The Saltville Massacre

The Saltville Massacre

The Saltville Massacre

The Saltville Massacre

Synopsis

THOMAS D. MAYS holds an M. A. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He has taught at Roanoke College, New River Community College, and Texas Christian University, where he is a doctoral candidate.

Excerpt

On October 2, 1864, near the southwest Virginia town of Saltville, Confederate forces commanded by General John S. Williams repulsed an invading Union army under General Stephen Gano Burbridge. The battle would have been remembered as a small affair, confined to the footnotes of history books, if it were not for what happened the next morning. What started as a small but intense mountain battle degenerated into a no-quarter racial massacre. Both Union and Confederate eyewitness accounts and regimental records demonstrate that the murders at Saltville were one of the worst atrocities of the Civil War.

Saltville was not the only massacre of black troops in the Civil War. By the end of 1864 battlefield atrocities had become only too common. Confederates were known to have killed Union black prisoners on several occasions, one of the most infamous being at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, on April 12, 1864. But all witnesses agreed that the Federal forces at Fort Pillow had refused to surrender and that Confederates rushing the works granted no quarter to black troops defending the fort.

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