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Forgotten Loudoun County Cavalry Battles Documented

By Deborah Fitts

- (December 2007) UNISON, Va. - Light is being shed on a little-studied series of cavalry clashes in western Loudoun County, thanks to a significant joint effort by historians and the National Park Service (NPS).

"The battle of Unison has been described as an unimportant skirmish in between the important battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg," said Mitch Diamond of the Unison Preservation Society. "The research that's just been done shows it was much more significant than that."

The fight in and around the hamlet of Unison was actually one of several actions Nov. 1 to 3, 1862.

As Union forces under Gen. George McClellan pushed south across the Potomac River in pursuit of the Confederate army under Robert E. Lee, Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart fought a series of delaying actions.

The fighting took place across seven miles of countryside, from Philomont to Upperville.

"Stuart basically dropped back a half-mile, a mile each time, and then stood up again, using topography to his advantage," Diamond said.

About 5,000 cavalry, infantry and artillery were engaged. Casualties totaled around 300.

"The landscape is so wonderfully preserved," said Diamond. "The fields, the houses, the old roads, the old Methodist church that served as a hospital, they're all there. You can understand Stuart's tactics. You can see how the artillery was used. It looks just as it did in 1862."

With the threat of development looming, Diamond and other members of the local preservation society took steps to shine a light on the half-forgotten battles.

A $20,000 grant from NPS's American Battlefield Protection Program brought the society to David Lowe, an NPS Civil War historian and cartographer long familiar with mapping battlefields [see David Lowe's Preservation News column in September 2006 CWN].

The society recruited a panel of historians familiar with the battles to join Lowe in a two-day tour, in a van and on foot, using original source material to nail down the sites of the action.

In time for the society's Unison Heritage Day Oct. 27, Lowe produced maps and a draft report on the fighting for the historians to review. Diamond said the finished product should be ready in a few months, with copies available for sale to the public by the Unison Preservation Society.

"This was a significant strategic battle," Diamond said. "It was a plan designed by Abraham Lincoln himself, documented in a letter to McClellan, which would put the Army of the Potomac between Lee and Richmond."

But Lee sent Stuart to confound the plan. For three days his troopers and vaunted horse artillery challenged McClellan's advance force, under Union Gen. Alfred Pleasonton. By the time it was over, Lee had slipped away. Within days Lincoln relieved McClellan of command.

Diamond said a next step for the society will be to apply for National Register status for the seven core areas of the battlefields. They also plan to document the historic homes and other resources associated with the battles. The village is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Deborah Fitts' husband, Clark B. Hall, was a member of the historians' panel.

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