this afternoon, and before trying to get it off in the morning let me add a P.S. We are in Virginia, we perceive. The Potomac is no longer in our front, but in our rear. We crossed the pontoon bridge at Berlin about four o’clock this afternoon and moved briskly over the splendid turnpike through Lovettsville, and are now encamped in a large grass field some three miles from the above place. We are on ground that belongs to a secesh who has two sons in the Confederate army. This part of Virginia appears never to have been perceptibly molested by the tramp and encampment of armies, but before to-morrow’s sun rises what a change there will have been produced since the entrance and occupancy of our division in this vicinity. The road is now full of marching troops, and already we begin to hear the breaking and tottling of fences, preparatory to going into quarters. A land of waste and desolation this will very soon become. The soldiers seem to have a spite against “Old Virginia,” and if they march thro’ the State again they will be apt to carry General Pope’s unmodified confiscation orders into full effect. How long we are to stay here I cannot say. The road over which we came, and which lies by the side of our camp, leads to Leesburg and to Winchester. We have been told to be in readiness for a fight at any moment.”
New York Times, Nov. 1, 1862. “Letter from Lovettsville” datelined Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1862:
The presence of the advance of the column of the grand Union army, now on its march to Richmond, has converted this dreary little Virginia village into a busy and animated scene. Gen. BURNSIDE, whose headquarters are at the hotel here, has been throwing forward his forces in various directions. PLEASONTON, with his cavalry, is at Purcellville; STONEMAN’S Division … is now massed at Middleburgh and Upperville… Refugees from the conscription in Loudon County continue to pour in from Maryland, and make their way home in the wake of the army. At least six hundred had fled the conscription in this county alone. The weather and roads are magnificent, and everything is favorable for active operations.”
(For more descriptions of these events, and local color, see Between Reb & Yank).
Postscript: When McClellan finally got to Warrenton a week later, awaiting him were the orders from Lincoln relieving him of command, and replacing him with Gen. Burnside.
1863: After Gettysburg
Following the Battle of Gettysburg, Meade basically retraced McClellan’s steps — moving faster, but still not fast enough for Lincoln, who was furious that Meade let Lee escape when his battered army had been trapped between Gettysburg and the then-impassable Potomac River. Meade was content, in his own words, to drive the invader from northern soil. But if Meade had taken the offensive and aggressively attacked Lee’s army, Lincoln believed, the war would have been over. Indeed, it wasn’t until Gen. Ulysses Grant was appointed head of all the armies in March 1864, that Lincoln found a general who understood that his primary mission was to destroy the enemy’s armies and put them out of commission.
After Gettysburg, Lee’s forces slowly made their way through Maryland toward the Potomac, crossing to the west between Falling Waters and Williamsport on July 13-14, , and then into and up the Shenandoah Valley. Meade’s forces were spread throughout Pleasant Valley, and along the river at Sandy Hook and Berlin; they crossed the river at Berlin (and some at Harper’s Ferry) a few days after Lee, on July 17, and occupied Lovettsville. On July 18th, Meade crossed with the 1st Corps, establishing his headquarters at Lovettsville, and pushed on to Wheatland on July 19.
New York Tribune, July 30, 1863. “Movements of Meade’s Army HQ of the Army of the Potomac,” from our Special Correspondent, Warrenton, Va., July 27, 1863.
The army after leaving Berlin last week nearly retraced its steps of last year till reaching this place Headquarters passed the Potomac on Saturday, 18th ____, passed that night at Lovettsville, Sunday night near Wheatland, Monday and Tuesday nights at Union, Wednesday night at Upperville, Thursday at Markham Station, Friday at Salem, and arrived here at midday on Saturday last.…”
The Army of the Potomac did not return to northern soil from Virginia until after the siege of Petersburg, the fall of Richmond, and the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomatox.
