After defeating a Confederate force at Marion, Virginia on the December 17–18, Stoneman's expedition advanced to Saltville. General John C. Breckinridge had 500 men at Saltville under Colonel Robert Preston. Another brigade of cavalry was en route under General Basil W. Duke. General Gillem led the Union advance and attacked first. Burbridge joined the fight shortly after and the two Federal columns overwhelmed the town's defenses. Colonel Preston ordered a retreat and Stoneman's troops entered the town and destroyed the saltworks, accomplishing the objective of the Union raid.