Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Union Takes Over Lewinsville and Langley

Over the last few months, I've written several times about the Union Army camps around present-day McLean.  (See, for example, here and here.)  Divisions under General "Baldy" Smith and General George McCall moved into the area in October 1861 and set up Camps Griffin and Pierpont.  The troops stayed until March 1862, when they headed out as part of the Army of the Potomac's spring offensive.  On October 11, 1861, the New York Times ran an article about the Union Army's movement into the region.  The correspondent provided readers with an interesting glimpse into the activities of the soldiers that had recently occupied farmers' fields around Lewinsville and Langley.  According to the Times:
A drizzling rain has been falling all the day [Oct. 10], and our troops have been engaged in the double duty of strengthening their new outposts and arranging for their personal comfort as well as they can. The Leesburgh [sic] turnpike, from Chain Bridge to Langley's, has been crowded with Government wagons all day, yet with all the camp equipage transported, many of the troops must bivouac in the rain to-night.
Establishing camp was clearly a logistical nightmare, and led to traffic jams long before the infamous ones we know today!  Soldiers' letters (more on that in a future post) confirm that tents, overcoats, and blankets were late in arriving when the Union Army moved into the vicinity of present-day McLean.

Photo and caption courtesy of Vermont Historical Society (http://www.vermonthistory.org/)
 The Times also provided details on the allegiances, and whereabouts, of local families. 
From Langley's west to Lewinsville nearly all the dwellings are deserted. Those belonging to Union families have been so since the retreat from Bull Run, though now Mr. CARPENTER, Mr. GREEN, Mr. CROCKER, Mr. GRIFFITH and Mr. GILBERT, who have been several weeks in Washington, will return to their homes to-morrow. The advance of our troops has caused the rebel families to remove to Secessia. Among them are those of HENRY JENKIS, a Colonel in the rebel cavalry; Mr. MUSE and Mr. COOK, formerly of the Navy, but now rebel officers. Their places are on the road between Langley's and Lewinsville. Mr. MACKALL, who lived near by, has also disappeared; and the residence of the family of the late Commodore AP CATESBY JONES, near Prospect Hill, was also found deserted. A son of the Commodore, PATERSON JONES, of the Navy, has remained loyal to his country. Another son, MARK JONES, is a rebel officer. DUNHAM, a rebel who kept a tavern at Langley's, has left. Mr. BURKE, a Union man, who has a similar establishment at the same point, has been able to remain at his place throughout the difficulties.
As the Times article reveals, the area around Lewinsville and Langley was fairly divided between Unionists and Confederates, including within the same family.  In fact, sympathies tilted towards the North -- Lewinsville was among three of 14 districts in Fairfax County to vote against Virginia's Ordinance of Secession in May 1861. 

The Times article also indicates that various commanders were already making themselves right at home:
Mr. SMOOT's dwelling, west of Langley's, until recently inhabited, was found without a tenant, and Gen. SMITH has located his head-quarters there. Gen. HANCOCK is at Dr. MACKALL's, from which GRIFFIN's Battery did such excellent service in the recent reconnoissances. The First Pennsylvania head-quarters is at Cook's.
General Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress)

Of course, readers may remember that Mr. Smoot's house is none other than Salona, the estate where President Madison is rumored to have stayed during his flight from the British in 1814.  And many will be familiar with "Gen. HANCOCK" (that is to say, Brigadier General Winfield Scott Hancock), who would go on to lead the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg and after.  Hancock in October 1861 commanded a brigade in "Baldy" Smith's division.  The First Pennsylvania is one of the regiments in McCall's famed Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, which arrived in Langley on October 9.

Once established on the soil of the Old Dominion, the troops around Lewinsville and Langley apparently had very little to fear from the Confederates.  According to the Times, "no attack is expected."  And again:
There are no indications of the presence of the enemy excepting cavalry pickets, and military officers incline to the opinion that there are no rebels in considerable force on the whole line of our Grand Army, or within six miles of its entire front.
Soon, the Northern troops would face a greater enemy in the poor winter weather and the diseases that spread through cramped quarters.


Jon Vrana said...

On October 22, 2011, there are plans to re-enact the Vote for Secession, as conducted at Lewinsville, VA, on May 23, 1861. I will be serving as Commissioner of Elections and would like to encourage you and the readers of your blog to attend. It is to be a part of the events up in Herndon, VA, commemorating the American Civil War. Anyone interested in participating as a citizen re-enactor in the vote is welcome by contacting me. (jvrana@gmail.com)

Ron Baumgarten said...

Henry--Thanks for the information. I attended a similar reenactment in Vienna back in May. I hope to make it to your event, but may be out of town then. Please send me any additional information (ronbaum@yahoo.com), and I will do a separate post of the event to make sure folks see it more widely. Thanks!