HISTORY OF ALDIE
The village of Aldie enjoys a rich, 200+ year heritage, and occupies a unique place in the history of northern Virginia and Loudoun County. Few places in the region pack so much history into such a small space.
The village grew up in the early 1800s around the Aldie Mill. It occupies what was then a strategic location at one of the gaps in the Bull Run Mountains. Travelers and commerce could move west to Middleburg, Upperville and the Blue Ridge along the Ashby's Gap Turnpike; east to Fairfax and Alexandria along the Little River Turnpike; or northwest towards Bluemont along Snickersville Turnpike. The mill is powered by water from Little River, diverted upstream into the mill race. Its construction was financed by Charles Fenton Mercer, a distinguished member of the Virginia General Assembly and the United States Congress, and William Cooke. It was Mercer who named the village Aldie after Aldie Castle, the ancestral home of the Mercer family in Scotland. Mercer himself never operated the mill, although the income from its operations allowed him to pursue his career in public service. Mercer left day-to-day operations to Cooke, his business partner. He bought out Cooke’s interest in 1816 (for $11,250), then sold the mill in 1835 to a family that operated it for six generations until it closed in 1971.
Fifty years after Mercer and Cooke built their mill, Aldie was the site of a bloody cavalry skirmish at the start of the Gettysburg campaign. In June 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was moving his army up the Shenandoah Valley to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He planned to cross the Potomac River into Maryland, then push further north into Pennsylvania.
To escape detection while he moved his troops north, Lee positioned his cavalry under General J.E.B. Stuart east of the Blue Ridge, with orders to shield the infantry’s movements. Anxious to learn Lee’s intentions, Union commanders dispatched several cavalry brigades from Washington, D.C., to find the Confederate Army.
Stuart had stationed a cavalry brigade at Aldie to prevent Union troops from gaining control of the two roads over the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Shenandoah Valley: Ashby's Gap Turnpike (now Route 50) through Middleburg and Upperville, and the Snickersville Turnpike. The Union cavalry clashed with Stuart’s cavalry first at Aldie on June 17, 1863 then again at Middleburg and Upperville in the days following.
J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalrymen did their job, holding the Union troops long enough for Lee to move his Army across the Potomac into Maryland undetected, only to collide with the Union Army two weeks later at Gettysburg.
The history books describe the outcome of the cavalry battle at Aldie as “inconclusive”. It must not have seemed so to the men of the First Massachusetts Cavalry, however.
The First Massachusetts rode through the village of Aldie on June 17, and turned northwest at the western edge of town to follow the Snickersville Turnpike. There had been fighting in the area most of the day. Dead horses and men lay in the fields on either side of the road. Several miles outside of Aldie, the First Massachusetts rode four abreast into a horrific ambush. Sharpshooters from the 2nd and 3rd Virginia cavalry were concealed behind stone walls on either side of the road, and decimated the Union cavalry column. In his official report on the encounter, Confederate Colonel Thomas Munford wrote: “I do not hesitate to say that I have never seen as many Yankees killed in the same space of ground in any fight I have ever seen, or on any battlefield in Virginia that I have been over.” The site is marked today by a monument to them, said to be the only monument to Union forces in Loudoun County. A Sesquicentennial Reenactment of the Battle of Aldie was held on June 15, 2013 as part of the Prelude to Gettysburg commemoration involving the fighting at Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville 150 years before.
Today, the village of Aldie has an historical district with buildings dating from as early as 1775. Most were built from early 1800s to mid-1800s. There are many points of interest in addition to the Aldie Mill, which is operating again. Mt. Zion Church has tours, reenactments, and other events. Aldie Harvest Festival, held the third Saturday of October each year, is a reminder of when Aldie was a farming community. Explore the links on the right for a fuller appreciation of Aldie's history and people.