A Special Place for 200 Years
Chapter 3

Blacksburg during the Civil War

by Dorothy H. Bodell and Mary Elizabeth Lindon


Dorothy H. Bodell and Mary Elizabeth Lindon


The little village of Blacksburg, situated in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, had 406 citizens, three free blacks, and fifty-two slaves according to the 1860 census. When April 1861 suddenly became a turning point in the lives of the populace, they were not ready for what was to follow.

The Secession Ordinance was passed on April 17, 1861, and exactly seven days later, Virginia aligned herself with the other southern states in forming their own nation: the Confederate States of America. When this ordinance was passed, not more than one fourth of the populace of Virginia favored the reasons for the conflict. It was not that they were uncaring, but the ways and ideas of those who eked out a living in the mountainous portion of the state differed greatly from the planter class of the flat eastern part of the state.

This fiercely independent group of mountain folk wanted to be left alone to live their quiet, peaceful lives; however, they did not have that choice, and they had to prepare themselves for war. While other parts of the state had large holdings of slaves and wanted to protect their property, only 13 percent of Blacksburg's population were slaves, most of them domestic servants. At the time, the town had one bank, two hotels, five general stores, three blacksmith shops, three tanneries, three distilleries, and mail delivery from the Christiansburg station (presently the Cambria section of Christiansburg) three times a week.

Blacksburg, located high in the mountains with no strategic locations to benefit either of the armies, would not witness bitter battles or suffer quite all of the deprivations that affected other locations throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. The townspeople did not have to flee their homes with battles occurring on their farms or suffer house burnings and occupations by the enemy. However, they experienced losses and sufferings of other kinds. All of the able-bodied men either "joined up" or were later conscripted into the Confederate army; a great number of them were wounded, killed, or died from any one of, or a combination of, the many diseases resulting from the horrible wartime conditions.

Even though no bloody battles were fought in the town, women and children faced hardships that sometimes equaled those of the men who went off to the battlefields. Those left at home had to raise the crops, keep the fences repaired, take care of any livestock they were fortunate enough to have remaining, milk the cows, fix the roofs when they leaked, and teach the children, all jobs that the menfolk had handled before the war. Additionally, a shortage of foodstuffs faced both those on the home front and the soldiers. Staples such as sugar, salt, coffee, and tea, as well as other items, were unavailable. Even if these items had been available, most families had no money with which to purchase anything. While not facing battle, those left at home still endured many of the most difficult parts of the war.

Some local soldiers wounded in battle at least had the good fortune to be brought back to the hospital that had been established at the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs Resort. While the hospital was a long walk for their wives and mothers, a great many made the trek from their homes, carrying what little food they could gather; in addition, these women took whatever they could salvage to be used as bandages and dressings for wounds. Life and death often lay in the hands of many women of the Confederacy, a challenge not of their own choosing. Not only were these women unable to obtain foodstuffs and clothing, but the unavailability of drugs led to the deaths of many of their children from ordinary childhood diseases.

Men in the 4th Virginia

Some counties in Virginia formed militia companies in early 1860, a year after John Brown and his group led a raid on Harper's Ferry. After the firing upon Fort Sumter in April 1861, the men of Blacksburg, as well as those from all over the South, apparently felt that love of home and noble state pride were reasons enough to form companies and go to war regardless of their previous convictions. Even though the rank and file owned few, if any, slaves, their homes now needed to be defended from possible invasion and destruction. The able-bodied men of Blacksburg and the contingent areas of Montgomery County formed two companies: Company E (Montgomery Highlanders) under the leadership of Captain Charles A. Ronald and Company G (Montgomery Fencibles) under the leadership of Captain Robert G. Terry. Company B (Fort Lewis Volunteers), under Captain David Edmundson, had been formed in 1860 as a militia company and became part of the new regiment. Company L, under Captain Robert G. Newlee, was formed later from the Blacksburg section of the county, replacing a company from Rockbridge in the 4th Virginia Infantry. These four companies were part of the famous Stonewall Brigade.

On April 22, 1861, the citizens of Blacksburg gave the new enlistees an exciting send-off, distributing tobacco pouches, sewing kits, and other items to make army life easier. There were tears as well as excited shouting by these men as they went to war; after marching to the Christiansburg station, they entrained for the long trip to Richmond, where they would receive instructions in the ways of war. It was an exciting time for these mountain boys since few had ever been as far away from home as Big Lick (now Roanoke), and this was a totally new experience. Upon their arrival in Richmond, they soon discovered that living conditions were not the most desirable. The food was not good, uniforms did not wear well, and disease immediately began to take its toll on the boys.

