Taylorstown, Virginia: February 20, 1863…
It was 11 pm, the party at the Filler home was well underway, and for once Mollie Anderson knew her brother was safe. Sgt. F.B. Anderson was a member of the only Union troop created in the midst of Confederate Virginia, and the Independent Loudoun Rangers were in constant danger because of it.
Dressed in their very finest, the pro-Union young ladies of the neighborhood were busy dancing with the young men who'd come to call, among them Sgt. F.B. Anderson and another Loudoun Ranger.
But out in the fields surrounding the Filler home, another sort of party was forming: a raiding party consisting of members of the 35th Confederate Cavalry Battalion. Commanded by Elijah V. White, the troop was nicknamed "The Comanches" for the fierce war whoop they yelled on the attack. And like legendary Confederate Colonel John Mosby, they enjoyed nothing better than to surprise the enemy.
So, just after 11 pm, White's Comanches gave the war whoop and burst into the Filler home, and in the next few seconds, approximately twelve Confederate revolvers were leveled at Sgt. Anderson's head.
The fellow in charge of the raid, a young man named Confederate Lieutenant Marlow, then informed Anderson that they would be taken to Libby Prison in Richmond.
Everyone in the room knew Libby was a cesspool of starvation and disease, and sending Anderson to Libby would be tantamount to sending him to his death. So, at this, Mollie came to the young Confederate Lieutenant, threw her arms around his neck and began to weep as she begged him not to send her brother to Libby.
In a society in which one never touched an un-gloved hand, let alone threw your arms about a stranger's neck, Mollie's actions were shocking. And what effect did this have on Marlow? An account written by Ranger Briscoe Goodhart, in The History of the Independent Loudoun Virginia Rangers, simply says: "Marlow wilted." And when he rallied, he told Miss Mollie he would send her brother to a camp where he could be released on parole... but only on one condition: if she would dance the next set of dances with him.
Mollie consented… and then things grew even stranger.
As all the Confederate soldiers took partners and lined up for the dance, Sergeant Anderson walked over to the musicians, borrowed the violin, and begin to play, "The Girl I Left Behind Me." Lieutenant Marlow and Miss Mollie led off, and Marlow called for a "Promenade All" — typically the first dance of the evening. By this bit of ballroom etiquette, Marlowe was telling the crowd the Confederates were starting the party over.
The Confederates stayed through 6-8 dances, and then they took Anderson and another prisoner away. As Goodhart put it, "It was hard to tell who was the hero of the evening."
Lieutenant Marlow did parole Sgt. Anderson the next day, and Anderson dutifully signed in to Camp Parole”in Maryland and was eventually exchanged to return to his unit.
So was the Civil War truly this Civil? No. As the war progressed and Loudoun County was torn to shreds, the Filler Ball would never be repeated.
VIRGINIA'S ONLY UNION TROOP
With two-thirds of the County pro-Southern and another third either Quaker or pro-Union, the border County of Loudoun was a breeding ground of conflict like no other. The Independent Loudoun Rangers were formed June 20, 1862 under Quaker-turned-Captain Samuel Means, and would go down in history as the only Union troop ever formed on Virginia’s soil.
Members of this cavalry troop were drawn mostly from Germans and Quaker families. The Germans who settled Taylorstown and Lovettsville (then known as Berlin) had come down from Pennsylvania and retained a pro-Northern, anti-slavery attitude. The Quakers who founded Waterford, Hamilton (then Harmony) and Lincoln were pro-Union, anti-slavery and decidedly pacifist, but when war came to their very doorstep, things changed. Many Quakers became willing to be "written out" of the Church to join the Union Army.
From the start, the Rangers knew what they were up against. Surrounded by pro-Confederate households and Confederate troops, they knew their enemy well. The men of the Loudoun Rangers and White's 35th Battalion had grown up together and many were former friends and schoolmates…. even brothers. Two, Charlie and William Snoots split as they joined up — William signing with the Comanches and Charlie with the Rangers.
And now Charlie and William waited for the day they'd face each other on the battlefield. As Loudoun is a relatively small county, it was a short wait.
Just two months after the Rangers' formation, about 23 members of the new troop set up makeshift headquarters at the Waterford Baptist Meeting House and bedded down for the night on the long wooden pews. In the early morning hours of August 27, the Rangers were awakened by loud noises. They tumbled out of the church and formed a line in front of the Church's plaster and lath vestibule.
Luther Slater, the Lieutenant in charge that night, called out, "Halt! Who comes there?" The only answer was a tremendous volley of short-range pistol fire from members of Elijah V. White's 35th Battalion. The Comanches had slipped passed the Rangers' pickets and come through the cornfields to meet their prey.
The Rangers returned fire as they retreated back into the church through the wood vestibule, but the Confederates continued firing, and Goodhart tells us, "The bullets poured through this barrier as they would through paper."
After several hours of fighting, two Rangers had died and half the men lay wounded in the pews. Lieutenant Slater was suffering from five wounds, several taken at the first volley. Goodhart noted that, by the end of the fight, the place looked "more like a slaughter pen than a house of worship."
