VIENNA, Va., August 23, 2013 — Many people think of Leesburg, Va., only as the nearest large town to the familiar Balls Bluff battle area, where the Potomac River ran red with the blood of Yankee soldiers foolhardy enough to have tried to climb up its banks.
However, when driving through Leesburg, be sure to swing down North King Street, which will take you to a famous house made from three sections, which at one time hosted a meeting of some of the most famous Confederate generals of the Civil War. Now known as Glenfiddich, which in Gaelic means valley of the deer, it is a word better known to most people as a brand of Scotch whiskey.
Once a beautiful antebellum home called Harrison Hall, Glenfiddich now operates as a sort of corporate retreat center, with an ambience that spans 1860s up to almost modern and office-like, as the people coming there now have more curren things on their minds. Originally in its Harrison Hall days, during the Civil War it served as a hospital for wounded and ill Confederate soldiers. One was Mississippi Col. E. R. Burt who lingered there for four days and then died of wounds sustained at Ball’s Bluff, a few miles away.
However, on September 5, 1862, it was a significant meeting place for General Robert E. Lee, who was recuperating from injuries to hands and wrists following a fall from the famous Traveller, and some of his more important generals, such as J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet and Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
They were there to make the final preparatory plans for Lee’s invasion into Maryland, culminating in the blood bath that was the Battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam as it is known in the North.
Lee rode in an ambulance into town the day before, being unable to sit a horse due to his injuries. While there, a local physician, one Samuel Jackson, who lived next door, treated his hands. The same day he quietly visited with Private Robert Lee of the Rockbridge Artillery, escorted by two young daughters of that household. Lee’s big gray, Traveller, was stabled comfortably behind the house during the several days the generals were there.
Lee’s arrival was celebrated by the townspeople, who greeted the 5,000 troops accompanying him with complete devotion. Even the newspaper of Charleston, S.C., the Daily Courier, stated that “the doorways and curbstones are like living bouquets of beauty — everything that wears a crinoline or a pretty face is out,” said writer Felix de Fontaine.
Nearby was the home of one John Janney, who had served as president of the Virginia Secession Committee in 1861. Janney was a wise man; even though he had voted against secession of the Old Dominion, it was he who handed the sword of command to General Robert E. Lee.
Noted Civil War artist, Mort Kunstler, painted the excellent rendition of Lee and his generals meeting a Harrison Hall. Lee is depicted still wearing the bandages on one wrist from his fall, and painting included Gen. Lewis Armistead, famous for his leadership at Gettysburg, in the grouping.
The meeting apparently went on for some time, and doubtless should have gone on longer, if we can rely on history as a barometer of the outcome. The Battle of Sharpsburg or Antietam has come down in history as one of the bloodiest days in history, definitely the bloodiest in the Civil War that fall morning of September 17, 1862.
A total of 127,160 young men were engaged, 75,316 wearing the Union blue and 51,844 in Confederate gray. When the battle ended, over 4,000 lay dead, with countless others wounded and missing. The Confederates lost more men than the Union, although McClellan missed a bet by not chasing Lee’s retreating men for a full victory. And the defeat ruined Lee’s attempt to move into Union territory.
Forever will the names of the Dunker Church, of Farmer Miller’s cornfield, and especially Bloody Lane be engraved upon the memories of all those who fought there, as well as those who studied it in later years.
A footnote to history: In the ensuing years, the big old house has been renovated somewhat and is now on the market for $4.5 million, an extraordinarily high and unrealistic price in the small, quaint town of Leesburg.
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