The first colonel of the 4th Virginia Infantry Regiment was Colonel James Francis Preston of Whitethorn; however, his poor health and a wound suffered at the Battle of First Manassas prevented him from carrying out his duties as regimental colonel for very long. He returned to his Montgomery County home, where he died in early 1862 and was buried at Smithfield (now surrounded by Virginia Tech's farm). After the death of Colonel Preston, Captain Charles A. Ronald of Blacksburg was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was assigned to command the 4th Virginia.

After First Manassas, the boys from Blacksburg followed General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson on his forays into the Shenandoah Valley; to Winchester; Romney, West Virginia; Kernstown; Port Republic; Gaine's Mill; Malvern Hill; and Cedar Mountain, where they received compliments for their outstanding conduct on the battlefield. In these numerous battles, the soldiers of the 4th Virginia incurred many deaths and wounds, so many that after the Battle of Second Manassas on August 29, 1862, the 4th Virginia was never again effective as a full fighting force. Their numbers by then had been reduced to about 100 men. Only a tattered remnant was left of the 4th Virginia Infantry and other regiments that made up the famous Stonewall Brigade; however, these hardy few continued to follow their beloved General Lee-to Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania. After Spottsylvania, the Stonewall Brigade ceased to exist as a unit; the surviving men were combined with bits and pieces of other tattered regiments after May 12, 1864. The "rag-tag" group kept fighting until the final retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox Court House and the stacking of arms there in surrender. On April 9, 1865, only forty-six men remained of the 1,487 men who at some time served in the 4th Virginia.

The surviving Blacksburg soldiers from the Montgomery companies at the surrender were two men in Company B, five men in Company E, and four men in Company L. Of the 127 men from Blacksburg in these three companies, seven were killed in action or reported wounded; nine died of sickness; four died as prisoners of war; thirty-five were prisoners of war; thirty-one were wounded; seventeen were discharged for illness; eleven deserted; and four were at Appomattox.

This group of Blacksburg soldiers experienced some of the worst conditions any human could ever be expected to endure in time of war. With their intestinal fortitude, these men proved that anyone at any given time can be outstanding and deserving of respect and honor.

Men in Other Units

The 4th Virginia Infantry was not the only group with representatives from Blacksburg. Many local men also served valiantly in the 21st Virginia Cavalry and the 54th Virginia Infantry.

The 21st Virginia Cavalry grew out of the Virginia State Line, whose duty was to defend the border between the Virginias, in April 1863. Captain David Edmundson of the 4th Regiment Virginia State Line received authorization to raise a regiment of cavalry. Before joining the State Line, he had been a captain in the 4th Virginia Infantry, commanding Company B from Montgomery County. A number of Blacksburg men served with the 21st Virginia Cavalry, fighting in southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee, Cloyd's Mountain, then Crockett's Gap to stop Averell; and on to Lynchburg, Virginia, where they joined Jubal Early's forces and fought throughout northern Virginia and into Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. They, too, were with General Lee at Appomattox.

The 54th Virginia Infantry mustered into service on September 10, 1861, with 815 men enlisting from Carroll, Floyd, Pulaski, and Montgomery counties; by war's end, a total of 1,828 men had served with the 54th. Postwar rosters mention only 354 men, indicating many casualties, transfers, desertions, or other losses.

The Montgomery County companies were Company C under Captain James Craig Taylor and Company E under Captain John Jason Wade; Colonel Robert Craig Trigg was the first regimental commander. After "boot camp" at Camp Hall (Asa Hall's farm outside Christiansburg), the first orders sent the men to Kentucky. Between Floyd County, Kentucky, in December 1861 and the surrender and subsequent parole in North Carolina on May 1-2, 1865, the men of the 54th Virginia had fought in over forty-five battles in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina. They sustained great losses at Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Dalton/Resaca, Atlanta, Murfreesboro, and Bentonville.

Shortly before the war ended, the 54th Virginia and the 63rd Virginia Infantry Regiments were combined into the 54th Battalion Virginia Infantry. Ironically, the order was dated April 9, 1865. This group kept skirmishing until April 25; the army was not paroled until May 1-2.

Because of lost records, desertions, not wanting to wait for a parole, or not wanting to go to Greensboro for a parole, it is impossible to know exactly how many men from Blacksburg fought with the 54th, although it is known there were several from the greater Blacksburg area.

