Looking back at Loudoun Heights

Posted on January 8, 2017 by

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Once again, there’s been a dry spell on this blog. Between work, my PhD work, and frequent travels to visit a daughter at VMI, I found little time to post anything after my last post in October. Still, that didn’t mean ideas stopped floating about in my head about various topics. I just didn’t have a chance to put pen to paper (so to speak).

ColesCampBattle

The Loudoun Heights Battlefield. Looking from the south, toward Cole’s Camp. Mosby attacked from the northwest end of the camp, so… somewhere toward the left-back, in this image.

Having recovered a little over the Christmas break, this morning I took time to read Travis’s recent post at A River Divided, and it sparked my memories of the 150th anniversary of Loudoun Heights. While, today, we’re two days short of the 152nd anniversary, Travis’ post was well-timed with the weather. As I walked outside to grab some logs for my fireplace, I was reminded of the bitter cold of the night the camp of Cole’s Cavalry was attacked by Mosby and his men. It all made me think back to the 150th anniversary, when I was able to stand on the field on which my distant cousin experienced his last hours of freedom before being carried off as a prisoner of war.

The men were dressed only in their night clothes, and many of them barefooted running over the frozen ground, opened up such a fire upon them, as to cause them to retire, but not without taking from us a number of horses, and a few prisoners. One young man, a friend of mine, by the name of James Moore, while in the tent dropped his carbine, and lay down, saying, “O my God.” Whether he was wounded or not, I do not know, for he was carried away, and I believe never heard from. – Cole’s Cavalry Trooper Jacob F. Breisch

As I revisit that event this morning, I also take time to consider the thing that seems to trigger something sensory within some of us when we visit a historic site where our ancestors walked, lived, fought, died. I’m always fascinated with how so many of us are drawn to events of the past, and especially how those with some family connection attempt to grab some “special perspective” through that ancestral connection. Many bring on learned assumptions and overlay them on the ancestor (reasons for serving, etc.), but some take time to consider those people of the past, not in absolute terms, but rather, under the realm of possibilities. In the big scheme of things, we really know so very little, and we need to always be mindful of that.

As I look at my assembly of scraps of information I have on Private James D. Moore, I’m reminded of that, though that doesn’t hamper my ability to wonder, when visiting places like Loudoun Heights. In the absence of documented experiences and thoughts of our ancestors, there’s such a wide realm of possibilities. It prompts moments of quiet thought in which we imagine, but can rarely be certain. In the case of Pvt. James D. Moore, however, after reading that piece from Breisch, it’s difficult not to be consumed with the fear that befell him, especially when I visit the site on which he made that exclamation. That one memory from Breisch was just enough to allow a glimpse into mere minutes, but when tied to a physical visit, becomes so much more significant, especially when considering his eventual demise because of it, at Andersonville.

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