Thursday, January 10, 2013

McLean Historical Society: Follow-Up on Speaking Engagement

As readers are aware, this past Tuesday I spoke before the McLean Historical Society (MHS) about the Union Army encampments in the McLean area during the first fall and winter of the Civil War.  I am extremely grateful that the MHS invited me to talk about this topic, which has been one of the main focuses of this blog.  All told, around 50 people turned out for the event.  It warmed my heart to see that so many people were interested in learning about the Civil War camps in my part of Northern Virginia.  The audience was not strictly "local" either.  At least one Facebook fan from DC showed up, along with a member of the neighboring Bull Run Civil War Roundtable.

A few people in the crowd were also descendants of families who lived in this area during the mid-19th century.  Dan Smoot's ancestor, Jacob Smoot, owned Salona at the time of the Civil War.  Jacob, a Southern sympathizer, fled Salona with his family and moved to Georgetown.   He was also arrested by Union authorities early in the war.  Gen. "Baldy" Smith used Salona as his divisional headquarters, and the Vermont Brigade encamped on and around the Smoot property.  (The present-day owner of historic Salona was also present).  Doug Mackall is the descendant of William W. Mackall, a Confederate general who lived in the McLean area after the war.  The home of Doug's distant relative, Dr. Richard Mackall, became brigade headquarters for Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock.  The DC area is often viewed as transient, but people like Dan and Doug remind us that some families have deep roots dating back more than 150 years.  Who could have imagined that in 2013 a transplant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would be speaking about local citizens who were so deeply affected by the Civil War in front of their very descendants? 

Detail from 1862 Union Army map showing the area where the divisions of "Baldy" Smith and George McCall established Camps Griffin and Pierpont, respectively.  The Mackall and Smoot properties are plainly visible in the center of the map.
The audience engaged in a lively Q&A session, and I also had time to speak one-on-one with some of the attendees following the main event.  A woman from McLean informed me that just the other day she found three Civil War bullets in her yard!  Others told me about some recent relic discoveries on a large plot of land near my house which apparently confirm the existence of a Union Army campsite.  Another attendee alerted me to a book about the experiences of the Comte de Paris, who served on George B. McClellan's staff.  Entitled Voyage en Amérique 1861-1862 : Un prince français dans la guerre de Sécession (2011), the book devotes considerable attention to the Comte's time in Northern Virginia.  I plan to order a copy soon and see what gems I can uncover.  I'll let readers know in future posts. 

This was my second time speaking before the MHS, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I also walked away with some interesting stories and insights from those who attended.  Thanks to all who came to hear about the camps!


Anonymous said...

Hey Ron, It's been a pleasure catching up on your blog over the past few weeks from start to finish. Have enjoyed getting a chronological sense of how the war moved through this area. I know the research is time-consuming, but keep it up as work and family obligations permit! Cheers, Ken.

Ron Baumgarten said...


Thanks for reading the entire thing! What a project. I am honored. Now that your job has changed, hopefully you'll have more time to keep up with it on a week-to-week basis. And thanks for making the speech the other night as well.