The History of Waterford, Virginia
A National Historic Landmark

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The First Waterford Skirmish
Waterford Shows Strong Union Sympathies
Waterford News
Shopping Under Difficulties
The War Continues

Waterford in the Civil War —1864

Much of this article is by John Divine and appeared in the Waterford Foundation's 1983 publication, Waterford Perspectives. Reprinted with the permission of the Waterford Foundation, Inc.

At the beginning of the year 1864, the citizens of Waterford had not seen large bodies of troops since the previous July when the Army of the Potomac returned from the Gettysburg Campaign; but the small bands roamed throughout the border-land. Colonel John S. Mosby was at the height of his operations and the rich Catoctin Valley was a favorite target for his forages. While Colonel E. V. White's Cavalry was not operating regularly with the Army of Northern Virginia, his men returned to spend the winter at their homes. To strengthen their half-starved horses, the hay stacks and corn cribs of those Loudoun farmers fortunate enough to harvest crops the preceding year harshly felt their return.

Waterford suffered greatly during the Civil War. In some ways it never recovered from the physical, economic and psychological blows. Because the large Quaker population remained loyal to the Union—and steadfastly pacifist—it endured repeated Confederate harassment and depredation. Many Quakers fled to the north. Samuel Means, a lapsed Quaker who owned the mill and a house on Bond Street during the war, was finally provoked by rebel confiscation of his horses and supplies to raise a cavalry unit to fight for the Union. His Loudoun Rangers were the only organized Union army unit from Virginia.

But even Union forces took their toll on this largely loyal corner of Loudoun County. Both friend and foe were scorched during General Sheridan's "Burning Raid" in 1864—designed to destroy anything of potential value to the enemy. Waterford's own company of Loudoun Rangers made almost daily visits from their camps at Point of Rocks, Maryland, and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Major Henry Cole's Maryland Cavalry kept a watchful eye on the activities of the Confederates, so hardly a day passed that failed to bring either Blue or Gray, and sometimes both, into the town. Should either force be in search of a fight, they came to Waterford; for it was almost a certainty that the enemy would be found there. It was the gateway between North and South for the irregulars.

Despite the drain on its resources after three years of war, the community still had the bare necessities of life. Frugality had been their trade-mark since the town was founded-, now they were able to continue their daily lives even though the few former luxuries were nonexistent. The federal forces on the line of the Potomac maintained a strict blockade. No mails were permitted to pass either way, nor were any persons without a pass from the Government allowed to cross the river, except refugees going north and persons bringing grain from Virginia.(1)

The First Waterford Skirmish  Top of page

Although daily skirmishing was to be expected between the partisans, an event took place on May 17 that caused great excitement and indignation in the town. On the evening of the 16th, the Loudoun Rangers bivouacked just north of the town. Monday morning, May 17, the command came into Waterford in search of their breakfast. While the company was somewhat scattered in finding something to eat, their pickets on the south side of town were decoyed into a trap by about 100 of Mosby's men. Two men were killed and Sergeant Charles Stewart was dangerously wounded. The Rangers formed their line on a hill north of the town, where they received the fire of the enemy. Firing and falling back, they lost five prisoners before the Confederates broke off the attack.(2) Stewart, seriously wounded, was still lying in the road when John Mobberly, a desperado from the northwestern section of the county, and his band approached. Seeing the stricken man in the road, Mobberly rode his horse back and forth over Stewart's body, firing at him all the while. Tiring of this sport, Mobberly dismounted and relieved the wounded man of his new cavalry boots. Mobberly, formerly with Colonel White's command, had deserted to carry on a guerilla type war at its worst; preying on friend and foe alike, he could no longer be considered a Confederate soldier.

The near-fatally wounded Stewart was taken to the home of Miss Rachel Steer (3), a kindly Quakeress. Shortly, other ladies from Waterford arrived on the scene, accompanied by Dr. Thomas Bond. The venerable physician upon seeing his patient said; "My only ambition in life is to live long enough to make another hell for the man that shot Stewart after he was helpless." (4) Stewart, under the kind care of Dr. Bond and Miss Steer, recovered sufficiently to return to duty; but he swore vengeance on Mobberly, and there is a sequel to the story. Less than a year later, Stewart shot and killed Mobberly. Hearing that Mobberly would appear at a farm in the Lovettsville area on a certain night forcibly to relieve the owner of his horse, Stewart concealed himself in the barn; and upon Mobberly's approach fired from the barn, killing him instantly.(5) Such was the deadliness of border warfare.

