Fight to Save Three Virginia Battlefields

By Fitts, Deborah | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 10, 2001 | Go to article overview

Fight to Save Three Virginia Battlefields


Fitts, Deborah, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Three relatively unknown cavalry battlefields in Virginia's Loudoun and Fauquier counties are rubbing shoulders with behemoths such as Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry on a list of dubious distinction. They have been named among the 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields in the country.

The Feb. 27 announcement by the Civil War Preservation Trust thrust the battlefields of Aldie and Middleburg in Loudoun County and Upperville in Fauquier County into unaccustomed limelight. But even as the listing pointed out the plight of the unprotected battlefields in fast-growing Loudoun County, it also illuminated a project that apparently is without precedent in the archives of Civil War preservation.

A citizens committee created last May by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is at work on three fronts at once: creation of a driving tour along a 15-mile battle route from Aldie to Upperville; original research on the battle action, including mapping; and an effort to secure voluntary conservation easements that would permanently preserve hundreds of acres of battlefield.

"I felt very strongly that these battles were a story that had to be told," says Paul Ziluca, chairman of the Committee for the Civil War Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville. Mr. Ziluca, an Upperville resident, originated the project and persuaded the Loudoun County supervisors to endorse it.

"The land is changing every day," Mr. Ziluca says. The historic small towns and long-cherished farmland of western Loudoun are being overwhelmed by explosive growth.

In fact, Loudoun is the third-fastest-growing county in the nation, and houses crowd ridge tops that once formed some of the most beautiful landscapes in America. Threatened along with the countryside are certain open fields that have gone virtually unrecognized in Loudoun and neighboring Fauquier County as being among the most significant of the nation's battlefields.

Mr. Ziluca's proposal coincided with the advent of a new "smart growth" Board of Supervisors in Loudoun. Western Loudoun's combination of rolling countryside, dotted with horse farms, and its rich history provides the board a cause worth fighting for as it wages an uphill battle against development.

"Some type of organized effort such as this needs to be under way," Mr. Ziluca says. "It should have started 10 years ago, 20 years ago. It should start today. Tomorrow will be too late."

The battlefields, still mostly pristine, get little notice from drivers along U.S. Route 50, who are unaware that they are rolling past scenes of dramatic action in June 1863 as the Union and Confederate armies moved north toward their fateful rendezvous at Gettysburg.

First came the battle of Brandy Station, in Culpeper on June 9. Then Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia moved north into the Shenandoah Valley. Sheltering them from detection by Yankee eyes was the Blue Ridge - and gray horsemen under J.E.B. Stuart, the vaunted Confederate cavalry commander, performing their essential task of screening the infantry.

It was in the Loudoun Valley on June 17 through 21 that the two cavalry forces, 20,000 strong, engaged in a series of sharp clashes. Federal troopers under Alfred Pleasonton pressed from east to west across southern Loudoun and northern Fauquier, pushing toward Ashby's and Snicker's gaps in the Blue Ridge. Stuart's men barred their way and then fell back, first at Aldie, then Middleburg and finally at Upperville. It was a close call, but Stuart held on long enough for Lee to slip northward undetected.

Every one of those battles has tremendous anecdotal and historic appeal, says committee member Brian Pohanka, Civil War preservationist, historian and re-enactor. "These are just as dramatic and hard-fought and gritty and glorious as any cavalry battles in the war. Anyone who wants to go to Civil War battlefields that haven't changed much, here they are," he says. …

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