Blacksburg men also served with the 11th, 14th, and 25th Virginia Cavalry Regiments and the 36th Infantry Regiment, and probably others are hidden in the unpublished histories of the many regiments of the Confederate Army.

By the third year of the war, while the soldiers in the army marched and fought without shoes, clothes, and food, the people back home began to suffer the effects of the war. In one of Mrs. Harvey Black's letters to her husband, she expressed concern about obtaining shoes for their young children. She told her husband that Mr. Earhart (one of the area's richest farmers) was almost on half rations, and she worried that if he were suffering that badly, it would truly be difficult for others. (Mr. Earhart grew and shipped grain to feed the horses of the army and foodstuffs to feed the soldiers.)

Battle of Cloyd's Mountain and the New River Bridge

In early 1864 President Abraham Lincoln named Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armies. As part of his strategy to defeat Robert E. Lee's army and capture Richmond, Grant planned to destroy the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which was a critical segment of the Southern transportation system, and a number of mines supplying vital resources to the Confederacy. The railroad system carried most of the supplies to the Confederate army. In Virginia the tracks of this railroad stretched 204 miles from Lynchburg to Bristol. During this third year of the war, the railroad still ran one passenger train and two freight trains per day. Also of great importance to the Confederacy were several mines located in southwestern Virginia: one of only two sources of salt in the South was located at Saltville, and Wythe County had very valuable lead and iron mines. As part of Grant's plan, he sent a force of men commanded by Major General George C. Crook from his Kanawha Valley location at Charleston, West Virginia, to destroy the railroad. General Crook's army consisted of 10,000 infantry and a cavalry brigade of 2,000 men commanded by Brigadier General William W. Averell, stationed at Martinsburg, West Virginia. The assignments given to Averell's men were to destroy the salt works and lead and iron mines as well as any railroads and depots along the way, joining Crook at Dublin Depot.

A 700-foot covered railroad bridge spanning the New River at Central Depot (now Radford) in Montgomery County was the weakest point in the rail system and, therefore, the most vulnerable spot along the line. Nearby was Dublin Depot, the central supply depot as well as headquarters for the Confederate Army in southwestern Virginia. The site was much too important for the Confederates to lose.

General John C. Breckenridge commanded the Confederate forces in southwestern Virginia; under him was Colonel John C. McCausland, who was in charge of forces from Princeton, West Virginia, to the Narrows of New River. McCausland's job was to stop General Crook and his Union forces when they reached the Dublin area.

Generals Crook and Averell, with their forces, started their march toward southwestern Virginia, Crook by way of Princeton and East River Mountain and Averell by way of Logan Court House. On May 7, Averell had reached Abb's Valley in Tazewell County on the way to Bland County. In a letter written by Callie Meek Thomas of Blacksburg on May 26, 1864, to her sister, Jane Meek Hoge, of Mechanicsburg, Virginia, Thomas asked, "How did you all come off [when Averell came through Bland County]?"

Crook decided to follow the shorter distance to his destination of Dublin Depot by way of Poplar Hill. At the same time (May 8), Averell moved toward Saltville to destroy the Confederate salt supply, a valuable commodity needed for meat preservation. Its loss would be disastrous to the Confederacy. When Averell learned on May 9 that Saltville was heavily guarded by Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan's troops, he did not attack. (This was the second of five planned attempts before the salt works were finally destroyed December 20, 1864.) Instead of going to Saltville, Averell started for his second target: the lead mines and railroads at Wytheville. While engaged in battle with Morgan's men, a bullet grazed Averell's head, and his wound was greatly exaggerated by the Rebels, who said that his face had been slashed with a saber. In Callie Thomas's letter to her sister, she noted, "Pittey it was not his throat," leaving later generations a Southern woman's opinion of the Yankee general.

On May 9, Crook arrived at the crest of Cloyd's Mountain, where he became aware that the Confederate forces under Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins had selected the most strategic locations and were ready for battle. Crook and his men quickly prepared to fight. About 9:00 a.m., skirmishing began on top of Cloyd's Mountain. The real battle began two hours later. The next sixty minutes were "hell on earth" for the combatants when dry leaves ignited from gunfire, setting off a chain reaction; the fire line advanced and burned everything in its path, including wounded and dead soldiers. The small number of 2,400 Rebel troops with their ten cannons also included a unit of the Montgomery County Home Guards, a group of old men and young boys too old and too young to enlist in regular army units. If Jenkins could have combined all of his scattered command in southwestern Virginia, he would have had about 4,000 cavalry and 600 infantry and artillery, plus several companies of home guards and volunteer citizens. Crook had 6,555 troops plus twelve pieces of artillery.

