Local History: Robert F. O’Neill’s “Small but Important Riots”

Written by Heidi Baumstark

Everyone knows that horses take center stage in Virginia’s Hunt Country. 

But not everyone knows about another “stage” our four-legged friends premiered in during the summer of 1863: war.

In “Small but Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville,” author Robert F. O’Neill unpacks the details of three cavalry battles in Loudoun County that were part of the Gettysburg Campaign. These battles broke out along an approximate 12-mile stretch of Ashby’s Gap Turnpike (today’s John Mosby Highway) when mounted soldiers clashed in summer 1863 — Aldie (June 17), Middleburg (June 19), and Upperville (June 21).

All three conflicts resulted in Union victories, but Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart maintained an upper hand, sparring with Union commander Alfred Pleasonton as a delay tactic to prevent him from gaining intelligence on Robert E. Lee’s movements. By preventing Federal forces from passing through local mountain gaps, Stuart’s cavalry allowed Lee’s troops to travel north unhindered. 

After all, it’s the cavalry (horse-mounted soldiers) who are the most mobile operating in roles of reconnaissance, screening, and skirmishing. “Cavalry protects the infantry,” explains O’Neill. “That’s one of their jobs. The other is to find the enemy.”

These three clashes took place between the famous battles of Brandy Station in Culpeper County, June 9, 1863 (the largest predominantly cavalry engagement of the entire Civil War, resulting in a Confederate victory), and Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863, a win for the North. O’Neill points out, “These three cavalry battles were overshadowed by Gettysburg, [which] happened just 10 days later.”

About O’Neill

O’Neill lives in Virginia’s Northern Neck and comes from a distinguished career in law enforcement. His parents instilled a strong interest in reading and history, which led to his study of the Civil War, specifically the Union cavalry in the crucial year of 1863. On his mother’s side, O’Neill has two ancestors who fought in the war. 

O’Neill’s original edition of “Small but Important Riots” was released in 1993, but after gaining access to previously unpublished documents, O’Neill published a second edition in 2023 with an updated narrative and added information from recently discovered letters, diaries, and soldier records. “I think I cited 13 newspapers in the 1993 edition, but with today’s access to digital databases changing the way research is done, I cited 89 newspapers in this 2023 edition,” he says. After 30 years of searching the National Archives for records pertaining to the Civil War, O’Neill’s findings have significantly advanced the understanding of these three cavalry battles. 

The origin of O’Neill’s book title comes from U.S. Infantry Captain John W. Ames, who was in the area on June 21, 1863. From Aldie, he heard cavalry fighting around Upperville (about 12 miles west of Aldie), and listened to the battle throughout the day, later explaining that the cavalry was fighting “small but important riots.”

“Though Ames is away from the firing,” O’Neill says, “they heard cannon and found out it was the cavalry fighting…. There were a series of skirmishes during that day [June 21, 1863] that surrounded Upperville itself; Goose Creek Bridge is one of those areas.”

The Three Cavalry Battles

According to published records, Pleasonton’s superiors — President Lincoln, U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and army commander Joseph Hooker — ordered Pleasonton to search for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia who was heading into the Shenandoah Valley, north toward the Potomac River, and into Pennsylvania. “Hooker’s objective was to save Washington — the capital — from attack,” O’Neill explains. “Hooker was to send his cavalry out to look for Lee. But, Pleasanton disobeyed Hooker’s orders; I found documents that prove this.”

As cavalry commander, Stuart had the whole width of the Loudoun Valley to keep Federal forces away from Lee. Pleasanton was not to take his cavalry into the Loudoun Valley, but he did. And when Pleasonton and Stuart run into each other, that’s what leads to these three cavalry battles in June 1863.

Stuart was in the little mill village of Aldie when fighting broke out on Wednesday, June 17, at a sharp curve on Snickersville Turnpike. A stone monument commemorating the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry stands nearby, honoring those who fought at the Battle of Aldie. “It was erected by survivors of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry; they suffered many heavy losses there,” O’Neill says.

An aspect of the Battle of Middleburg that has always been a mystery was its exact location. On June 17, French-American Union soldier Alfred Napoléon Duffié led his regiment into the Loudoun Valley, where they would ultimately perish. Having found a letter referring to the death of one of Duffié’s officers, O’Neill’s book at long last reveals the circumstances of their defeat. “Based on the information in that letter and further research, I was able to pinpoint where that battle was fought,” he explains. “Duffié, coming into Middleburg on the night of the 17th, was attacked, driven out of town, and retreated south. On the morning of the 18th he’s attacked again; that’s when his officer was killed. Duffié was coming into Middleburg via The Plains Road.”