Eventually the Rangers were forced to surrender.
As the prisoners filed out of the church, one Comanche, William Snoots, watched closely to see if his brother Charlie was among them. Charlie had indeed been in the church and exited without a wound. When William saw Charlie alive and well, he made a move to shoot him, but Goodhart says William was, "fittingly rebuked by his officers for such an soldierly and unbrotherly desire".
Charlie was left unscathed.
Soon after this fight, the Rangers had a small success in the town of Hillsboro. There they surprised, then took prisoner a few members of White's command, along with some valuable equipment and arms. But the Rangers' joy was short-lived. On September 2, a group of Rangers rode into Leesburg and ran into another Confederate Unit, the 2nd Virginia Cavalry. Seeing the disadvantage of engaging the enemy within a highly pro-Confederate town, the Rangers quickly reformed north of the city at Mile Hill on the Carolina Road (now Route 15).
With numbers greatly in their favor, the Confederates rode north to meet the Rangers and soon outflanked and surrounded them. As the Rangers fought to break free of the line, the fight dissolved into a battle of sabers. Many escaped - but with sword wounds.
With one dead, six wounded and several prisoners taken, this second battle came close to destroying the Rangers completely. Only 20 cavalry soldiers remained, but they pressed on. Each had made the choice of principle over place, love of country over old friendships, and conscience over the bonds of blood.
While it's Briscoe Goodhart's contention the two early defeats, "did to a very large extent interfere with the future usefulness of the organization," the cavalry unit eventually grew to 120 in number and went on to fight a battle at Harpers Ferry, participate in the Battle of Antietam and the Gettysburg campaign, and made themselves useful to the Union Army by successfully carrying dispatches and scouting their old neighborhoods.
In April of 1864, the Rangers found out several members of the 35th Battalion would be at a dance being held at Washington Vandeventer's home near Wheatland. Perhaps it was payback for the humiliation Anderson suffered the year before, but he and another Ranger led the attack.
Unfortunately, the Confederates were ready for them, and they were immediately engaged in a skirmish. Eventually the Rangers pushed the Confederates back and out of the house, and the battle soon ended as they made their escape. In the end, the Rangers had shot and killed an 18-year old Confederate soldier named Braden and slightly wounded his sister. The Confederates were not likely to forget the incident, nor Sergeant Anderson.
In late November of 1864, General Sheridan decided to burn out the “bread basket of the Confederacy," i.e. The Shenandoah Valley and much of western Loudoun County. The Union Army was ordered to "consume and destroy all forage and subsistence, burn all barns and mills and their contents, and drive off all stock in the region." Sheridan hoped one byproduct of the raid would be the destruction of the Confederate citizens’ morale (the Burning Raid was so successful on both counts that General Grant gave General Sherman permission to take the concept south in his famous "March to the Sea").
Before the Raid, the Union Army thought that, with first-hand knowledge of who'd still have cattle or wheat in the barn, it was logical to ask the Loudoun Rangers to lead the burning parties.
They did their duty but few were proud of their part in this “scorched earth” policy. After all, the soldiers' main source of resistance to their efforts was the anguished tears of women and children begging them not to burn their barns or kill the livestock. For the Confederate households, the Burning Raid meant no food for the winter, and for the Quakers, it meant the loss of all their goods despite their constant and adamant support for the Union cause. Small wonder Briscoe Goodhart book on the Loudoun Rangers gives scant space to the "Burning Raid."
THE LAST DANCE
By Christmas of 1864, there was hope among Unionists that the war would soon end, but in Loudoun, the residents were more divided than ever. On Christmas Eve, the Loudoun Rangers were visiting their families, and Anderson's mother decided to a party at their home near Taylorstown. One of their guests that night was a young lady that, rumor had it, would soon be Anderson's bride.
But outside the home, sixteen Confederate cavalrymen — some with the 35th Battalion and some with Colonel Mosby's troops — gathered for yet another raid. Ten soldiers drew their revolvers and entered the Anderson residence. Anderson must have known they would rather kill than arrest him, so he drew his revolver and rushed to the back door.
But he'd removed his sword in order to dance that night, and in a tragic twist of fate, the S-hook of his sword belt caught a chair, and the chair caught him fast in the doorway. He was trying to detach himself as the soldiers opened fire, and he was shot four times. His mother mother caught him as he fell, and he died in her arms a few minutes later.
In April, peace finally came — or at least a lack of outright war.
And when the Loudoun Rangers were mustered out of service, they'd lost a third of their number. The vast majority of survivors had suffered wounds in battle or starvation in Confederate prisons. But, through it all, each to a man remained true to the Union cause and thereby earned the honor of being the only Virginians to serve the Union Army.
But no one could blame them if, at every dance they attended in the years to come, they watched the dance hall doorway rather than their partners' toes.
This post first appeared as “A Hard History: The Union Soldiers of Virginia” in the former LOUDOUN MAGAZINE, 2011.
Meredith Bean McMath is a prize-winning playwright, award-winning historian, stage director, speaker and the Managing Director of Run Rabbit Run Productions, Inc.