The first Battle of Saltville took place on October 2, 1864. Saltville was a crucial resource for the Confederacy, supplying nearly 80% of their salt. In order to take control of Saltville, the Union needed to control the saltworks in the area. After hours of trying to advance, the Union soldiers retreated, leaving many African American soldiers wounded and defenseless.
After the first Battle of Saltville, US Army Union soldiers were left behind due to their injuries. Many of the wounded soldiers were men from the Black troop of the 5th US Colored Calvary. These men were murdered in the night by Confederate soldiers. The following morning, October 3, 1864, Confederate soldiers searched the area for more defenseless soldiers. Confederate Captain Edward O. Guerrant wrote ” The continued ring of the rifle sung the death knell of many a poor negro who was unfortunate enough not to be killed yesterday” and others stated that the troops who were mad and excited killed any African American they could find.
The Massacre not only impacted the soldiers in Saltville, but also those who were receiving treatment in nearby hospitals. Confederate solders entered a hospital at Emory and Henry College, taking five men, privates, and wounded African Americans, then shot them on October 7, 1864.
It is estimated that roughly 45 to 50 African American soldiers were murdered in Saltville. Many of the Confederate soldiers who were responsible for the Massacre were arrested at the end of the war and found guilty for their crimes.
To learn more about the Saltville Massacre, visit the Museum of the Middle Appalachians, located in Saltville, Virginia. Click here to view the Saltworks video featured in the Museum’s Salt Theatre discussing the importance of the salt mines and the Battle of Saltville.