Severe fighting broke out about one mile west of the village of Middleburg, near a cluster of 19th-century stone buildings still standing at what is now Mt. Defiance Historic Park. On Friday, June 19, the Battle of Middleburg enveloped the area around the blacksmith shop at the intersection of the old Zulla roadbed and John Mosby Highway. The Union’s 1st Maine Cavalry were fighting dismounted from their horses, and the outnumbered Confederates were almost overrun. A stone monument dedicated to the bravery of the 1st Maine Cavalry stands on the grounds of Mt. Defiance, and in the old Zulla roadbed stands a 12-pound Napoleon howitzer cannon that Confederates used as a defensive position. 

Stacked stone walls, still visible today, bordering Mt. Defiance provided cover for Union and Confederate soldiers along both sides of the old turnpike. In the evening of June 19, a storm rolled in, ending the Battle of Middleburg, which resulted in about 400 casualties. Churches became hospitals, including Aldie’s Mt. Zion Church, where graffiti by soldiers can still be seen on the walls. 

The Battle of Upperville occurred on the afternoon of Sunday, June 21, ending five days of cavalry engagements along Ashby’s Gap Turnpike including the area of the Goose Creek Bridge, which spans the waters of Goose Creek in four arches. Northern and Southern cavalry brigades totaling about 6,000 men with horse artillery clashed that afternoon in Upperville across the Ayrshire and Kirkby farms, between Trappe and Greengarden roads.

“That fight has been interpreted several different ways over the years,” O’Neill adds. “The owner of Kirkby Farm allowed me to walk the property and I was able to sort out that battle, as well.” Kirkby Farm was also the site of the Battle of Unison, which occurred months earlier, November 1–3, 1862. The farm is now permanently protected by a conservation easement with the Old Dominion Land Conservancy located in Purcellville.

By the night of June 21, almost a week’s worth of fighting resulted in fatigued and injured mounts, dwindling supplies, and high casualties on both sides. Just 10 days later, the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863) would break out. 

160 Years Later

In commemoration of the 160th anniversary of these three cavalry battles, NOVA Parks is teaming up with the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area to provide a weekend program June 17 to 18. The weekend will include a family-friendly living history program at Mt. Zion Church in Aldie and guided tours at Mt. Defiance, and an all-day bus tour on June 17 will be led by VPHA Historian Emeritus Rich Gillespie. 

On June 18, O’Neill will present a talk on his second edition of “Small but Important Riots” at Buchanan Hall in Upperville. The event concludes with a book signing and a beer and wine reception. 

NOVA Parks Site Manager Tracy Gillespie, who invited O’Neill to speak, adds, “Bob’s book is extraordinary. He has shared a lifetime of learning through this narrative, which has been described as a ‘tactical study’ of the cavalry battles, but it’s so much more than that. It’s storytelling at its best!”

“Thirty years ago, there was no parkland there; it was all private property,” O’Neill points out. “But now we have Mt. Defiance Park and lots of other land placed in easements by folks who live out there.”

Reflecting on his research, O’Neill concludes, “Years ago, I met the late John Divine,” a nationally recognized authority on the Civil War and a native of the early 18th-century village of Waterford in Loudoun. “In 1980, John took me to the Route 50 corridor and explained what he understood about those battles. He suggested I try to write a book on it. I had never set out to do that, but one thing led to another. And I did. I hope that in 10 years someone else will take the story even further.”

Thanks to O’Neill and his dedication to research, we can learn more about these important cavalry battles and their role in the Civil War. And thanks to dedicated preservation efforts by NOVA Parks and other organizations, we can witness the fields and drive the roads where cavalrymen — and their proven steeds — changed history.

More information about the June 17 bus tour (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) beginning at Mt. Zion Historic Park (40309 John Mosby Highway, Aldie, Virginia) and the June 18 (2 to 4 p.m.) lecture by O’Neill at Buchanan Hall in Upperville can be found at VPHA’s website at Information on O’Neill’s book and his other publications and articles in historical magazines can be found at ML

Published in the May 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

Celebration in Hartland: Old Farm Winery’s First Anniversary

Story by Bill Kent
Photos by Michael Butcher

We’ve all seen it, somewhere in our lives: that house on the hill.

