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Battle of Lynchburg

June 17 – June 18, 1864

Fought from June 17 through June 18, 1864, the Battle of Lynchburg was the third and final engagement of the Lynchburg Campaign.

On March 12, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to have the various Union armies in the field to act in concert and strike the Confederacy from several directions. Grant would travel with Major General George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in the Richmond, Virginia area; Major General William T. Sherman would march three Federal armies south from Chattanooga, Tennessee to capture Atlanta, Georgia; and Major General Franz Sigel would invade western Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to cut off supplies to Lee's army and to prevent any Confederate attempts to attack Meade's flank.

The Shenandoah Valley runs in a north-south direction through approximately 140 miles of western Virginia between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains. Because of its exceptionally fertile farmland, the valley served as the breadbasket for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. In May 1864, Sigel marched 9,000 to 10,000 Union soldiers into the valley with orders from Grant to destroy the railroad center at Lynchburg, Virginia. Known as the Lynchburg Campaign, Sigel's campaign was short-lived and ill-fated. Upon learning of Sigel's advance from the north, Confederate Major General John C. Breckinridge cobbled together a force of approximately 4,000 men, including cadets from the Virginia Military institute, to oppose the Yankees. On May 15, 1864, the Rebels engaged Sigel's army at New Market, Virginia. Despite being outnumbered, the Confederates drove the Federals from the field.

After retreating back to Strasburg, Virginia, Sigel was relieved of his command and replaced by Major General David Hunter. Grant ordered Hunter to resume the offensive and to live off of the land and to employ scorched earth tactics in the valley. On June 5 and 6 Hunter defeated a Confederate force at the Battle of Piedmont.

Following the Union victory, Grant wrote to Hunter on June 6 that "The complete destruction of this Central Road and of the canal on the James River are of great importance to us. According to the instructions I sent to General Halleck, for your guidance, you were to proceed to Lynchburg and commence there. It would be of great value to us to get possession of Lynchburg for a single day." Instead of hurrying to Lynchburg, however, Hunter moved first to Lexington, Virginia, where he burned the Virginia Military Institute and plundered the town on June 12.

Had Hunter moved quickly to Lynchburg he would have faced a garrison consisting of the Lynchburg Home Guard (old men and boys), backed up by 600 to 700 wounded Rebel soldiers recuperating in the city’s hospital. Instead, his tardiness enabled Lee to order Breckinridge and Lieutenant General Jubal Early to hasten to Lynchburg’s defense.

On June 16, Breckinridge's forces arrived in Lynchburg and began constructing defensive lines. The next day Hunter's Union soldiers arrived on the western edge of Lynchburg in the late afternoon and assaulted the Confederate defenses. Unable to halt the initial Union advance on their position around the Quaker Meeting House, Brigadier Generals John D. Imboden and John McCausland's cavalry troopers fell back about one mile to a hastily-constructed earthen redoubt known as Fort Early. When it appeared that Hunter's soldiers might break the Confederate line, Early arrived with reinforcements. With darkness approaching, Hunter called off the assault and established his headquarters at a nearby plantation known as "Sandusky."

That night, within earshot of "Sandusky," the Confederates ran a train back and forth along the tracks in Lynchburg while the town's citizens created an uproar as if celebrating the arrival of large numbers of Rebel reinforcements. The ruse may have created some doubt in Hunter's mind regarding the size of the Confederate force his men would face the next day.

On June 18, Early remained on the defensive as he waited for the rest of his 2nd Corps to arrive. Meanwhile, Hunter ordered Brigadier General George Crook to try to turn the Confederate left flank with his infantry division. After marching a few miles, Crook determined that the movement was not feasible. Hunter spent the remainder of the day unsuccessfully probing Early's lines for a weak point. That night, still unsure of the size of the Rebel force he faced, and running short on supplies and ammunition, Hunter ordered a withdrawal toward West Virginia.

Early pursued Hunter's army for the next three days, but was unable to force a major engagement. On June 21, with Confederate control of the Shenandoah Valley restored, Early called off the pursuit and rested his army for an invasion of Maryland known Early's Valley Campaign, or Early's Raid.

Among the Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Lynchburg were:

Infantry units:

12th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

28th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

34th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

36th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

91st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

116th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

123rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Cavalry units:

8th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

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