Waterford Shows Strong Union Sympathies  Top of page

Waterford had shown its strong Union sympathies at the time of the referendum on Secession in 1861(6) and had always greeted Union troops warmly. However, most of the citizens, and more particularly the Quakers, attempted to maintain strict neutrality. Friend and enemy had been fed; and the best of care had been given to the sick and wounded, regardless of the uniform they wore. The younger generation, though, were not so constrained in their patriotic demonstrations.

Three sisters made a Union flag which they flew from an upper window of their home when troops were passing by. Union soldiers cheered them, but the Confederates took a dim view of this "treasonable" activity; and on several occasions they searched the home of the sisters in an attempt to destroy the flag. They were never successful in finding it, for on their approach the girls would quickly conceal it under a false board in the attic floor. The flag survived, and is now in the possession of a grandson of one of these girls. (7).

Waerford News 1864

Waterford News  Top of page

More about the Waterford News »

Three other Quaker maidens of the town, Sarah Steer, Elizabeth Dutton, and Eliza Dutton (8), determined that their zeal for the Union should not be suppressed, gave vent to their feelings by publishing a newspaper called The Waterford News. While their copy was sent across the river into Maryland to be printed, these clever maidens handled all of the other details as publishers: reporting, editing, and distributing. The first edition of this paper appeared in May 1864, and continued monthly through April, 1865. Strongly Union, it no doubt incurred the wrath of the Confederate sympathizers, but the purpose was "to cheer the weary soldier, and render material aid to the sick and wounded." From this small four-page affair we are enabled to look back across the century for an eyewitness account of daily life in Waterford.(9)

A strict blockade had been maintained since the first of the year; and with the five Waterford stores long since closed, the first edition of this paper ran want ads, such as: "A great big, Pound Sponge Loaf, or Ginger Cake, to be distributed amongst the Union Ladies of Waterford, who haven't tasted any for a long time." "A Few Stores; with dry goods, molasses candy and other stationery, suited to the tastes of the community. Young and handsome CLERKS not objectionable."

We find in the June issue great joy, for the blockade had been partially lifted. Authority for the lifting of the blockade to permit loyal citizens to cross the river and purchase supplies is lost in red-tape of the War Department and of commanders in the field. On June 5, James A. Hardie, an Inspector General of the War Department, wrote to Brigadier General Max Weber, in command at Harpers Ferry, asking, "by what authority the provost-marshals at Berlin and Point of Rocks are empowered to permit $15.00 worth of provisions across the river to each loyal family wanting supplies? This had been prohibited by the War Department." Weber replied that when he took command of the post he found the policy already established; and, "I modified the order so that once in a week each loyal person, well vouched for, and bringing supplies, could purchase $10.00 worth of necessaries swearing that they were for family use."(10)

With or without the proper authority, the citizens of Waterford were quick to take advantage of this opportunity to secure needed supplies, as was noted in The Waterford News.

Shopping Under Difficulties Top of page

We were 'mighty set up' with the news that we could get ten ,dollars worth of goods. So to the Point of Rocks I'd go, and that soon; but the first thing, where will I get a horse? I think I know where I can get a little wagon, and now if I could only get a blind horse. Well, after a long jaunt around town, I succeeded in finding a neighbor in the country who had the much desired article, and after some delay, occasioned in untangling a set of 'gears', hid for ever so long from the ,chivalry', I had the pleasure of seeing horse, wagon and neighbor waiting at the gate. I sent my husband down with the basket, dried apple pie, without sweetening; the half gallon molasses jug, and a quart can for Kerosene Oil, and after giving him and the children any amount of directions about the garden, the chickens and little Tommy, I got in the wagon, and lending a deaf ear to his repeated injunctions to 'not let the horse run away with you', I flourished my hickory and with a 'gee-up' we started. After passing the mud hole on Second Street with fear and trembling, we got along very nicely and arrived at the river about 9. We had to wait for 'our' turn to cross, and I thought it would never come. I had time to look around right smart, and such a motley collection as there was-people in all manner of dresses, many of them come 40 and 50 miles to get ten dollars worth of goods. There were carriages and buggies and carryalls, ox carts and wagons. I looked at the lofty piers, all that is left of our once handsome and substantial bridge, and my thoughts turned back to the first year of the war, when it was burnt to keep the 'Yankees' away. Thank fortune they found other means of crossing; but I am digressing. After a long time, the boatman told us to get into the skiff, and holding fast to my basket, jug and can, I followed my neighbors and sat me down on a narrow board, with my calico dress and clean skirt tucked up out of the water, and were landed on the other side, and soon found ourselves where we have so often wished to be-in a store- and now commenced the 'tug of war.'