Jon Hickox first saw Longfield Manor when he was a teenager. It stood on a rise along what he and his friends called the “cut-through” connecting Evergreen Mills Road with Route 50.

He would look at the house on his way to carpentry jobs or farm work. As one of eight children born to a Navy captain, he worked for everything, up to and including a business degree at George Mason, his first jobs as a contractor, and then, a residential and commercial developer.

He would see that same house during hunting season, when, after a long day in the woods, he would gift his kill to families who lived along the road. He was intrigued to know that the farm itself dates back to the 1700s and that much of the land had once belonged to Hunt Country legend Randolph “Randy” Rouse, former Master of the Fairfax Hunt.

Newly renovated Longfield Manor is ready for special events.

“Every time I saw that house, I imagined that whoever lived there was happy in some way. Don’t get me wrong —I had a great childhood growing up in Burke Centre in Fairfax. I’ve seen plenty of great places to live. I’ve even built some. But this house was special.”

Twenty-five years later Hickox bought the house and the surrounding 35 acres. “I had put a bug in the ear of the developers that we should essentially get rid of the golf course community concept and put in a winery, kind of like farm-to-table but grape-to-glass. After I closed on the deal I drove out again [and] stood right where I was when I first saw the house. [I] said to myself, ‘I have to turn this into something amazing.’”

I don’t see us as making wine. I see us making happiness.

– Hickox

It’s been nearly a year since Hickox opened Old Farm Winery at Hartland. It is his fourth Virginia vineyard, second winery, and the first in Loudoun County and, perhaps, in the entire state, to not merely grow grapes, but act as an event center and community focal point for the Hartland community, an 800-acre Aldie luxury residential development.

For Hickox and his staff of eight, it has been a year of successes, lessons, and “moments so special that, for me at least, there’s so much more in being part of a community.” He continues, “It isn’t enough to put a good wine in a bottle and sell it at a fair price. I don’t see us as making wine. I see us making happiness.”

As he did when building houses, Hickox has done every job at Old Farm Winery from planting the vines, to working the tasting room, to restoring the farm’s main house.

His favorite job? “The crush. That’s spending twelve hours to harvest grapes, crush them all, send the juice to tanks, then cleaning everything up. It is extremely intense. To work with a team and to endure the great physical non-stop efforts all working towards a common goal in such a setting is an amazing experience. It’s like running a marathon but nobody can finish alone.”

All that crushing happens at The Winery at Bull Run, Hickox’s first foray into wine making. Currently celebrating its tenth year, Bull Run was born when the 2008 recession doomed another developer’s Centreville residential project. Hickox bought the land and decided that the region may not need more houses as much as a more attractive use of the countryside. 

“I like wine but I don’t have a complex palate. What I enjoy is getting out into the open areas with my family and experiencing the history, the scenery, the flavor, and character of a place. You can do that with wine. It was enough to get me interested.”

He planted grapes, sited the tasting room to take advantage of the landscape, hired an expert winemaker, and promoted the winery to both nearby Washington, D.C. residents and Hunt Country locals. 

He wasn’t sure if the winery was going to succeed until one day when he visited it anonymously on a summer weekend. “I saw that one woman was sitting by herself and seemed very sad. I asked very discreetly of the tasting room staff if there was anything we could do. They had heard she was going through a difficult breakup, so we left well enough alone. An hour later, I saw her talking to someone and her mood had changed a little.”

A month later Hickox heard that the two he saw chatting had become engaged at the winery. A week after that she came right up to Hickox and asked him if he owned the winery. “I said I did, was there anything wrong? She said nothing was wrong — in fact, so many good things had happened to her here, she wanted to ask me if she could have her wedding here. Of course, I said ‘yes.’ That was one of our first, and, as far as I’m concerned, best weddings at Bull Run.”

And it was proof for Hickox that wineries are more than just places to make, taste, and buy wine. “We have the opportunity to become part of people’s lives. Those people are a community, whether they’re from out of state or the next town over. From then on, I knew that putting a winery into a community could be a great thing.”

