Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What I've Been Up To....

I recently finished Ethan Rafuse's impressive tome, McClellan's War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union. I've always found Gen. George McClellan a fascinating and complex person. Rafuse's biography challenges much of the conventional wisdom about Little Mac. He emerges as a more sympathetic character, whose devotion to Whig principles and the policy of conciliation became increasingly irrelevant as the war hardened and emancipation entered the picture. But I digress for the purposes of this post.

Rafuse dedicated an entire chapter to McClellan's last campaign, which took place in Loudoun Valley, Virginia in late October and early November 1862. Very little has been written about this period, including the cavalry battles at Philomont and Unison. Given that the 1862 Loudoun Valley Campaign largely occurred a places within 25 to 45 minutes drive from my home, I figured it might be interesting to read more about it, and to explore the ground where the marching and fighting actually occurred. As an added bonus, it is a postscript to the Antietam Campaign, which has been a focus of my studies on the war in the East.

The North Fork ford along Jeb Stuart Rd. in Philomont. On November 1, 1862, the Confederate cavalry crossed at this point and clashed with Union forces. Maj. John Pelham's Horse Artillery fired from high ground on the far side of the creek. (Be warned! Do not try to cross here in your vehicle unless you are sure of its off-road capabilities!)

Fighting occurred near the Unison United Methodist Church (1832) on November 2, 1862. Union casualties were treated in the church following the fight.

Aside from Rafuse's chapter, two resources have quickly become invaluable. In winter 1999, Blue & Gray published an issue featuring "Little Mac's Last Stand: Autumn 1862 in Loudoun Valley, Virginia" by Patrick J. Brennan. The article is accompanied by a driving tour on the campaign. More recently, the National Park Service, in conjunction with the Unison Preservation Society, published Civil War in Loudoun Valley: The Battle of Unison, November 1-3, 1862. This little book contains invaluable maps of all the fighting that took place between forces under Jeb Stuart and Alfred Pleasonton, as well as photographs of landmarks related to the battle. As far as I know, this book can only be obtained by sending a check directly to the Unison Preservation Society. It is well worth the price -- it contains detailed information that likely exists nowhere else in a secondary source.

I've already done some preliminary exploring at Unison and Philomont, and you may have seen pictures of my site visits on Facebook or Twitter. I may do a few blog posts as I dig deeper, but for now I am undecided about what direction my research will take. Sometimes it is just fun to get back to the basics and do a deep dive into a local topic that is a bit more obscure. As an added bonus, I get to tour some of the most historic and scenic countryside in the United States!


Richard said...

Local stuff always feels more fun.

I admit I had never heard of Philomont until I recently found one of my ancestors was there under Pleasonton, so I will be reading anything you write on that. No pressure :)

Anyway, thanks for listing those sources on this campaign. I will keep them in mind as I look further into the 3rd Indiana Cavalry in the future.

Ron Baumgarten said...

I have always found it interesting to learn about the history of where I live, work, and play. If it involves the Civil War, so much the better.

The 3rd Indiana? That's great! As a matter of fact, they fought against the 3rd Cav VA near the water crossing pictured in the photo above. You should get the sources I mention--they will certainly help you to dig into your ancestor's actions in the Loudoun Valley Campaign.

By the way, there is also a driving tour CD published by the Mosby Heritage Area Assn that focuses on the campaign. That is next on the purchase list!

Ron Baumgarten said...

Make that 3rd VA Cav!....