When the battle ended, it was determined that the Union forces had succeeded in vanquishing the Confederates. The carnage was awful to behold: the Federals lost 688 men or 10 percent of their forces, and the Confederates lost 538, nearly 23 percent of their troops. The Battle of Cloyd's Mountain would be remembered and talked about by the populace of the New River Valley for many generations to come. The battle has been compared to Antietam as far as numbers and percentage killed and wounded in such a short period of time.

On May 10, the day after the battle, Crook arrived at Dublin Depot and torched everything in sight, thereby eliminating a valuable asset of the Confederate Army. Destroying the railroad tracks along the way, Crook proceeded to the New River Railroad Bridge, where he engaged in another artillery duel with the Confederates. After the battle, the troops marched to the bridge, which had already been set afire by the Confederates to prevent destruction of the railroad across the river. General Crook's mission into southwestern Virginia had been accomplished. After seeing the burned bridge, Crook and his troops proceeded to Blacksburg, where he hoped to rejoin Averell. Averell, who was one day off schedule, had sent Crook a message the previous night.

Crook and Averell in Blacksburg

When Crook and his men arrived in Blacksburg on May 11, they immediately began looking for places to camp. The biggest and best house in town, Mountain View, the home of Edwin Amiss, was selected to serve as their headquarters. Mrs. Amiss and her daughter, Elizabeth Amiss Palmer-whose husband Colonel William Palmer was serving as adjutant general on A. P. Hill's staff-begged Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes to please spare their home and not to use it as headquarters. Hayes and his troops did spare the house; the young officer was so impressed by the plea that his men stood watch over the house as they camped on the Amiss farm, the site today of Blacksburg Middle School. General Crook established his headquarters in a vacant academic building on the grounds of the Olin and Preston Institute, located near the present Alumni Mall entrance to the Virginia Tech campus. By 5:00 a.m. on May 12, in pouring rain, the troops were already marching toward Salt Pond Mountain. General Crook had many wounded men to take with him, some prisoners of war, and many slaves who had attached themselves to the army for protection and freedom. These extra people slowed his travel. In Newport he engaged in a skirmish action after being surprised by a small Confederate force. General Crook's ascent up Salt Pond Mountain was slow and costly. He lost many wagons and supplies on the return to his base in West Virginia. Today, a section of Salt Pond Mountain is known as Minnie Ball Hill, where the troops reportedly dumped supplies.

Meanwhile, Averell retreated from Wytheville and proceeded to Dublin Depot, where he was to rejoin General Crook. Upon discovering that Crook's forces had burned the supply depot the day before, Averell sent one group of his men to Christiansburg to destroy the railroad and to burn the station. He took the remainder of the troops to Blacksburg in hopes of catching up with Crook. Arriving in Blacksburg on May 12, he learned he was still a day behind. Averell and his men camped at Woodbine and also across the road on what is now the Givens farm north of the town. The owner of Woodbine, a true Rebel, was much distressed to have Yankee soldiers camping on his property. If his daughters had not been so levelheaded, another fight would have ensued when the old gentleman grabbed his gun to go after the Yankees.

General Averell's troops were not as accommodating to the Blacksburg citizenry as Crook's had been just the day before, and for the first time the citizens feared for their lives. Several accounts exist of the happenings of May 12 and how the people were treated. Seventy-five years after the event, Lizzie Black Apperson still remembered how the soldiers rode into town past her childhood home on Main Street. The soldiers were so hungry, she recalled, that they entered the homes of residents and took food from the people. They also confiscated any valuables they could find, as well as anything else they wanted.

In a letter to her sister, Callie Meek Thomas gave more details about the visit of General Averell and his men. She reported that the Yankees went to cousin Frank Henderson's house, took all of his meat, and threatened to return the next day. (Callie lived outside of town at Willow Spring on the Indian Road, or Fincastle Turnpike, now known as Catawba Road. Frank Henderson lived up the road past her place in the brick house that became Sutphin's Antiques.) Callie also mentioned that many people in town had guards around their homes to protect them from the soldiers who were going inside and stealing property. Citizens who cooperated were treated better. Apparently, Sue Thomas sassed them, as her oats, hay, and corn were taken as well as most of her meat. "Some person in the county was stripped of everything-clothes, dishes, and everything to eat," Callie wrote, adding, "Our William and Julia Emm [the Thomas family's slaves] two children went off with them. A Yankee Col persuaded William off. Emm did not take any thing for her children and even her little babies (only three months) roppers. I think they must have made her go or else she would have taken some clothes." Callie also wrote, "There has been five or six dead children found in the mountain, and two or three negro girls, 14, 15+ and 16 years shot through the head done no doubt by the Yankees." Accounts such as Callie's show us today why the citizens of Blacksburg had reasons to be fearful when the Yankee invaders entered their community. For the troops to have been in town less than twenty-four hours, a great deal of emotional damage was inflicted and would certainly be long-lasting. Even though only a minor skirmish and no major battle had occurred, bad memories were deeply entrenched.