He admits the challenge of opening a vineyard during the pandemic “…was scary at times. I had to reassure my bankers that the pandemic restrictions would end and that people would one day want to go into an enclosed building and eat and drink. We had supply chain problems for what we needed to build the tasting room and restore the farmhouse. At one point the price of lumber went up 280 percent.”

“We have the opportunity to become part of people’s lives. Those people are a community, whether they’re from out of state or the next town over.”

– Hickox

Throughout his renovations, Hickox was careful to keep the simple, modest lines of the farmhouse. Inside, the rooms are slowly being renovated into meeting rooms and office spaces with a bridal suite taking up much of the second floor.

Hickox wanted to be a good neighbor to those coming into the Hartland development so he planted his vines to give open views to the nearby homeowners, and put some distance between them and the areas of the winery where festivities occur. Two older structures dating back to the 1700s will be converted into wine making and storage areas. A “family-friendly” area is located on a rise above the tasting area. 

The outdoor bar has a great view of the vines with Longfield Manor in the background.

His wife suggested that he offer a Hunt Country-themed wine. Created by Bull Run Winery winemaker Ashton Lough (with a tip of the hat to Randy Rouse), the mildly sweet white “Tally Ho” has been this year’s best seller. “Our Tally-Ho, a white Virginia blend with Vidal Blanc, Traminette, and Seyval Blanc has been our flagship white. [It’s] named after a foxhunting term and our very rich foxhunting history in Loudoun County,” CJ Evans, the tasting room manager at Old Farm, explains. The winery also offers a hard cider — an unusual touch that reflects the regional roots. 

 “Then it was all about putting our place on the map. Ours isn’t like the wineries on major roads. People have to know where we are and want to find us.” 

A lineup of Old Farm favorites including the rosé, hard cider, and Tally-Ho.

He sought a balance between themed nights for the neighbors and weekend events that would draw visitors from further away. Movie nights, trivia nights and wine pairings with cookies and barbecue gave way to weekend gatherings for Jeep owners, and six charitable fundraisers for causes ranging from breast cancer research to environmental preservation. “We reached out locally to find out what our community wanted to support and offered our facilities as a way of supporting them.” Evans adds, “We had a Lū’au-themed event with a pig roast, and fun and games for all.  It was the first time …where I saw the promise in the space we are fortunate to have here.”

On Valentine’s Day, the winery offered a special contest for military personnel and first responders: a drawing in which the winner got a free wedding at the winery.

And it was at that August wedding of Army officer Nicholas Andrew Greene and Jordyn Emma Buckingham, that Hickox felt that Old Farm Winery was going to be a success.

“I walked around and, believe me, I was as nervous as a bride’s father. This was the most important moment in this couple’s life and everything had to go right.”

Did it? “Yes, it did, for them. For me, I walked around and I was surrounded by people who were having a good time. Even the ones that cry at weddings — it was all good. We made some happiness that day.” ML

This article first appeared in the October 2022 issue.

Aldie’s Little River Inn Celebrates 40 Years of Hospitality

Written by Diane Helentjaris
Photos by Gracie Withers

In the late 1970s, Tucker Withers ran two antique shops: one in Aldie and one in Maryland, the latter managed by his mother. As a reprieve from work, he often played poker on Tuesday nights. One evening around the card table with his buddies: a sheriff, a landscape architect, and a banker, the banker mentioned a piece of Aldie property which was coming up for sale. By Friday, Withers owned it. 

Withers telephoned his mother to share the news of his acquisition: a historic brick two-story house and outbuildings. Her response floored him: “I never told you this, but your father was from Aldie.” Withers’ parents had divorced when he was three. He grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, and did not know much about his paternal family history. Now he would not only discover it, but live it as well.

The epitome of small world connections, his great uncle had once owned the very same brick house Withers purchased. Withers later discovered his great-grandparents once lived in the property’s log cabin. All the older villagers knew his family. Years ago, he was given a family photograph by Sarah Love Douglass. Sarah and her husband James Edward Douglass owned and ran the Aldie Mill before donating it in 1981 to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. “Your great grandmother was the nicest person,” she always shared with Withers.

In February of 1982, Withers decided to turn the property into an inn. Little River Inn opened four months later and his career as an innkeeper began. Affable by nature, the role of host suited him. In fact, Withers even taught hospitality at Northern Virginia Community College and would tell students, “The first thing is you have to like to get up early. You have to like people 24 hours a day, not just from eight to five. You get calls early in the day and late at night…by nature, you have to like people.”

