There might be more blue and gray than green on the streets of downtown Herndon this St. Patrick’s Day, as actors portraying the legendary Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby and his Rangers ride into town to re-create the surprise attack on the First Vermont Cavalry stationed at the Herndon Depot 150 years ago on that very date. The sounds of horses and guns will fill the air as nearly 60 re-enactors re-create that raid and its outcome.
On March 17, 1863, at exactly noon, Mosby approached the Herndon Train Station — located where it still stands today at 717 Lynn St. — from out of the woods with 40 of his men to find Union soldiers of the First Vermont relaxing around the depot and a nearby sawmill without a care in the world, enjoying their St. Patrick’s Day, according to Herndon historian and author Chuck Mauro.
“Herndon and surrounding areas were supposed to be occupied exclusively by the Union army of the United States, so when Mosby and his Rangers arrived at nearly the same time as a Union relief detachment was expected, the members of the First Vermont were taken completely by surprise,” said Mauro. “Mosby was somewhat surprised himself, exclaiming, ‘I could not imagine why such a number of men should be put there, except for the purpose of getting caught.’”
Mauro said that the raid as the Confederates were leaving the sawmill, they noticed four horses tied in front of Nathaniel Hanna’s residence, who was a known Union man. The horses belonged to Major William Wells, Captain Robert Schofield, Lieutenant Perley C.J. Cheney and Lieutenant Alexander G. Watson, all of the First Vermont Cavalry who had ridden to the station to investigate complaints from the local civilians of looting by the local Union soldiers.
The residence was where the Main Street Bank stands today at 727 Elden St.
“The four officers had been inside eating a meal provided by Nat Hanna’s wife, Kitty Kitchen Hanna, a loyal southerner,” Mauro said. “They noticed Mosby’s men in front of the residence. Cheney and Watson rushed out only to be captured. Wells and Schofield tried to hide in the attic, but one of Mosby’s rangers fired a shot through the ceiling, causing Major Wells to fall through, directly into the hands of their captors. We will re-create that scenario during our March 17th re-enactment.”
After the war, Wells and Schofield reportedly returned to reclaim their guns, which they had left hidden in the walls. Some of the Vermont men did escape, and one started back to Dranesville for help, according to Mauro. Lt. Edwin H. Higley, also of the First Vermont Cavalry, hearing the gunfire at the depot hurried toward the station, met up with him and then rode into town to confront Mosby. Higley gave chase to Mosby as far as Horsepen Run southwest of the station. Here, some of Mosby’s men opened fire, and Higley retreated, Mauro said. “Union outposts at Herndon Station and Dranesville were subsequently moved across Difficult Run, closer to the Fairfax Court House.”
Sunday’s raid reenactments will take place at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., with living history portrayals one hour prior to each reenactment.
The Herndon Raid Reenactment opens to spectators at 10 a.m. Sunday and closes at 3 p.m.
An announcer will describe the action in detail, and there will be books on the Civil War available for sale by vendors. Spectators also may tour the historic Herndon Depot Museum at the end of the first Raid until 1 p.m., and again after the second raid reenactment. Built in 1857, the Depot features local history displays and a variety of maritime memorabilia in honor of the Town’s namesake, Captain William Lewis Herndon.
Mosby’s Raid Reenactment 2013 is sponsored by the Herndon Historical Society and the Herndon Chamber of Commerce. It is supported by local Herndon area businesses and the Town of Herndon. There is no charge for admission to the Herndon Raid Reenactment, although voluntary contributions will be solicited to aid Herndon Historical Society efforts to maintain and preserve the W&OD Depot Museum, Caboose and Herndon’s unique history.
For more event information, visit www.HerndonHistoricalSociety.org.