Found Friday #5: A Historic Site in Journalism

Moving off of my property for this post, but only just, and I promise a good story. About five minutes from my house, there’s a church and cemetery.

Mt. Zion Old School Baptist Church was the site of a Civil War skirmish, a hospital, and a barracks (among other things). Graffiti dots its walls, tangible remnants of the soldiers who recovered within them. Its congregation met until 1980, and it is now a public park offering educational events, tours, and event rental space. The adjoining cemetery contains both marked graves – including one War of 1812 veteran – and at least 64 unmarked African American graves that lie outside of the cemetery’s gray stone walls. It sits along a historic roadbed, at a crossroads that was, once upon a time, essential to travel in Loudoun County.

There aren’t many places in the area that have seen quite as much history as Mt. Zion, and, when I first visited, I was intrigued to find that it’s even considered a Historic Site in Journalism. (I didn’t know such a thing existed, and am happy to have that knowledge, now.)

The text on the plaque reads:

In the graveyard adjoining this church, on June 23, 1863, Harpers Illustrated Weekly’s Alfred A. Waud, one of the Civil War’s most renowned artists, dug the grave for the burial of his friend, Lynde Walter Buckingham, the chief cavalry correspondent for the New York Herald.

Buckingham had spent the day of June 21 covering what would become one of the largest cavalry battles in U.S. history, in and around the villages of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville. At the front with Union General Judson Kilpatrick throughout the June 21 fight, Buckingham was on his way to Washington with his account of the fighting when Confederate Partisan fighters under Major John Singleton Mosby’s command overtook him and caused his horse to dash down a steep hill and throw its rider powerfully to the ground. Buckingham later died of injuries to his skull in a makeshift Union Army hospital within this church.

After burying his friend, Waud rode on to Gettysburg, where on July 2 and 3 he sketched scenes of the fighting there that continue to shape Americans’ views of that epic battle. A couple of days after Buckingham’s burial, Union Captain Webster, an old friend of his, came to Mt. Zion with an escort and ambulance to disinter the body and send the remains to Buckingham’s family.

The Society of Professional Journalists hereby designates Mt. Zion Old School Baptist Church and Graveyard a Historic Site in Journalism. For as long as they exist, they will recall the devotion to duty and fellow man that embody the best qualities of America’s war correspondents.

Marked this 14th day of June, 2013.  

It’s a sad story, isn’t it? And a tragic memory worth preserving. But there’s life and community at Mt. Zion these days, as the curious passerby and the avid history buff alike drop in to look around and learn, and to enjoy the beautiful rural viewshed ideal for an afternoon picnic.

I’m sure Mt. Zion has many, many stories left to tell.

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