After speaking at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and signing books, I had planned to come home on Saturday afternoon. However, when I called my wife to let her know I was ready to leave, she gave me permission to stay out and play a while. More on that in a moment…
I left home on Friday morning and headed the truck for Carlisle, PA, and arrived at the Army History Center around 1pm. The folks there, always very helpful, pulled the couple dozen files of the Robert Blake Collection for me, as well as several other books we’d been looking for for the Gettysburg Retreat manuscript. Two of the four books proved helpful, and I got through about half the Brake material when the center began to close at 4:30. I copied several diaries and letters in Brake that I’ve recently worked into the manuscript.
That evening I drove to Gettysburg for dinner and a couple trips around the battlefield, and then met my long-suffering hosts Dave and Carol Moore – who allow me to stay at their Herr’s Ridge home when I visit. It was terrific to take a drive around the battlefield before dark… I’ve hardly been on the field at all the last three trips or so. It seems I’m always too busy!
I needed to be at the Museum in Harrisburg by 10:30 Saturday morning, so after breakfast I was on my way by 9:30. The last time I was at the Museum was shortly after it opened on a visit with Eric. Luckily, the signage in the city pointed me right to the Museum. I got there a bit early, so I walked around the surrounding park a bit and enjoyed the view to the river.
I walked into the gift shop and was warmly greeted by the staff. One of the security officers showed me the lecture room for my talk, and then they allowed to to take a trip through the displays – teasing me that I had JUST missed the Custer collection! Apparently it had been on display the previous week, and they were just loading the collection into trucks. My pleadings to be allowed to go through the trucks went unheeded
At the end of my tour, I was set up for the book signing in the main foyer, where I signed about 10 books for folks. At 1pm, I began my talk on the Stuart’s Ride book for a group of about 40 people. It went very well, and there were lots of great questions at the end. I signed a few more books for attendees and had a very enjoyable day.
I hadn’t yet had lunch, so I decided to drive to the Marketplace to find something to eat. If you’re not familiar with this area, it’s not too far from the Capitol. The Marketplace is a very long building which houses several dozen vendors, all in an open atmosphere. You name it, you can find it there – fried chicken, ribs, steaks, all kinds of sandwiches, fruit, meats, fish, etc. I got a fried chicken dinner and took it outside to enjoy the beautiful afternoon and a spectacular view of the Capitol grounds and the river. After lunch, I drove around Harrisburg for an hour or so, checking out the sites on a visitor’s map I had picked up at the Museum. I saw the Governor’s house (nice place but not as spectacular a home or location as I had envisioned) and a few historical sites. I also drove through the Harrisburg Cemetery and saw the final resting place of some local notables.
When I got back across the river, I called my better half to let her know I was on the road for home. She had been decorating the house for autumn in my absence, and told me I could “stay another day” if I wished (seems she gets more done when I’m not around to annoy her!). The following day was Sunday, so I knew I couldn’t get back to Carlisle, so I had to come up with a plan. After racking my brain as to “what to do” with my free evening and day, I decided to head for Leesburg, Virginia and do some prowling around. I love the town, and obviously there’s lots to see in the area. I had never seen the Ball’s Bluff Battlefield yet, so I put that on my list. My very good friend Jim Morgan is a volunteer guide there, so when I told buddy Steve Basic that I’d be visiting there tomorrow, he sent an email to Jim with my cell number to call me.
I also wanted to find Elijah Viers “Lige” White’s grave in the cemetery there, and also make a run to nearby Waterford where I would be at the stomping grounds of the Loudoun County Rangers, the only Federal unit raised in the Old Dominion. My July 2006 article in America’s Civil War magazine featured Lige, his 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, and one of their major clashes with the Rangers at the Waterford Baptist Church in August 1862. I knew the church still existed, and that the mill the Ranger’s founder Sam Means operated was still there, so I’d find plenty to see.
Just before arriving at Leesburg around 6pm, I went down to White’s Ford on the Potomac, another spot I hadn’t yet been to. This was Lige White’s farm and the ferry that he operated after the war. White’s Ford was also one of the major crossings during the war. It’s a beautiful place, the the only still-operating ferry on the Potomac. Busy, too – when I got there, about a dozen cars were being ferried across the river, and there were more waiting on the other side. Very cool to watch that. The ferry is called the “Jubal A. Early” after one of White’s closest benefactors. As I watched the ferry, I called Eric and told him he definitely needs to visit the spot on a future trip.
It was getting dark, so I headed in to town and found a hotel room. The Comfort Inn, brand new, sported a swimming pool and even a popcorn machine in the lobby. I enjoyed the popcorn (several bags) and lamented that I never thought to pack my swimming trunks!
I was up early on Sunday, and mapped my route to Waterford via the Old Waterford Road. I had just pulled out of the hotel parking lot when Jim Morgan called – he was doing tours of Ball’s Bluff at 10am and 12pm and invited me along. It was already about 9:45, so I told him I’d make the noon tour. I really looked forward to seeing a battlefield for the first time, and getting a tour from the expert.
I easily found the Old Waterford Road northwest out of town. Boy, did it turn into a turkey track after a couple miles – in fact, the asphalt quit and the dirt took over. It obviously hasn’t changed much since the 1800′s. In fact, I was thankful I took my 4WD Chevy 1500 pickup, because the road, in spots, was pretty awful. But what I saw along the ride was quite surprising – there were multi-million dollar homes all along the road, and there was no other way to them, believe me. I figured that these were the digs of Washington suburbanites who found quiet, off-the-beaten-path places for their beautiful homes and ranches. No one would believe that such places were on this lousy road. And scattered along the way were simply awesome 18th and 19th century homes. I saw several that had signs they were built in the 1760′s. If ever you find yourself in the area, drive this road – but make sure you have a truck or SUV!
After about 20 minutes on the road I arrived in Waterford. The entire place is a National Historic Landmark (similar to Harper’s Ferry) and it’s a real step back in time. Beautiful little quaint old town. Nearly every home in this town is pushing 200 years old or older. I easily found the mill that Samuel Means owned – there was a sign outside that stated it was owned and operated by the Historic Waterford Foundation (I think that’s the name). They even had waysides on the property. Sam Means, a loyalist who raised and commanded the Loudoun County Rangers (USA) had his milled robbed several time during the war, and it literally broke him. At the end of war, he went to Washington DC to live with his daughter, and drank himself to death. He was a Quaker, like many in the area, and had friends and family that served the Confederacy. The Rangers clashed with Lige White’s Comanches many times in the in-fights during the war.
One of the worst of those clashed happened at the Waterford Baptist Church, which I found a block off Main Street. I pulled into the parking lot – the church was having its 11am services, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to enter the building. In August 1862, White’s men ambushed Means’ men here, and killed, wounded, and captured nearly all of them. There is a plaque on the building near the entrance recounting the event. One of Means’ men drew a map of the action later, so I was able to walk the property and surrounding area and follow White’s ambush the way it played out. I’m sure any of the locals watching me were wondering what the hell I was doing, but I was having a great time playing the event out in my head.
It was getting time to get back to Leesburg, so I pointed my trusty pickup back down the Old Waterford Road, ready for the bumpy ride back. I had a noon appointment with Jim Morgan and the little battlefield of Ball’s Bluff, which I’ll post about next.