- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006

Clinton Hatcher might not have been the very first Loudoun County, Va., boy killed in the Civil War, but the tall, handsome and popular soldier, who fell at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff near Leesburg on Oct. 21, 1861, was often cited as the county’s first.

The Blue Mountain Boys, recruited at Bloomfield Church in western Loudoun, became Company F of the 8th Virginia Infantry and went into action at 2:30 p.m. on the 21st. Eight of the unit’s soldiers were killed that day. Hatcher was killed at sunset, but his spectacular courage and appearance made him the fondly remembered first martyr among Loudoun’s lost.

When the United Confederate Veterans organized after the war, led by that other hero of Ball’s Bluff, Lt. Col. Elijah V. White, Loudoun’s unit was named the Clinton Hatcher Camp of the UCV. The Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Clinton Hatcher Camp of Leesburg is still going strong. Yet many Loudoun residents know very little about who Hatcher was and what he did.

Sgt. Thomas Clinton Lovett Hatcher was a Quaker from near Lincoln in the central Loudoun Valley. At 6 feet 7 inches, he was conspicuous as a student at Columbian College (now George Washington University) just before the war.

He met President Abraham Lincoln at a White House reception shortly after the inauguration. Probably out of modesty, Hatcher tried to avoid a meeting, but Lincoln stopped him, explaining, “Whenever I see a man taller than me I make it a point to shake hands with him.” As the March 9, 1861, Sunday Star noted, Lincoln was 6-foot-4.

The meeting supposedly was civil enough, but young Hatcher did not become a Lincoln fan. Letters that recently have come to light from Hatcher to Mary Sibert of Augusta County, Va., show the young Quaker soldier as an ardent Southern fire-eater, ready to watch Yankees slain at the earliest opportunity.

How this squared with his religious faith we will perhaps never know. One story from family sources indicates that before his death at Ball’s Bluff, he went into battle unarmed, although he volunteered to carry the Confederate Flag.

Hatcher’s nine letters to Sibert, between May 18 and Oct. 8, 1861, proceed from apparently casual friendship to lovesick infatuation and serious courtship. His remarks about the war and politics certainly show his militant side.

The last letter, however, is from Clinton’s cousin Thaddeus Hatcher, responding to Sibert’s inquiry about the details of Clinton’s death.

After fighting “like a hero all day with his Company,” Thaddeus wrote, Clinton got separated from his regiment during an evening charge, fell in with the Hillsborough Border Guards and fought alongside them. Thaddeus Hatcher’s brother, who was detailed to help secure the artillery, saw Clinton just at dusk going toward the riverbank, yelling, “Boys, let’s give them one more charge.”

The last Union volley of the day, however, killed the young color bearer instantly, shooting him through the heart. As the tallest man in the regiment and the color bearer, he made a conspicuous target.

The family had Clinton buried at the Ketoctin Church just north of Purcellville, at the south end of Short Hill Mountain. There the Clinton Hatcher Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans will hold a ceremony (public invited) commemorating its namesake at 1 p.m. Oct. 28, with re-enactors from many local units to honor Sgt. Hatcher.

We probably will never know how Mary Sibert of Mount Solon responded to her Confederate soldier’s increasingly affectionate correspondence. Clinton’s letters indicate that Sibert was writing back regularly. The letters reveal an astonishingly eloquent and learned young man who perhaps could have been one of the 19th century’s great writers if he had lived.

His first letter, on May 18, 1861, theorizes that it would improve his writing to correspond with “one who has gained so young a literary reputation.” However, he informs Sibert that “Hardee’s Tactics” is the book he is devouring at the time. As to his company’s participation in the Battle of First Manassas, Hatcher describes being unable to wait until he can bayonet a Yankee and observes, “I never felt the whole day as if there were a possibility of a ball’s striking me. I had a kind of pre-sentiment that I would not be killed.”

Hatcher wrote on Aug. 28, 1861, that “an ambrotypist came to Leesburg last week, and I was able to get a picture to leave with Ma if I am killed.” The last letter from Hatcher, dated Oct. 8, is a powerfully persuasive tour de force of youthful eloquence asking Sibert if she could bring herself to love him and spend her life with him.

Shortly thereafter, the death of Clinton Hatcher as a hero in the battle was mentioned in a Tennessee newspaper and in the New York Times.

Kenneth M. Fleming and Richard E. Crouch are the commander and lieutenant commander, respectively, of the Clinton Hatcher Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Leesburg.

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