The Halooies skill at escaping the notice of their neighbors may have been perfected during the American Civil War (1861-1865) when Northern Virginia was occupied by Union troops and Seminary Hill was the site of an enormous military encampment. The war transformed the area the Halooies had called home for more than a century. Three of the fortifications surrounding Washington—Fort Ward, Fort Willams and Fort Worth—were built on Halooie territory, the latter near a mansion called Vaucluse owned by the Fairfax family.
We have no record of interactions between the Fairfaxes and the Halooies, but they are likely to have been frosty, at best. Mary Aylett, the first wife of Thomas Fairfax (1762–1846), 9th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, was a Christianized Tauxenent, the tribe the Halooies knew as ȟunipšit or “Juniprites” and regarded as their mortal enemies. Constance Cary Harrison, Thomas’s granddaughter who came of age at Vaucluse wrote knowledgeably about Native Americans in a short story entitled “An Encounter with Indians,” no doubt based on her experiences with Halooies and Juniprites during her years there.
With regard to the American Civil War, few know about the decisive role the Halooies played in this conflict at a pivotal moment. Here is a brief account.
In March 1865, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was pinned down by Grant’s Army of the Potomac near Petersburg, Virginia and close to defeat. An end to the conflict seemed at near at hand and an active threat to Washington no longer existed. Union soldiers stationed at the defensive fortifications in Northern Virginia had grown soft from lack of regular drills and had become careless about posting sentries, having seen no sign of the enemy during the previous three and a half years. Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby, the “Gray Ghost,” encamped near Centerville, Virginia with his men—the 43rd Battalion of the Virginia Cavalry (a.k.a Mosby’s Rangers)—was well aware of this situation and thought it could be used to the South’s advantage.
Mosby’s idea was to sneak his small unit of about 50 mounted men to Seminary Hill by night, capture Fort Worth, raid its armory, and then take neighboring Forts Ward, Williams and Ellsworth, opening up a large hole in Washington’s southern defenses. Grant’s Army of the Potomac would be obliged to rush north to protect the capital, allowing Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to get out from under Grant’s thumb, resupply, take on reinforcements, and prepare to fight another day. A risky gambit to be sure, but Mosby was known for taking chances and desperate times called for desperate measures. The fact that communication had been cut off between Mosby, Lee and other Confederate commanders was no issue as Mosby had always worked at will from behind enemy lines. Even if Lee remained in the dark about the operation, Grant would surely receive quick news of a breach in Washington’s defenses and that was all that mattered for the plan to work.
On the night of March 19th, Mosby and his men secretly traveled singly and in small groups from Centreville to Bailey’s Crossroads where they mustered in a large barn belonging to a farmer sympathetic to the Southern cause. In the early morning hours they advanced towards Alexandria. To avoid detection, they approached Fort Worth from paths through the woods instead of by road. Unbeknownst to the them, the neatly raked trail they followed took them over the Halooie’s sacred hill.
As they neared its summit, the lead Ranger’s horse stumbled into a well concealed pit in the middle of the trail: a maswígmuŋke, a Halooie booby trap. The rider was thrown to the ground and the horse injured. While the shaken Ranger was helped onto another’s horse, the men were startled by war whoops followed by a hail of rocks, dirt clods and crabapples. From the saddles of their panicked horses, the Rangers were unable to get steady shots at the Halooies, who were in any case obscured by the darkness and trees. The clamor and gunfire alerted the neighborhood and the critical element of surprise had been lost. Mosby and his Rangers were obliged to retreat at full gallop back the way they had come.
Losing a horse and retreating before a few lightly armed indians (whose very existence would be doubted by anyone who heard the story) was an enormous embarrassment for this vaunted unit. Mosby ordered his men to make no mention of the raid—about which no one else had been informed—in their notes, diaries and letters.
One month later, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House.