From Paradise to Peril
— Antietam and Gettysburg Campaigns —
"Leesburg! Paradise of the youthful warrior! Land of excellent edibles and beautiful maidens!" — so wrote a Confederate artilleryman in late 1861. A year later, a northern correspondent found Leesburg a weary town full of battle-scarred buildings and wary inhabitants.
A prosperous Southern town of about 2000 at the outbreak of the Civil War, Leesburg was strategically located on the border between the Union and Confederacy. By war's end, the town had endured bombardment, the passage of Union and Confederate armies, Federal occupation, disintegration of civil authority, frequent raids and multiple combats in its streets.
More information on the Civil War in Leesburg and Loudoun County can be found at The Loudoun Museum.
The following selected chronology gives some idea of the danger and uncertainty of life in Civil War Leesburg.
Secession Vote (May 23, 1861)
- Leesburg men support the Virginia Secession Ordinance, voting in favor 400-22.
Citizens Enlist (April-May 1861)
- The Loudoun Artillery, Leesburg Cavalry (Co. A, 6th Va. ), Loudoun Guard (Co. C., 17th Va. Infantry) and Potomac Greys (Co. H, 8th Va. Infantry) muster into Confederate service.
Battle of Ball's Bluff (October 21, 1861)
- Many local men of the 8th Va. are casualties. Wounded of both sides are placed in homes and public buildings. Union prisoners are held on the courthouse lawn. Cavalry corporal Elijah V. White, a local farmer, engineered the capture of 350 Union soldiers. Today, visitors to the battlefield in northeast Leesburg can see the country's smallest national cemetery, learn about this pivotal battle and hike interpreted trails.
Confederate Forts (Winter, 1861-1862)
- Gen. D. H. Hill oversees the completion of Forts Evans, Beauregard, and Johnston on the heights surrounding Leesburg. The Richmond Howitzers and Mississippi troops build winter camps.
Confederate Evacuation (March 4, 1862)
- Supplies, mills, bridges and other items helpful to the Union are burned as Confederate forces fall back on Richmond.
Union Occupation (March, 1862)
- Union troops under Col. John Geary seize Leesburg. Geary orders impressments of citizens into the Union army. Many Southerners take the oath of allegiance to avoid impressments.
Mile Hill Fight (September 2, 1862)
- Col. Thomas Munford and the 2nd Va. Cavalry surprise and route a mixed Federal force composed of Cole's Maryland Cavalry and the Loudoun Rangers.
Army of Northern Virginia (September 4-6, 1862)
- Gen. Robert E. Lee leads his army through Leesburg on the way to Maryland (campaign that ended with the Battle of Antietam.) Lee holds a conference with Gens. Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart at his headquarters in the Harrison home on North King Street.
The Shelling (September 14, 1862)
- Union Col. Judson Kilpatrick bombards Leesburg after encountering Capt. Elijah V. White's Comanches (35th Battalion Va. Cavalry). Subsequently the Federals charge into Leesburg. After a sharp fight, in which White is badly wounded, both sides retreat.
Army of the Potomac (post-Antietam, Fall 1862 and pre-Gettysburg, Jun 1863)
- The Union Army of the Potomac crossed Loudoun County three times, each time sending forces through Leesburg. Between June 17 and 28, 1863, more than 100,000 troops crossed the Potomac at Edwards Ferry east of Leesburg. On June 19 three Union soldiers were executed in town for desertion.
Early's Army (June 13-16, 1864)
- After his raid on Washington, Gen. Jubal Early's Confederate Army crossed back into Virginia at White's Ford. Union Gen. H. C. Wright's Sixth Corps caught up with them at Leesburg, shelling Early's rear guard while cavalry patrols clashed.
Mosby's Rangers (January 1863-April 1865)
- During the last two years of the war, Federal cavalry made frequent raids on Leesburg in search of Col. John Mosby's Partisan Rangers, often with deadly results. On one occasion in 1864, the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry hoped to surprise Confederates at a wedding in town. Arriving at night the Federals were ambushed instead, with two killed and several wounded.