1865: July 1863 was the last major troop movement through Lovettsville. At the beginning of January 1865, Gen. Thomas Devin, commanding the Second Cavalry Brigade (of Gen. Wesley Merritt’s First Cavalry Division), moved 2500 cavalrymen into winter quarters around Lovettsville. They encamped in a semi-circle around the town of Lovettsville, stretching from the Turnpike near Armistead Filler’s farm (Linden Hall), around to the east and south of town, to the base of the Short Hill and to George’s Mill.
“Dear Maggie” letter from Maj. George E. Famer, 6th New York Cavalry, encamped near Lovettsville, Feb. 3, 1865:
This is a very pleasant place for a man of very active temperament but for a quick man fond of a full night’s rest it has some disadvantages. The other night Col. White had the impudence to charge into our camp at about One O’Clock in the morning and behaved so badly that he had to be summarily ejected which was accomplished with the loss of One Officer Lieut. Carroll and 2 men killed. 10 men wounded and 9 prisoner.
They left 3 dead and report 15 wounded. (This was the “George Schoolhouse Raid”)
Until lately we have had very fine sleighing. I have succeeded in rendering myself famous among all the old women in this neighborhood for driving through Lovettsville with four horses and a sleigh full of girls….”
During this time, the old Presbyterian Church (on South Church Street, where the Baptist church now stands), was being used as a hospital for Union soldiers. A New York Times story, dated Feb. 16, 1865, and datelined Feb. 12 from Winchester, listed recent casualties in the 6th New York Cavalry, and continued:
The above named wounded men are all in the hospital at Lovettsville, under the care of Dr. RICHARD CURRAN, and are all provided for – the Doctor having one of the most comfortable and best regulated hospitals ever seen in the field: besides using a small brick church, he has caused to be erected a number of cozy log huts for wards, and by appropriating a saw mill within a short distance of camp, he has obtained boards enough to make floors and suitable bunks, so that the accommodations are more comfortable in fact, than ordinary frame houses would be in this inclement weather. Notwithstanding the severity of the weather, the average number of hospital patients since the 1st of January has been less than fifty….
On May 3, about four weeks after the end of the war in the east, the American flag was officially raised in Lovettsville, accompanied by a large and joyful celebration. The New York Sunday Mercury published an account of this on May 14, provided by their “special correspondent” with the 6th New York Cavalry, then at Berlin:
On last Wednesday there was quite an important assemblage in Lovattsville (sic), called together by the performance of the important ceremony of the first hoisting of the Stars and Stripes in the County of Loudon since the outbreak of the rebellion. The immense crowd which assembled testified to the importance attached to the event; and the enthusiasm displayed by the returned Union refugees was in marked contrast to the gloomy and downcast countenance of those who have been continued residents of the county, and consequently, either active participants in or sympathizers with the treason of Jeff Davis and Co. The band of the Fifth New York Heavy Artillery was present, from Harper’s Ferry, and made the air resonant with sweet music.*
A large number of military gentlemen were present, among whom were Colonels Graham and Seely with their staff; and the assemblage of the fair sex was perfectly dazzling. …
Great credit is due to the Committee for Arrangements for the excellent entertainment furnished to their guests. There was a ball in the evening.
This letter, and an item in the Alexandria Gazette, listed the speakers, which included both military officers, and local political leaders including State Senator William Mercer and Speaker of the House James Downey, of the Restored Government of Virginia in Alexandria.
Taylor Chamberlin and John Souders put it this way, in their Between Reb & Yank:
Aptly, the first American flag to be officially raised in Loudoun was flown in the town that had been the first to openly resist the rebellion. The Alexandria Gazette, no friend of Unionists, devoted considerably less space to the event [than did the N.Y. Sunday Mercury], although it conceded that there was “much enthusiasm and “loud cheers” from “loyal resident citizens” and recently returned exiles, when the flag was hoisted aloft….
These are some of the events that took place right here, where you are standing today for this dedication ceremony.
* The New York Sunday Mercury article was provided courtesy of Cordelia and Taylor Chamberlin.