Two Forces Fight `Brother's War' in Loudoun

By Meserve, Steve | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 26, 2002 | Go to article overview

Two Forces Fight `Brother's War' in Loudoun


Meserve, Steve, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Steve Meserve

Although the Civil War in Virginia's Loudoun County never approached the level of brutality experienced in Missouri and Kansas, the conflict was very much a "brother's war" that divided families and pitted longtime friends against one another on the battlefield. The fratricidal nature of the conflict was typified by the histories of two military units, one Union and one Confederate, raised largely in Loudoun County.

The Confederates scored first in the recruiting competition in northwestern Loudoun when Elijah V. White, a Poolesville native living near Leesburg, received permission to raise an independent company for service "on the border." Throughout the war, he drew his recruits mostly from Loudoun, Frederick, Page and Shenandoah counties in Virginia and from Montgomery and Frederick counties in Maryland.

White originally enlisted in a company of Rangers recruited by Angus MacDonald in the Lower Shenandoah Valley. MacDonald was a rather unorthodox West Point graduate who believed tomahawks were more appropriate weapons for cavalrymen than sabers. MacDonald also believed horsemen should strike without warning and retire swiftly in small groups rather than in the massed ranks so popular with officers trained in Napoleonic tactics and with artists who specialized in painting heroic battlefield scenes.(spade)

Because he was 62 when he raised his company, MacDonald soon relinquished his command to a younger, if equally unorthodox, cavalryman - Lt. Col. Turner Ashby. "Lige" White was still a member of "Ashby's Rangers" when he served as a volunteer scout and courier for Col. Eppa Hunton during the Battle of Balls Bluff in October 1861. As one of the heroes of the Confederate victory, he soon gained permission to raise his own cavalry company.

Loudoun's only Union unit came into existence the following year, when Samuel C. Means, a Quaker and miller from Waterford, was offered a commission to raise an independent cavalry company among loyal refugees in Maryland who fled Virginia to escape persecution at the hands of Confederate authorities. It did not take Means long to raise the first of two small companies mustered into federal service on June 20, 1862, as the Loudoun Independent Rangers. Despite the pacifism of their religion, many of Loudoun's Quakers enlisted in the new unit.

From the moment the news of the new regiment got out, they were despised by Loudoun's secessionists and condemned as traitors by Virginia and Confederate authorities. Almost immediately, a bounty was offered for the dead body of Means, and Lige White adopted the destruction of the hated Union company as his personal crusade.

The parallels between the Loudoun Rangers and the Confederate battalion that later took the name "White's Comanches" were striking, but not surprising in view of their common origin.

The first two companies of both units were recruited in the same part of Loudoun County, and many of the same surnames appear on both muster rolls. Relations between the two bands were particularly hostile because the men knew each other and were, in many cases, related by marriage or by blood. Both units were created for "service on the border," and both struggled throughout the war to maintain their individual identities.

In White's case, his men were regularly brigaded with the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia as the 35th Virginia Cavalry. The first order assigning the 35th to a regular cavalry brigade was met with such resentment and hostility that White only barely managed to avoid a mutiny in one of his companies.(spade)

Capt. George Chiswell's Company B, composed mostly of Marylanders, claimed that, as citizens of a state that had not seceded from the Union, they could fight when and where they chose, and owed no particular allegiance to the Confederate States of America. White, himself a Maryland native, managed to convince them to stay with him and make the best of whatever opportunities came along to attack and discomfit the conquerors of their native soil. …

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