Withers’ wife Mary Ann works at the inn alongside him. They met when Mary Ann, a former special education teacher, spent the summer waitressing at the iconic Coach Stop restaurant in Middleburg. And their three children, now adults, all worked at the inn growing up.

Little River Inn offers bed and breakfast-style stays in three buildings: the two-story house, the small Patent House, and the log cabin. Rooms are, as would be expected from a long-time antique dealer like Withers, furnished with period pieces and decor. The main brick house was built in 1810 by Rezin Willcoxon. 

The Patent House is the oldest building in Aldie dating somewhere between 1750 and 1760. The name refers to the building’s purpose. Patent Houses were built to claim and hold on to land received as a grant (or patent). Their minimum size was sixteen by twenty feet, which is roughly the size of the Aldie Patent House. Little River Inn accommodates a range of needs — from honeymooners who want to snuggle into their own private space to a family wishing to take over the second floor of the brick house.

Withers would like people to know that the Little River Inn is “…just like going home. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. It’s where you get good food and good company. [There is] just so much personality to the place, the town is just so welcoming.” 

As innkeeper, Withers is also the chef and is proud of his breakfasts. The menu rotates and includes specialties like eggs benedict with cottage-fried potatoes and eggs and mushrooms with tarragon cream sauce in a ham cup on an English muffin. After trying his banana bread, one customer declared, “I never thought anyone made banana bread as good as my mother.” Withers is quick to add that he also bakes blueberry and poppyseed muffins. 

“[There is] no microwave at the Little River Inn. Everything is made from scratch.” If someone asks him to nuke their cooled coffee in the microwave, Withers insists on making a fresh pot. He also refuses to carry a cell phone or use a computer. He communicates in person, by telephone, or with little notes left on tables. Mary Ann responds to emails, handles the website, and otherwise picks up the technology slack.

Few bed and breakfasts last 40 years. Mary Ann believes the longevity of the Little River Inn is partially due to the fact that the Withers family has maintained a separate, private home in the village apart from the commercial enterprise. They are always reachable but don’t live with their guests, even though she’s quick to emphasize their visitors are “as nice as they can be.” 

Affection for their guests is certainly part of the Withers family recipe for success. Withers believes the “best thing [about the inn] is the people who stay here.” He continues, “They really become our friends. One man stayed every Monday and Tuesday for twenty years. He was a landscape architect. Some have come each year for 40 years. One couple first came in 1982 and still comes back…That is the best part of it all. We have, over many years, [built] relationships with many nice people.” Early on, a couple honeymooned at the bed and breakfast. “They were so nice,” Mary Ann emphasizes. Withers called them up when they went home to Kentucky and offered them a job. They drove back to Virginia and helped manage the inn for 12 years.

Looking forward, Withers has no plans to change. And when asked if he would do it again, he says,  “Oh, yeah — in a heartbeat. We enjoy it so much.” He adds, “Don’t know if the kids will take it over. Don’t know how long [it will go on].” Luckily, his children and a growing group of grandchildren all live within twenty minutes of the inn. “[I don’t] know what will happen but for now I am sticking with running the Little River Inn.” ML

For more information on this historic inn, visit or call 703-327-6742. Little River Inn is located at 39307 John Mosby Highway (Rt. 50), Aldie, Virginia 20105.

This article first appeared in the June 2022 Issue.

Miller Mike Devine explains the milling process.

Grinding Away at Aldie Mill Historic Park

Aldie Mill Historic Park, one of Northern Virginia’s hidden gem destinations, brings history to life on the weekends. Located on John Mosby Highway in Aldie, Virginia, the mill is a quick day trip.

After the tour, walk across the street and greet this month’s Meet Middleburg featured person, Wally Lunceford at the Aldie Peddler.

Miller Mike Devine explains the milling process.

Miller Mike Devine explains the milling process.

Volunteer docents like Miller Mike Devine provide education and entertaining talks to visitors on Saturdays and Sundays. Donations keep the doors open. Docents provide the back to the past experience. Fifty percent of each donation goes directly to the Aldie Mill Historic Park, and the other 50 percent supports land preservation and park development throughout the Northern Virginia Parks system.

The mill is open Saturdays and Sundays from April 14 until Nov. 11 from noon until 5 p.m.

Photos by Doug Stroud

This article first appeared in the September 2018 Issue.