Travis Shaw, the Education Director of the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area, recounted the fateful luck of a local soldier named Luther W. Slater during the 1861 American Civil War.

Aspiring Minister to Novice Soldier

While most Loudoun County residents supported the Confederacy in 1861, a few locals, including Luther Slater, remained loyal to the United States Army.

Slater was 21 years old when the war began. He intended to study at a seminary in Salem, Virginia, before moving to Pennsylvania to become a Lutheran minister. But, like all other men during this time period, Slater had to put his career on hold to participate in the Civil War.

Unlike many of his Northwestern Loudoun County neighbors, Slater enlisted in the Federal Army in the summer of 1862 and was commissioned as First Lieutenant of the pioneering Loudoun Independent Rangers under the command of Samuel C. Means. The Loudoun Rangers were formed to act as Union army scouts and anti-partisan troops against men such as Elijah White and John Mosby. They were also tasked with assisting unionists in the area. Slater was appointed as the First Lieutenant despite his inexperience on the battlefield.

Luther W. Slater
A portrait of Captain Luther W. Slater, circa the 1860s. (Image source: Lovettsville Historical Society)

Eventually, word of the Loudoun Rangers spread like wildfire throughout town, reaching into White’s ears that a Unionist Cavalry Battalion had been raised within the borders of Confederate Virginia. The Confederate commander was building his cavalry battalion around the same time—the 35th battalion of Virginia Cavalry—when he heard that Means was going back to Waterford to recruit men for the Unionist Cavalry.

So, that summer of 1862, White declared his intention to “Whip Sam Means,” as Shaw narrated.

‘Lucky’ Luther Slater

Means was with a small group of recruits, about 20 men, when White and his men initiated a surprise attack on the Loudoun Rangers in the pre-dawn hours of August 27. The Confederate Cavalry crept through the fields surrounding Waterford. Just as they were about to set up their traps, a Union officer outside the Waterford Baptist Church happened to notice them and challenge White. His men—that officer happened to be Slater.

The lieutenant fired a shot that rang out into the darkness, which ensued in an intense firefight.