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Battle of Piedmont

June 5, 1864

The Battle of Piedmont took place at Piedmont, Virginia on June 5, 1864 during 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 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, Hunter engaged a Confederate force under the command of Brigadier General William Jones at the Battle of Piedmont, which occurred in Piedmont, Virginia. On the morning of June 5, Hunter’s advance column, consisting of cavalry under General Julius Stahel’s command, advanced southward along Staunton Road towards Mount Meridian. The Federals drove the Southerners before them, until the Confederacy’s 18th Virginia Cavalry Regiment engaged the Northern soldiers at Mount Meridian. The Rebels briefly drove the Yankees back, but reinforcements quickly broke the Southerners’ assault. The Confederates retreated to Piedmont, where they established a strong defensive position.

Union Colonel David Strother described the Confederate position as follows:

The enemy's position was strong and well chosen. It was on a conclave of wooded hills commanding an open valley between and open, gentle slopes in front. On our right in advance of the village of Piedmont was a line of log and rail defenses very advantageously located in the edge of a forest and just behind the rise of a smooth, open hill so that troops moving over this hill could be mowed down by musketry from the works at short range and to prevent artillery from being used against them. The left flank of this palisade rested on a steep and impracticable bluff sixty feet high and washed at its base by the Shenandoah.

At noon, Hunter began his assault on the Southerners’ position. Infantry attacked each flank, but the Rebels easily repulsed the Northern advance. A Union artillery bombardment soon incapacitated most of the Confederates’ artillery pieces, prompting another Northern assault that the Southerners repulsed. Jones then transferred a large portion of his force to his left flank, inadvertently leaving a portion of the Confederates’ center undefended. Hunter ordered an assault on the position. The Northerners divided the Confederate force in two, prompting the Southerners to flee from the battlefield.

At the Battle of Piedmont, the Confederacy suffered approximately 1,500 casualties to the North’s 875 men killed, wounded, captured, or missing. On June 6, Hunter’s force advanced into Staunton, Virginia. Confederate General Robert E. Lee countered Hunter's movements by sending a force of approximately 8,000 soldiers, under the command of Lieutenant General Jubal Early, into the valley to halt the Union advance. On June 17 and 18, Early stopped Hunter's attempt to occupy Lynchburg, driving the Federals into West Virginia. After Hunter's defeat at the Battle of Lynchburg, he resigned his commission.

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

Infantry units:

28th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

116th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

123rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

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