Memorial Day

In an effort to properly observe the Memorial Day holiday I packed up the HistorySprout and my dear wife and we returned to Union Cemetery in Leesburg. My mission was to place flags at the graves of the Union veterans buried there. My wife was gracious enough to accompany me – eager to get the little one out of the house and no doubt thankful that the weather had finally taken a turn for the better.

Together the three of us strolled leisurely through the winding paths of Leesburg’s largest cemetery. The grounds were a sea of flags as other groups and individuals came to pay their respects. Veterans of the War of 1812 were conspicuous with their 15-star, 15-stripe “Star Spangled Banners.” Veterans of the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam were all represented. By far the most common flags, though, were Confederate flags. Unlike the towns to the north and west Leesburg residents largely sympathized with the Confederacy, and several hundred rebels lie in Union Cemetery. Most are local men, but there are a large number of Mississippians as well – victims of disease and casualties of the nearby Battle of Ball’s Bluff.

Hidden in among their erstwhile adversaries are the graves of nine US soldiers and one US sailor from the Civil War. I had visited a few of them during my last visit – local men who had served in the Potomac Home Brigade – but this time I was determined to visit them all.

My first stop was a familiar one. George and Charles Clarkson served in the 1st PHB Infantry and I’ve wrote a little about them the last time I visited the cemetery. They were local boys who worked along the Potomac near Edward’s Ferry. In the summer of 1862 they crossed the river and enlisted, serving until the end of the war. George died in 1886 at the age of 44, while his brother lived until 1912. They now lay next to one another, as close in death as they were in life.


The Clarkson Brothers

My next stop was another member of the Home Brigade that we visited last time – John Crim who fought with Cole’s Cavalry. Crim lived nearby in the vicinity of Wheatland and enlisted with Cole at the beginning of the war. He died in 1903 and was buried alongside his family.


John W. Crim

Nearby is William Hardy. His complex story speaks volumes about the war in Loudoun County and the shifting nature of loyalties in the area. A Leesburg native, Hardy enlisted in the Confederate army at the start of the war. He served with the 17th Virginia Infantry and was seriously wounded at Antietam. Left home to recuperate he deserted the Confederate army in 1863 and soon enlisted in the Loudoun Rangers. He served with the Rangers throughout the rest of the war and died in 1910.


William Hardy

Another Loudoun Ranger lies nearby. Robert Harper enlisted in Waterford (the unofficial home of the Loudoun Rangers) in the summer of 1862. He also served until the end of the war and died in 1908.


Robert Harper

Issac Hough was another Ranger. He enlisted the same day as Robert Harper, but in the nearby town of Lovettsville – another stronghold of Unionist sentiment. Hough was wounded during Jubal Early’s invasion of Maryland in 1864, but survived the war and died in 1915 at the age of 75.


Isaac Hough

Captain Thomas Saunders was a Regular Army officer. He served as quartermaster for the 3rd US Artillery, and spent the war years at Ft. Snellings, Minnesota. He supported the Union war effort through recruiting and enrolling until he died of disease in 1864. His actual grave is located at Arlington National Cemetery, but his name appears on the family monument in Leesburg. In another example of the complex loyalties of the region his brother, William, served in the Confederate army for a short time. Enlisting in the 8th VA Infantry in July, 1861, William was captured at Williamsburg in May, 1862. He subsequently took an oath of loyalty to the United States and sat out the rest of the war.


Thomas Saunders

One of the non-local Union soldiers to be buried here is Orange Richardson, a native of Massachusetts. He enlisted in the 1st MA Infantry in Boston and served until he was shot through the lung at Gettysburg. He survived the wound and was discharged. After the war he moved to Virginia, where he died in 1898.


Orange Richardson

Now I said there are 10 Union veterans at Union Cemetery. There are and I did visit all of them and place flags. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find the photos for the other three. I’ll try and get back out there, but the three remaining men are Alexander Murray, Major in the 8th MD Infantry; Joseph Hough, Private in the Loudoun Rangers; and James Littig, Assistant Engineer in the US Navy.

After leaving Union Cemetery I went around the block to Mt. Zion Cemetery. This cemetery was the historic burying place for Leesburg’s African-American community, who were forbidden from using Union Cemetery for much of its existence. Numbering among those at Mt. Zion are four Union veterans – three who fought in the army and one who served in the Navy’s Potomac Flotilla. I’m going to do more digging on them when I have the time, but recently a wayside was erected by Civil War Trails that does a good job detailing their service.


Civil War Trails: Fighting for Freedom



Joseph Waters, 5th MA Cavalry


John Langford, US Navy


James Gaskins, 39th USCT


William Taylor, 1st USCT

So it’s another short update, but as always it’s important to step away from the documents and books and actually get out and remind yourself that these men aren’t just names and numbers. They’re people who lived and loved and cried and struggled. They had loved ones that they left behind. In my opinion that’s the real importance of Memorial Day. Not just remembering the sacrifices, but the people behind them.

In other news I am excited to report that I am embarking on a new research project. Without spoiling the surprise too much I’m looking at Southern Claims records for Loudoun County with an eye towards doing some cool data visualizations. It’s going to be a few months in the making, but keep an eye out. I’ll still be working on the Potomac Home Brigade – that’s a project that will never be finished! – so not to worry there. I’m also proud to announce that I will be speaking as part of the Mosby Heritage Area Association/NOVA Parks “Conversations in History” program. The talk will be Sunday, August 27th. More details are to follow. Come on out an learn everything you never knew you wanted to know about the Potomac Home Brigade.


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