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Museum Recalls Antietam

Aug. 28, 2002

<bt>According to Douglas Foard, director of the Loudoun Museum, an event took place nearly 140 years ago in Leesburg that changed history.

General Robert E. Lee’s men lost a copy of the battle plans for the Invasion of Maryland, a copy that Union soldiers found in Fredericksburg wrapped around three cigars. Lee and his lieutenants had drafted the plans Sept. 4, 1862 in the Harrison House, which is now the privately owned Glenfiddich House in Leesburg. They were planning for what would become the bloodiest single day in American military history—Battle of Antietam.

“This is the one moment where events in Loudoun County affect history,” Foard said.

The Loudoun Museum has scheduled several events and programs Sept. 4-7 to commemorate the 140th anniversary of the Sept. 17, 1862 Invasion of Maryland.

AFTER the 2nd Battle of Manassas, Lee ended up in Leesburg on Sept. 4, 1862, where he was bought by ambulance for two injured wrists. Being close to Washington, D.C., he had to decide whether to withdraw to Fredericksburg or invade Maryland with the hope that Britain would intervene on the South’s behalf. The Confederacy formed a year earlier to seek independence from the United States.

“The war is significantly changed, because it is no longer defending the South,” said Marybeth Mohr, director of public affairs for the Loudoun Museum.

Lee lost the battle and hence the support of the British, “which made it possible for the South to be defeated,” Foard said. After Lee lost the battle, Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Emancipation to add human rights to the fight over state rights, he said.

“The Battle of Antietam is the catalyst that pushes the Emancipation Proclamation through,” said Randy Davis, museum curator. “Because of its proximity to Maryland and West Virginian counties … Loudoun County becomes the northern most Confederate area where the Proclamation has any effect.”

THE LOUDOUN MUSEUM will bring together historians, biographers and museum staff to provide different perspectives on the Battle of Antietam and the historical events surrounding it. The four-day event kicks off with the unveiling of a Civil War Trails marker at a special ceremony for museum members, dignitaries and other guests. The Virginia Civil War Trails program designated the museum as the first stop of the Antietam Campaign Loop, a driving tour that begins and ends in Leesburg and is expected to bring thousands of visitors to the museum in September. The interpretive marker will be placed next to an existing marker in the museum's garden that explains the Civil War in Leesburg.

John Salmon, staff historian for the Tredegar National Civil War Center Foundation, will speak at the ceremony to track the course of the armies along the Civil War trail from Leesburg to what is now the Antietam National Battlefield and into West Virginia. Davis will give an interpretation of the museum’s exhibit, “The Road to Antietam Creek: Lee, Loudoun and the Invasion of Maryland, 1862.”

“There were battles and maneuvers in Loudoun County prior to and after the battle. Those left a major effect on the landscape,” Davis said.

THE EVENT opens to the public Sept. 5 with a lecture given by John Taylor, a biographer who will present his insights into Lee’s character and military accomplishments. The lecture is at 7 p.m. at the Leesburg Town Hall lower level meeting room.

“He became an American icon as the losing commander,” Mohr said.

On Sept. 6, the museum will offer evening exhibit tours from 4-9 p.m. during the Leesburg First Friday Gallery Walk. Davis will give an in-depth narration of the Antietam exhibit, which investigates the campaign and the causes and effects of Lee’s army marching through Loudoun County and Leesburg.

Events on Sept. 7 include the Leesburg and the Battle of Antietam Creek walking tours, given by Davis and Mark Summers, museum director of education. The tours, which are scheduled at 11 a.m. and again at 3 p.m., will focus on the significance of Leesburg to the Invasion of Maryland and provide a reliving of the day that Lee and his lieutenants planned their march into Maryland.

“It will give you a flavor of what the town was like,” Mohr said.