Author: Elizabeth Dietzen

a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a seasonal ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park

Saltville during the Civil War

Saltville is a small town that lies mostly in Smyth County in southwestern Virginia, between the Holston River and the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), Saltville was of strategic importance for two reasons: the railroad provided an important link between the eastern and western theaters of the war, and the town’s salt mines were crucial in supplying provisions for the Confederate army. As such, Saltville was the target of numerous Union raids. It was also the site of a battle on October 2, 1864, when outnumbered Confederate cavalry troops repulsed the advance of Union troops, including members of the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry, under the command of General Stephen G. Burbridge. The next day, according to some accounts, Confederate soldiers killed a number of the wounded black troopers, who were being held as prisoners of war at nearby Emory and Henry College. The notorious and still-disputed incident is known as the “Saltville Massacre.”