"I came, instead of my husband, because I knew he would spend all of the ten dollars in some foolishness and tobacco, and now I was afraid I wouldn't do much better, I thought of all I wanted; I ought to have a summer dress, bonnet and mantle; shoes I must have. Then there was my broken hoops, husband really suffering for shirts, Anna for a school dress and apron, Jacob and Charley for pants and jackets, Tommy could do yet awhile; but I must get a little candy for each. We were out of sugar, and so tired of rye coffee and sassafras tea; salt was most gone, pepper quite; ginger, soda, spices, all were wanted; matches I must not forget, for we used the last that morning. It took me a long time to decide what to get. After the merchant's and custom-house officer's bills were settled, I looked to see what I had; 4 pounds of sugar, 1/4 of tea, some soda, two boxes of matches, I pair of shoes, 5 yards of calico. I tin cup and one iron spoon, as the children lost the old one digging up their onion bed for the soldiers; I quart of molasses, I pint of oil, 3 yards of Kentucky jeans, and a half plug of tobacco to keep husband quiet about the shirts; 8 big ginger cakes and 10 cents worth of candy. I thought I had done mighty well, and after getting my bills made out and going to the Provost Office to show I was no rebel, I walked down to the river, escorted by a nice looking soldier, who took me for a young widow, and I thought the soldiers had a hard enough time, so I didn't tell him any better. My neighbor had as many bundles as I had, and we saw our own troubles. In a reasonable length of time we had them stowed away in the wagon, and thanking a spicy young man from our town for hitching up and turning round for us, we started and reached home just as the shades of night were falling. It would have done your hearts good to see the children over their candy and cakes, whilst husband's smile deepened into a broad grin when I handed him the tobacco, and hasn't said a word about the shirts yet."

More on trade across the Potomac »

The War Continues  Top of page

The August 20th edition was filled with news of the raids of Colonel Mosby and his command: "A brief synopsis of the leading news for the space of six weeks, will appear in our column, dating from the 4th of July, when Mosby commemorated the day by making a raid on the Point of Rocks, and entirely destroying the stores at that place belonging to private individuals. From that time until the 16th we were entirely surrounded by rebels, and entirely cut off from all communication with the truth."

The United States Government had closed the Waterford Post Office at the outbreak of war. The Point of Rocks, Maryland, Post Office was now the only means by which Waterford people could get their mail, and the citizens had entered into a private contract to have that mail brought to the town whenever the blockade would allow. Again quoting from the August 20th edition: "On July 17th, the rebels went out the Point of Rocks Road, and burnt the dwelling, house, barn and stack-yard of Sydnah Williams, a good Union man. They also stole the wagon and horse of C. F. Meyers, our worthy mail carrier, and one who has done so much for the accommodation of the Waterford people, and for which act they deserve the condemnation of everybody, as they have completely destroyed the means by which his livelihood was gained."

The height of indignation was registered when on a Mosby raid to Point of Rocks, the mail was taken from the Post Office including a letter containing $14.00 for subscriptions to "The Waterford News", from the 1st Eastern Shore (Md.) Regiment.

The hardships and privations of three years of war were nothing compared to what was about to strike now.

Throughout the war the Catoctin Valley had furnished much food and forage to the hungry trooper and his gaunt mount. Without this source of food and forage the irregulars could not operate, as they moved rapidly and could not be encumbered with supply wagons.

Colonel John S. Mosby's "partisan rangers" were proving a thorn in the side of General Sheridan's operations in the Shenandoah Valley. Supply trains and lightly garrisoned outposts were particular targets for Mosby's raids. As early as August, General Grant had sent Sheridan these instructions: "If you can possibly spare a division of cavalry, send them into Loudoun County to destroy and carry off the crops, animals, and livestock..." At that time Sheridan was busy with other operations and did not have time to comply with these instructions. Finally the guerilla raids had become such a Nemesis to Sheridan's supply lines that he notified Washington that he was about ready to start work on Loudoun County, and, "let them know that there is a God in Israel."(11)

Directing General Wesley Merritt to bring his 1st Cavalry division into the County and "consume and destroy all forage and subsistence, burn all barns and mills, and their contents, and drive off all stock," he further added, "this order must be literally executed, bearing in mind, however, that no dwellings are to be burned and that no personal violence be offered to the citizens."(12) The area described in his order was the valley between the Bull Run Catoctin Range and the Blue Ridge, as far north as the Potomac River. On November 27, this cavalry division entered the southern part of the county to start its deadly work.

