View of Saltville, Virginia

Emory and Henry College During the Civil War

Emory and Henry College, located in the town of Emory in Washington County, is the oldest college in southwestern Virginia and was attended by the future Confederate cavalry general J. E. B. Stuart. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the school was closed while many of its students fought in the Confederate army, and the Confederate government used its buildings to establish the Emory Confederate States Hospital. After the nearby Battle of Saltville in October 1864, wounded Union soldiers, including members of the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry, were treated there. On the morning of October 3, Confederate soldiers reportedly killed several black troopers and their white lieutenant in what has come to be known as the "Saltville Massacre." MORE...

 

Founded in 1836, Emory and Henry is a small, private liberal arts college affiliated with the United Methodist Church and named in honor of John Emory, a Methodist bishop, and Patrick Henry, a hero of the Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and Virginia's first governor. Early on, students worked the college's farm as a way to defray the costs of tuition, and the school hired local slave labor for cooking, cleaning, and farm work. After suffering through the financial crises of the 1830s and 1840s, Emory and Henry was debt free by the 1850s. Its most famous student was Stuart, a native of Patrick County, who attended the school from 1848 until 1850 before enrolling at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

During the presidential campaign of 1860, many Emory and Henry students campaigned on behalf of the Constitutional Union Party, a political refuge for cautious border Whigs and nativists who were intent on preserving slavery but alarmed by the belligerence of fire-eating Democrats and Northern Republicans. After the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, was elected and Virginia seceded from the Union, most students set aside their political differences and withdrew from classes in order to join the war effort. The college's president, Ephraim Emerson Wiley, served as a chaplain, ministering to wounded soldiers who were relocated to the college grounds.

The Emory and Henry board of trustees rejected a request to turn the college into barracks for the Washington Mounted Rifles, or Company D of the 1st Virginia Cavalry. (The company's roll at that time included the soon-to-be-famous guerrilla fighter John S. Mosby, while the regiment was commanded by Stuart.) Instead, the Confederate government established the Emory Confederate States Hospital, reimbursing the school for use of the grounds and buildings. During this period, the college also earned money by selling supplies to the Confederate quartermaster corps.

Emory and Henry's location in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains kept it isolated from the military campaigns that raged across the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont. Still, it was threatened by periodic Union raids targeting the nearby Wytheville lead mines and the salt production facility at Saltville, the latter of which was crucial in provisioning the Confederate army. One such raid in October 1864 resulted in the Battle of Saltville, where outnumbered Confederate cavalry managed to drive back a determined assault led by Union general Stephen G. Burbridge.

Union prisoners of war, many of them wounded and belonging to the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry, were transferred to the Emory hospital, where, according to a Union surgeon left behind to care for them, Confederate troops killed at least five to seven of the black troopers along with a white lieutenant, Elza C. Smith. Some historians, including Thomas Mays, have argued that as many as forty-six were killed that day, both on the battlefield and in the hospital. But scholar William Marvel has argued that a smaller number, anywhere from five to as many as two dozen, is more likely.

Emory and Henry College reopened in August 1865 with a few antebellum students returning to complete their degrees.

Further Reading
Mays, D. Thomas. The Saltville Massacre. Abilene, Texas: McWhiney Foundation Press, 1998.
Stevenson, George J. Increase in Excellence: A History of Emory and Henry College. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1963.
Cite This Entry
APA Citation:
Wongsrichanalai, K. Emory and Henry College During the Civil War. (2011, April 5). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Emory_and_Henry_College_During_the_Civil_War.

MLA Citation:
Wongsrichanalai, K. "Emory and Henry College During the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 5 Apr. 2011. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: January 28, 2009 | Last modified: April 5, 2011


Contributed by Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Virginia.