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The Battle of Lynchburg

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Battle of Lynchburg

Historic Sandusky, General Hunters Headquarters during the Battle of Lynchburg. Photo circa 1914

150 years ago today, although not a major battle, the city of Lynchburg heard cannon fire and gunshots.  The Battle of Lynchburg is technically a misnomer as the failure of the Union assault kept Lee’s supply lines open, which enabled him to fight for an additional eight months.

Battle of Lynchburg, General Hunter

General Hunter

It took more than three years for the war to reach Lynchburg.  Troop trains regularly pulled into Lynchburg’s Ninth Street Station bearing carloads of wounded Confederate soldiers, as the majority of the tobacco warehouses had been converted into hospitals, making Lynchburg the second-busiest hospital town in the south.  Lynchburg manufactured ammunition at it’s foundries and provided milled grain and flour from one of the area’s largest grist mills.  As a major supply route for the Confederate Troops, General Grant gave General Hunter orders to destroy Lynchburg thereby disrupting supplies to the Confederate Army and thereby ending the war.

As General Hunter marched through the Shenandoah Valley on his way to Lynchburg he ran into little resistance.  He took a page out of General Sherman’s march through the south as he burned and plundered the small towns and villages, including VMI in Lexington as he headed towards Lynchburg.  Meanwhile General Lee, knowing the importance of Lynchburg to the South sent General Jubal Early to defend the city as there were very few able bodied persons left in Lynchburg to mount any type of defense.

As General Early was racing to Lynchburg to defend the city, General Hunter and his men, on their way from Lexington to Lynchburg, arrived in the Town of New London where they were offered food and drink.   This slowed the advance on Lynchburg by several hours buying General Early several hours of time.  Finally, General Hunter arrives in Lynchburg and takes over Sandusky, a plantation in the northwest section of Lynchburg, as his headquarters.  While preparing his battle plan he sends out spies  to the city.

During the evening and night of June 17, 1864, empty trains kept pulling into the 9th Street Station to the cheers of the townspeople as the band played.   Word got back to General Hunter that dozens of trains full of Confederate Troops were arriving to defend the City.  Fearing that he was outnumbered General Hunter decided not to attack the City and retreated.  In a letter to General Grant, General Hunter states, “It had now become sufficiently evident that the enemy concentrated a force at least double the numerical strength of mine and what added to the gravity of the situation was the fact that my troops had scarcely enough  of ammunition left to sustain another well-contested battle.”

While there were a few small skirmishes in Lynchburg during the Battle of Lynchburg, the city was left standing and continued to supply the South for the remainder of the war.  Because of General Hunter’s retreat from the Battle of Lynchburg we have many buildings that may have been destroyed if he was able to complete his mission.  Sandusky stands today and has been restored to the way it looked when it was General Hunter’s headquarters.  It is open to the public.  Check the link for more information.

If you are interested in the Civil War, the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse celebrates its 150th year anniversary next spring.  We are now taking reservations, and I recommend you book early, if you plan on taking part of all the activities the National Park Service has planned for that week.  We are about 20 minutes from Appomattox Courthouse!