Reports that General McCausland and his troops were encamped at nearby Montgomery White Sulphur Springs or at Big Hill in Roanoke County spurred Averell to leave the area. Much to the relief of the citizens of Blacksburg, the Yankees left during the early morning hours of May 13, still attempting to rejoin the forces of General Crook.

According to Howard R. McManus,

The May 1964 expedition against the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad was a relatively insignificant excursion within a highly eventful war. It caused no momentous historial [sic] repercussion, and it contained no lofty maxims. Overshadowed by larger armies and more consequential campaigns, it failed to receive public recognition. Nevertheless, the courage and vivacity, the suffering and despair, of the Civil War soldier emerge as vividly from Cloyds Mountain and New River Bridge as from Gettysburg and Appomattox. Through the years, most of the men who marched, fought and died in this campaign have been forgotten. Now, only the mountains remember.

Montgomery White Sulphur Springs Hospital

A short nine miles "down in the country" from Blacksburg was a Confederate hospital called the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs General Hospital, which was set up in 1862 using the springs' resort facilities. The hospital was administered by Dr. J. Lewis Woodville, along with several assistant surgeons and contract physicians. Seven Catholic sisters from a convent in Charleston, South Carolina, attended the sick and wounded soldiers. There were also many support personnel, such as laundresses, cooks, waiters, and male nurses. Over the years, many legends have sprung up about the hospital and what occurred there. A cemetery is all that remains of the hospital environs; in unmarked graves lie about 200 soldiers who died while patients at the hospital. With only one Confederate hospital nearby, the women of Blacksburg had an opportunity to demonstrate their Christian charity. Mrs. Robert Preston made the nuns' first Christmas in a cold and lonesome place a little brighter when she sent a turkey, ham, cake, and other delicacies to the hospital for their Christmas dinner. Records reveal that some church women sent food to the soldiers at the hospital. There were many others contributing to the welfare of the hospital's residents since several Montgomery County soldiers were patients at the facility.

One of the assistant surgeons at the hospital was Dr. Robert Thaddus Ellett. At the end of the war, Dr. Ellett was in charge since Dr. Woodville had been transferred to Huguenot Springs Hospital near Richmond. Today, the little community of Ellett and Ellett Valley carry his name, although he never resided there. After the war, Dr. Ellett and his family lived in Blacksburg in order for his sons to attend the college. Later, his son Robert opened Blacksburg's first drugstore.

Mining Operations

While Blacksburg's "boys" were away fighting the war, activities took place at home in which local men and detached soldiers participated, two of which were mining for coal and saltpeter. Montgomery County had many coal mines, and the Confederacy needed another source of coal to fuel its foundries after the coal fields in the Richmond Coal Field Basin were destroyed. Locally, the coal was mined at present-day Merrimac as well as at other small coal mines in the area. After the coal was dug by hand from the mines, it was loaded on wagons and hauled to the James River at Buchanan, Virginia; then it was shipped to Norfolk by boat. When the Confederate ship Merrimac and the Union ship Monitor engaged in battle at Hampton Roads, the coal burned in the Merrimac was said to have come from Montgomery County; after that, the mine became known as the Merrimac Mines.

Another little-known operation was that of mining for saltpeter, which, along with sulphur from many springs in the area, was used to manufacture gun powder. The men participating in this operation were considered slackers who were trying to escape military service. Dr. Harvey Black, in one of his letters to his wife, mentions a Blacksburg man digging for saltpeter and shirking his military duty. Dr. Black told his wife to get Bill (thought to be a neighbor boy) to dig some for him so that he (Dr. Black) could return home from the war.

Saltpeter was found in caves and under old buildings; the powder was dug from the ground and then refined. Since it was desperately needed by the government, it was bringing a very high price by the end of the war. Several Blacksburg men dug for this mineral in the caves of Montgomery and Giles counties.