On November 28th, General Thomas Devin's Brigade marched north toward the Potomac with torch in hand. His brigade arrived at Waterford on the 30th, then following Catoctin Creek they left a trail of fire in their wake; mills, barns, and stock-yards went up in flames. Squads from the brigade spread out in all directions, and hardly a farm in the entire area was missed. Confiscated horses, cattle, and sheep were rounded up and driven to the main herds, which were growing in size hourly. Fatted hogs were slaughtered on the spot as they could not be driven over the roads. The troopers were thorough in their work as food, forage and livestock was destroyed or driven off, for to leave any of these would mean another meal for Mosby, and the purpose was to drive him out or force him to abandon the area.

The staunch Union citizens of the "Quaker Settlement" were stunned that this could happen to them. Their allegiance had been to the Federal Government, rather than to the State, now most of their possessions had been destroyed by their friends. A cow that had been well hidden, or a lame, war-weary horse was the only livestock left them.

The town proper escaped, but flames from burning barns or haystacks lapped at the very outskirts. The mill remains today only because it had been abandoned in 1861, when its owner, Samuel C. Means, had been forced to flee to Maryland; therefore it was empty of grain, and not in operation.

Many are the stories told by the citizens of that dreadful night when they climbed to the top of the surrounding hills to watch the eerie illumination that lit the countryside.

General Merritt did not make a detailed report of the destruction wrought; possibly he never knew how thorough the work of his troopers was, but he did tell Sheridan that, "'your orders were literally complied with."(13) Evidence, to some degree, of the destruction can be seen in Senate Bill No. 48, 43rd Congress, "for the relief of the loyal citizens of Loudoun County." Practically every farmer's name from the Waterford area appears on that list.

Payments in later years, some as much as twenty years later, helped to alleviate this loss, but it was small compensation for the suffering that our citizens endured that winter of 1864-65.

This burning raid brought hardships and suffering in its wake, but it also brought romance to Waterford in an unusual way. Shortly after he had seen his barn and grain go up in flames, a Quaker farmer went to Point of Rocks to complain to the Provost Marshall of this outrage. Accompanying him on this mission was his daughter, a winsome girl of sixteen. He did not get action beyond filing a claim against the United States Government; but the Provost Marshall, a dashing young cavalryman,(14) found more of interest that day than the claim of an outraged farmer. An acquaintance was formed with the young lady that drew the officer to Waterford whenever duty permitted. Often the trip was quite hazardous, for on at least three occasions he was fired on by Confederates along the way. However, it took more than a few shots from ambush to discourage the gallant suitor from making his trips. Mute evidence of the courtship is still visible today in the chiseled initials on the old stone stile at "Clifton", long the home of the Matthews family. The visits ended when at the close of the war the officer was transferred to a remote western outpost in Washington Territory with the 8th Cavalry.

Finally in 1867, disabled by rigors of the campaigns, he was mustered out. He returned to Waterford to claim his bride after the long separation.(15)

The winter following the burning, General Devin kept Ns cavalry brigade at Lovettsville. This acted as a deterrent to Confederate raiding parties; but, even without Devin, there was little left in the way of supplies to entice them.

Appomattox - and the end of the war - would come in April; but four years of civil strife had its effect on the town. Families were divided in sentiment, former friends were now enemies, and the once fertile valley could hardly support its own. Great changes had taken place since the founders first settled on the banks of Catoctin Creek - seeking peace.

(1) Samuel M. Janney - Memoirs of, page 209

(2) Briscoe Goodhart - History of the Independent Loudoun Virginia Rangers, page 127

(3) Present "Greystone"

(4) Goodhart, page 127

(5) David Brown '- John Mobberly; Renegade Hero, page 16

(6) The vote was 220 against and 31 for secession

(7) Edward M. Chamberlin, Jr.

(8) Sarah Steer, Elizabeth Dutton, and Eliza Dutton

(9) We are indebted to Mrs. Frederick B. Osler for the loan of this rare bit of Waterford History - long preserved in the Steer family papers.

(10) Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Vol. XXXVII, Part 1, page 595

(11) 0. R., Vol. XLIII, Part 2, page 672

(12) 0. R., Vol. XLIJI, Part 2, page 679

(13) 0. R., Vol. XLIIL Part 2, page 730

(14) S. E. Chamberlin, Captain, later Bvt. Lt. Col. 25th New York Cavalry

(15) This was the origin of the Chamberlin family at Waterford; long active in the affairs of the community.

 

 

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