October 2, 1864: First Battle of Saltville

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Saltville

 

By 1864 the Confederacy was running short on everything, including salt.  Therefore it comes as no surprise that the Union targeted the major Confederate saltworks located at the aptly name town of Saltville in southwestern Virginia.   On October 2, 1864 some 2500 Confederates under Brigadier General Alfred E. “Mudwall” Jackson repulsed at Saltville a Union force of some 5,000 Union troops under Major General Stephen G. Burbridge.  The Union attacks were uncoordinated,  Burbridge exercising poor command control.  Some Union black troops who were captured were murdered after the battle.  Just how many has been a subject of controversy.  Go here to read about it.   Below are two reports of the battle written by General Burbridge.  They are fine examples of fairly meretricious reports, not uncommon in the Civil War, attempting to transform a defeat into an almost victory.

 

Reports of Bvt. Major General Stephen G. Burbridge, U. S. Army, commanding District of Kentucky, of skirmishers at Clinch Mountain and Laurel Creek Gap and action at Saltville.

CATLETTSBURG, KY., October 7, 1864-10 a. m.

(Received 1. 10 p. m.)

Forcing the enemy from Clinch Mountain and Laurel Gap, after heavy skirmishing, we met the enemy three miles and a half from Saltville on the morning of the 2nd instant, and drove him to his works around the salt-works, where he was strongly intrenched on the bluffs in heavy force, under Echols, Williams, Vaughn, and, it is said, Breckinridge. We at once attacked him and drove him from his works on our left and center, and held him in check on the right, and finally, in spite of artillery and superior numbers, whipped him at every point and forced him back to his main works. In the evening our ammunition gave out, and holding the position taken until night, I withdrew the command in excellent order and spirits. The occupation of the works themselves was only prevented by failure of ammunition. From prisoners I learn the enemy’s force was between 6,000 and 8,000, and that Breckinridge was present with 4,000 from Lynchburg. My force amounted to 2,500 engaged. It is certain his force greatly outnumbered us. A detachment sent to Pound Gap forced its way through and drove Prentice with a superior force from his works at Gladeville, capturing several prisoners, a quantity of small-arms, and 1 piece of artillery. Our loss in all is about 350; the enemy more. Report fully by mail. Received on 3rd orders from General Sherman to return.

S. G. BURBRIDGE,

Brevet Major-General.

Honorable E. M. STANTON,

Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.
HEADQUARTERS,
Lexington, Ky., October 10, 1864.

The result of the expedition my be thus stated: We whipped the rebels in every engagement fighting from the Virginia line up to the salt-works, where we had a heavy engagement with from 6,000 to 10,000 rebels, under Breckinridge, Vaughn, Echols, and Williams lasting from morning until night. Our force was 2,500 engaged. We took the enemy’s works, overlooking the salt-works, on our left and center, and held them in check on the right, and were only prevented from entering the works by failure of ammunition, and in consequence retreated from the field after night. General Gillem did not come close enough to operate. This was on the 2nd instant. On the morning of the 3rd I received an order from General Sherman to return to Kentucky. I pressed forward and brought the force to Prestonburg, the enemy being too badly crippled to follow in any force. The whole command will arrive here in two or three days, but the men are much fatigued and horses jaded. It will require some days to recuperate them.

Our loss was 350; the enemy more. Some of the outer salt-works were destroyed.

The time of the Thirteenth Kentucky Cavalry, Thirtieth, Thirty- fifth, Thirty-seventh, Fortieth, Forty-fifth, Forty-seventh, Forty- eighth, Forty-ninth, and FIFTY-second Kentucky has expired or is expiring, materially reducing me force. I can illy spare the Eleventh, Michigan Cavalry, Twelfth Ohio Cavalry, Fifth U. S. Colored Cavalry, and besides this the Fifteenth Kentucky Cavalry. Capron’s brigade may be mounted and forwarded if the order regarding the mounting is issued as you promised. Five thousand colored troops from my district have been forwarded to General Butler by order of the Secretary of War, and 1,000 to Rock Island.

I can send by Capron’s brigade or any other way you suggest 2,000 horses from my command. Please send order for purchase of as many to remount those dismounted.

I go to Louisville to-morrow.

S. G. BURBRIDGE,

Brevet Major-General.

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