First Battle of Saltville
The First Battle of Saltville (October 2, 1864), was fought near the town of Saltville, Virginia, during the American Civil War. The battle was fought by both regular and Home Guard Confederate units against regular Union troops, including one of the few black cavalry units, over an important saltworks in the town. The Union troops were led by Brig. Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge. The murder of captured and wounded black soldiers after the battle has been called the Saltville Massacre.
The battle was a Confederate victory, but it has become better known for a massacre that happened afterward. Both Confederate soldiers and irregular guerrilla forces under the notorious Champ Ferguson murdered white and black Union soldiers who had been wounded and captured. Ferguson was tried after the war in Nashville, Tennessee, for these and other non-military killings. He was found guilty and executed.
Brig. Gen. Felix Huston Robertson had bragged to another officer that "he had killed nearly all the Negroes." His conduct was such that when Robert E. Lee learned of it he communicated to General John C. Breckinridge, Commander of the Department of East Tennessee and West Virginia, his dismay "that a general officer should have been guilty of the crime you mention" and instructed Breckinridge to "prefer charges against him and bring him to trial."
Estimates of the dead vary. The most detailed analysis of the National Archives records by Bryce Suderow, Phyllis Brown, and David Brown concluded that 45-50 members of the black regiment were murdered by Confederates.
The Second Battle of Saltville occurred two months later at Saltville.
- Saltville Battlefields Historic District
- Second Battle of Saltville
- 5th United States Colored Cavalry
- Champ Ferguson-hanged in 1865 on murder charges.
- See the entry on John C. Breckinridge who attempted to have Felix Huston Robertson tried for killing black soldiers.
- Salt in the American Civil War
- CWSAC Report Update
- National Park Service Battle Summary
- Encyclopedia Virginia: "Saltville During the Civil War"
- "Was there a Saltville Massacre in 1864?" David Brown's analysis
- McKnight, Brian D. Contested Borderland: Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia. University Press of Kentucky, 2006. p. 211
- Bush, Bryan S. (2008). Butcher Burbridge: Union General Stephen Burbridge and His Reign of Terror Over Kentucky. Morley, Missouri: Acclaim Press. ISBN 0-9798802-5-4.