Virginia plans bevy of 150th Civil War anniversary events

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 22, 2010

A century and a half ago, as the United States descended into a war that would fracture the nation and reshape its future, tensions were high in the Washington area. Virginia, a slave state fighting with the Confederacy, rubbed right up against the Union's capital, and when the war started, Union soldiers poured across the Potomac River into what would become the state with the largest number of battlefields.

As the 150th anniversary of the war's first shots draws close, the state's commemoration plans include a traveling exhibition of life on the battlefield and on the home front, events at battle sites and a project with the Library of Virginia to digitize diaries, letters and other documents from Virginians' private collections.

At the same time, Virginia communities are planning sesquicentennial commemorations, each with its own local flavor.

Loudoun County was a microcosm of what was happening across the country, said Pam Stewart, curator at the Loudoun Museum in Leesburg.

"There were people who were pro-Union. There were people who were pro-secession. There were slaveholders. There were people who were opposed to slavery," she said. "There were literally families fighting against each other, both in terms of the ideological and personal as well as literally fighting alongside each other" on different sides. "They all saw themselves as Virginians."

Although Loudoun was not home to as many battles as some of its neighbors, both armies swept through the county repeatedly, requisitioning livestock and food each time.

"They needed to eat. They needed the horses. They needed the cattle," Stewart said. "They would empty barns to feed the army, and that would leave the local people destitute."

As they left, the armies often burned the fields and barns. "Each side did, to make sure the other side didn't have the advantage of having it," she said.

Starting in October, the Loudoun Museum will offer a self-guided Civil War walking tour that will include Leesburg's courthouse grounds, where captured Union troops were held, and the Leesburg Hospital, now a hobby shop, which treated soldiers from both sides. Other planned activities include a reenactment of the Battle of Ball's Bluff, sponsored by Morven Park.

In Prince William County, a variety of Civil War events is planned this week. Visitors can tour the site of the Battle of Kettle Run at Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park on Friday and, on Saturday, watch reenactors at the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap and visit Liberia Plantation, which served as headquarters to both Union and Confederate officers and where tours will focus on spy activity during the war.

In coming months, Manassas will host balls and performances of period music, as well as a Civil War baseball game.

"Baseball apparently didn't become part of the American psyche until the Civil War," said Liz Via-Gossman, director of the city's community development office. "Soldiers had a lot of downtime, and so did prisoners of war, so they'd play baseball. When the war ended, the boys took the game home with them, and that's how it spread across the country."

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