Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lewisburg Battle

Lewisburg Battle marker, Greenbrier County, WV (Click any photo to enlarge)Greenbrier County, WV

Marker Text: Confederate troops under Gen. Henry Heth here, May 23, 1862, were repulsed in attack upon division of Col. Geo. Crook's brigade. The Old Stone Church was used as a hospital. In his retreat, Heth burned bridge over Greenbrier at Caldwell.

Location: On U.S. Route 60 (eastbound) at corner of Lee and Washington streets; in front of General Lewis Hotel.

"Of all the battlefields that I have studied, I know of none quite so dramatic as Lewisburg (where the battle was), fought in a mountain town, before breakfast, and combining rifle shooting, artillery fire, infantry charges, and cavalry, all in a sleeping little city whose inhabitants awoke to hear the cannon boom and the rifles speak, and who had no time to do anything in the way of escape until it was all over." Quote by Andrew Price, local historian.

  The Battle of Lewisburg occurred on the same day as the Battle of Front Royal, VA on May 23, 1862. The Battle of Lewisburg, a Union victory, occurred as Union troops under the command of Col. George Crook maneuvered from Western Virginia toward Tennessee in the spring of 1862. Union Gen. John C. Frémont, commander of the Mountain Department for the U.S. Army, planned to concentrate his forces in Monterey, Virginia, and then move southwest until he reached the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad near Christiansburg. There, Frémont was to connect with troops under the command of Union Gen. Jacob D. Cox, but Frémont was detained further north in the Shenandoah Valley due to the Valley Campaign of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the spring of 1862.

Lewisburg Battle marker, in front of Gen. Lewis Hotel, (Click any photo to enlarge)

The marker is located in front of the General Lewis Hotel in the background and most of the battle occurred at this location.  Click any photo to enlarge.

  Gen. Cox, unaware that Frémont’s troops would not arrive as planned continued with his plans. Three of Cox's four brigades occupied Princeton, VA (now in West Virginia), a town that had been lost to Confederate forces earlier in May 1862, his fourth brigade, under the command of Col. George Crook, moved to Lewisburg. From his position Crook and his 1,600 men were within supporting distance of the troops located in Princeton, but also unknowingly vulnerable to attack from Confederate Brig. Gen. Henry Heth's 2,200 men.

  In those days Lewisburg had a population of about 800, six stores, one newspaper, three churches, and one academy. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals met here regularly, and in the first red brick building built west of the Alleghenies the jurists could consult a well-stocked library.

Lewisburg Battle marker at corner of Washington and Lee Streets.  During the U.S. Civil War, many communities similar to Lewisburg found themselves in the middle of the fighting because they were at the center of the main road at the time. The Great Buffalo Trail between the Atlantic Coast and the Valley of Virginia and the Ohio Valley crossed the Alleghenies through Lewisburg. Later this was to become the James River and Kanawha Turnpike, then the Midland Trail. During the Civil War, the road through Lewisburg saw constant use by both the Union and Confederate forces.

  With the exception of the Battle of Lewisburg, both armies usually they avoided each other, either by chance or design, when passing through Lewisburg. Citizens of Lewisburg became accustomed during the Civil War of seeing the Gray of the Confederate Army disappear over the hill to the east and then look westward and see the hills filled with the blue of the Union army. If the Union troops scurried over western crest, soon the eastern hillside was gray. The terrain around Lewisburg may have prevented more battles from occurring. The town was nicknamed the “saucer village” being a town surrounded by mountains and the town located at the intersection of a couple of mountain passes like the shape of a saucer.

Old Stone Presbyterian Church, Lewisburg, WV (Click any photo to enlarge)

This is the Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg.  Church used as a hospital after the battle and the dead were temporally buried in the church cemetery.

  In the surrounding area, there were a half dozen military engagements, such as, Dry Creek or White Sulphur Springs, about 10 miles east; Droop Mountain, 28 miles north, most important battle fought in the state; two different engagements at Tutwiler Hill just west of town and one between that hill and Brushy Ridge.

  The actual fighting in Lewisburg, once begun, lasted probably for only about thirty minutes. The Confederate losses was 80 killed, 100 wounded, 157 prisoners, 4 cannons, 25 horses and 300 stands of small arms taken by the enemy. The Union losses was 13 killed, 60 wounded and 6 prisoners.

  Heth reformed his army south (along present day U.S. Route 219) to Union, WV and rested there for a month. Crook tried to bring on another battle on June 24 at Union, but Heth retired over Peters Mountain.

  On the morning of May 23, 1862, 2,200 men under the command of Confederate General Heth attacked Crook’s position. Despite facing superior numbers, Crook and his men repelled the advance, killing 38, wounding 66, and reportedly capturing nearly 100 prisoners, while losing only 13 under his command. Although the victory was widely reported and a boost to waning Union morale, its importance was overshadowed by federal losses in the Shenandoah Valley around Front Royal, VA on the same day.

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