Local historians sat down in front of the historic Harrison Hall and shared some American Civil War stories in Loudoun County, Virginia.
At the second fundraising event sponsored by the Loudoun County Museum on October 14, 2021, Travis Shaw, Education Director of Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area; Joseph Rizzo, Executive Director of Loudoun Museum; Anne Marie Chirieleison, Executive Director of Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum; and Dana Shoaf, editor of the Civil War Times Magazine, passed on the microphones at the theatre to tell their historic accounts, both popular and unpopular, of events that took place during the 1861 war.
Chirieleison shared a brief history of Harrison Hall, also known as the Glenfiddich House, and one of its well-known guests at the times, R. Burt.
AuthorShoaf Shoaf, on the other hand, told an amusing story about a lone Union soldier—whose diary he discovered while waiting for a friend at Pittsburgh’s John Hines Regiotory Center—and his chance encounter with a Confederate guerilla.
Education Director Shaw recounted the story of a local soldier Luther Slader and some of the extraordinary circumstances this ordinary gut found himself in. At the same time (both bad and good), Rizzo described the fates of political prisoners of Loudoun County during the Civil War.
The Origin of Harrison Hall
Harrison Hall had its humble beginnings in the last part of the 18th century, somewhere in the 1780s, when Leesburg was barely a town. So named, a gentleman by the name of Henry Tazewell Harrison moved into the house with his second wife, Mary Jones Harrison, and their eight children.
Henry was responsible for expanding the property to what it is now to accommodate his growing family of 8 children and provide them with comfort. Not to mention that the family also had slave workers living with them, working on their huge estate.
The Harrison patriarch belonged to Virginia’s well-known clan, while his wife, Mary, was not only the daughter of a prominent attorney but also the granddaughter of Charles Lee. It is safe to say that they lived a relatively normal, happy life—until the Civil War.
While certain members of Mary’s family, the Joneses, living in Washington, D.C., are pro-secession and pro-Virginia, a good majority including her father, vocally supported the Union and count secession as “double treason”—seeing it as both against their home state of Virginia and the entire United States.
Subsequently, soon after the war began, some of their family members left the capital and sought refuge at Harrison Hall. But unfortunately, the safety they hoped for in Loudoun abruptly ended when the war reached Leesburg in the fall of 1861 at the Battle of Balls Bluff.
Not that it mattered anyway, since the country had already witnessed a handful of terrible battles, including the first battle of Manassas, also known as the First Battle of Bull Run, in July 1861.
At this time, the encampments of the opposing sides were on each other’s radar, meaning they could bump into each other at any time, but since the war had just kicked off, “they’re not very good at surveilling each other,” Chirieleison said.
Recon Gone Wrong
The inevitable happened in October when Colonel Thomas Devin of the Union cavalry and his men were sent to surveil what they suspected to be a rebel encampment at Harrison Hall.
And so, what was meant to be a simple reconnaissance mission unexpectedly turned into a bloody battle.
Devin’s Union troops crossed the Potomac River, and as they reached the top of the bluffs on the other side, they met with the Confederate troops.
According to Chirieleison, Virginians were among the Confederate troops in the field. They also had several soldiers from the deep south who have been stationed in Loudoun County and have begun to make Leesburg their home, including Colonel Erasmus R. Burt. He was the Colonel of the 18th Mississippi and a well-known doctor in his hometown of Jackson. He was “one of the popular gentlemen” who frequently visited Harrison Hall. Like Henry Harrison, Burt also has eight kids of his own.
Burt’s association with the Harrisons expanded to include Henry’s niece, Virginia Miller, with whom he had formed a close-knit, almost sibling-like, relationship.
“So Colonel Burton not only feels patriotism for the Confederacy, but he’s probably thinking about the Harrisons and the other white people in Leesburg when he is there on the Heights outside the Potomac River,” Chirieleison recounted.
Sadly, on the morning of October 21st, during the heated confrontation of what is now known as the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, Col. Burt sustained a nasty wound on his hip. As soon as he was hit, he turned around to his aide and said, “You need to go tell Colonel Jennifer that I have to leave the field now. Something’s come up. I’ve got to go,” Chirieleison quoted the Colonel’s odd statement.
The Daytime Ghost at Harrison Hall
Col. Burt was brought back to Harris, where he received his treatment. Young Virginia took care of him as he spent his last days with the Harrisons. She even helped write a letter to his wife in Mississippi on his behalf. Col Burt would be kept in the house and linger for five days before dying from his wounds, a shattered pelvis and a musket ball lodged inside him.
It was through Virginia’s Civil War diary—though written as a retrospective as she started writing about it a year later—that Col. Burt was memorialized. Although her diary only contains dates covering late 1861 into 1862, the young lady made it a point to talk about the Battle of Ball’s Bluff and remembered her dear friend throughout the pages.
Her diary was never found until the 1980s, more than a century later, in the attic of Harrison Hall.
The Executive Director of Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum also mentioned that Harrison Hall has several ghosts that residents of Leesburg can attest to.
She noted that a certain presence, which she believed to be Col. Burt, could be felt inside the house, especially in the bedroom where he passed away.
“Nevertheless, those individuals, both great and small, made an impact here at Harrison Hall—and perhaps they can still be felt today,” Chirieleison concluded.