Mt. Defiance Park Opens to Offer New History Lessons

Representatives of NOVA Parks on Friday celebrated the opening of Mt. Defiance Historic Park just west of Middleburg, and kicked of fundraising for a new endowment fund that will support preservation and operation of five historic sites affiliated with 1863 battles that occurred in area in the early days of the Gettysburg campaign.

Newly installed trail markers at the park walk visitors through the Battle of Middleburg, which included a clash between Union and Confederate cavalry units on the ridge, the second of three battles fought between Aldie and Upperville on June 17-21, 1863, as Gen. J.E.B. Stuart worked to prevent the Federals from detecting the Army of Northern Virginia’s march down the Shenandoah Valley to invade Pennsylvania.

The park includes a building that was used as a tavern during that time, a blacksmith shop and a section of the original alignment of Zula Road that played an important role in the day’s troop movements. The property was purchased and preserved by the American Battlefield Trust and given to NOVA Parks to manage as a historic site. In addition to the newly installed signs, the park will be home to a new 3,000-pound granite war monument, dedicated to 17 members of the 1st Maine Cavalry killed during the battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville during the five-day span.

Historian Richard Gillespie gives a tour of Mt. Defiance Historical Park following a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 26, 2019.

Historian Richard Gillespie, who helped design the interpretive signs, gave a tour of the grounds following a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony. He noted that researchers continue to learn about the war, and progress is being made to preserve historic sites.

“If you were like me, you grew up knowing there were a handful of Civil War battlefields and we knew where they were—whether it was Gettysburg or Shiloh,” he said. “Times have changed and now we realize the monstrous size of that Civil War. Battlefields we’ve never heard of seem to be coming online as we do more research. Middleburg is one of those places.”

Southern forces set up on the ridge at Mt. Defiance as fighting broke out in the streets of Middleburg, where Union batteries had taken position.

Gillespie said fighting took place on a steamy Friday with temperatures climbing to 98 degrees and it was “humid as all get out even at 6 in the morning.” It was the second largest cavalry battle ever fought on American soil; only Brandy Station, fought 10 days earlier, was larger.

Gillespie said the day-long clash involved more than 1,000 men and featured the war’s first mounted carbine attack as the 1stMaine unleashed their new multi-shot, breach-loaded carbine weapons while charging through the Confederate lines. Ultimately, Stuart’s forces were pushed westward to another ridgeline and a violent thunderstorm put an end to the day’s fighting. The forces would clash again two days later near Upperville, with Stuart succeeding in his mission to shield Lee’s troop movements.

Except for a few road signs and the short four-lane section of Rt. 50 along the alignment of the Ashby Gap Turnpike, Gillespie noted the area around the battlefield changed little during the past 150 years.

A 12-pounder Napoleon cannon, like those used by both sides during the Battle of Middleburg is on display at NOVA Park’s Mt. Defiance Historical Park near Middleburg.

The park is designed to allow visitors to explore the grounds on their own, but Gillespie hopes to have volunteer guides there at least once a month to help provide more information. Also, the park should be part of a larger tour of the area, which includes the Mt. Zion Church where wounded soldiers were treated during the battles, the Aldie Mill and other areas where elements of the battles have been commemorated.

In addition to Mt Defiance, Mt. Zion and the mill, NOVA Parks owns and maintains the Battle of Upperville Goose Creek Historic Park and the Gilberts Corner Historic Park in the corridor. To help operate and improve the parks—and potentially expand preservation efforts—NOVA Parks has worked with the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia to establish the 1863 Fund in hopes of creating a permanent endowment for the programs. For more information about this new initiative, email novaparks@nvrpa.orgor call 703-352-5900.

Mt. Defiance Historic Park is located at 35945 John Mosby Highway near Middleburg. The park is open daily from dawn until dusk.

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