Another mineral mined in the Blacksburg area was manganese, which was also used in manufacturing during the war.

Unionist Activities

A rarely mentioned subject of interest that occurred during the "War of the Rebellion" was that of desertions and Unionist activities. The Unionist movement, which began in the early years of the war as a result of the conscription act, involved a group of people who did not fully sanction the war; being required to fight in a war in which they did not believe did not "set well" with them.

The rugged and remote terrain of Montgomery, Floyd, and Botetourt counties provided ample places for people to hide. These three counties became known as the places to go if a soldier had deserted and wanted to hide from the government or to escape to a non-Confederate state such as Ohio or Indiana. Some people of southwestern Virginia thought they were being charitable and kindhearted to feed deserters and to help them get wherever they wished to go. The Unionist organization was composed of many southwestern Virginia people and included several preeminent families around Blacksburg. The Toms Creek area had an especially active group of Unionists. Several of these families were known to have helped deserters find their way west. Dr. Harvey Black wrote to his wife about one such family and what he thought of the situation. Dr. James Otey of Walnut Springs complained to the government that he was losing cattle to the deserters, who were killing the cattle to eat. He estimated that as many as 100 people per week were passing through his farm. In some instances, a system similar to the underground railroads, used to spirit escaped slaves to the northern states, was used to help deserters reach Ohio and Nebraska.

An organization called the "Heroes of America," or HOA, was established early by Unionists and Quakers in the Piedmont section of North Carolina and rapidly spread as the war dragged on. The group did all it could to bring about the defeat of the Confederacy. Reportedly, the group infiltrated preeminent levels of southwestern Virginia society and the Confederate army. It was reported that most of the 54th Virginia were members. HOA was a secret society with secret passwords, an unusual hand grip, and secret meetings. These people sometimes wore red strings on their coat lapels to identify themselves to fellow members and were known as "red strings." Their activities became so threatening that secret police from the Confederate government in Richmond came to the area to try to break up the group. The detectives discovered that the newly elected sheriff of Montgomery County was a member. One agent nearly "broke open the case" but was unable to complete the assignment. A reported 800 members resided in Montgomery County alone.

After the war ended, many of these same people were elected by the Reconstruction powers to positions of authority and control; this caused even more resentment among local citizens.

Ku Klux Klan

The War and Reconstruction cannot be discussed without also including the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in Blacksburg. Several Bugles, the yearbook of Virginia Tech, contain spoofs of the Klan in the student-organizations sections. Eyewitness accounts tell of bonfires held on the Blacksburg High School sports field (currently the parking lot for Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center) and at the location of the present Alumni Mall on the university campus. A cross-burning ceremony was held in the front yard of a house on Lee Street, complete with white robes, pointed hats, and other accoutrements. These events occurred in the late 1920s when the Klan was most active. A recruitment march held as recently as January 21, 1991, failed when the citizens of Blacksburg refused to attend.

Veterans' Reunions

The war was over; the years of Reconstruction had ended. At long last, the men of the South could gather together again; veterans' reunions were held in cities throughout the South. One summer day in 1915, a reunion of Confederate veterans was held on the lawn of the Thomas-Connor house on Draper Road, and a group picture was taken. Unfortunately, the names of those old gentlemen in the picture are lost to time.

Many accounts have been related about the sham battles held on the campus of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (popularly called, at the time, Virginia Tech or VPI) during the early years of this century. By that time, the number of old veterans was fast becoming smaller and smaller. It has been said that when the cadets began to fire the big cannons at the sham battles, the old soldiers got so excited that they would hobble onto the field, shake their canes, and give a hearty "Rebel Yell," notifying all Yankees that they had better run. The demonstration delighted the spectators.

United Daughters of the Confederacy

The local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was organized in Blacksburg in 1896. Two of its aims at that time were to aid needy veterans and their families and to tend graves of fallen soldiers. One veteran who had several children was always in financial need and received aid from the members. This organization was responsible for erecting the Confederate monument in Westview Cemetery in 1901. In 1905 sixty-two UDC Crosses of Honor were awarded to veterans in the Blacksburg area. A delicious dinner followed the service, and in appreciation the veterans stood and accorded the UDC members a rousing "Rebel Yell."

Prominent Men

Several men from Blacksburg gained at least some prominence during the Civil War. One of these men, Charles B. Ronald, was a thirty-four-year-old lawyer when he joined the newly organized Company E (Montgomery Highlanders) and was elected its first captain. He was soon promoted to lieutenant colonel and then to colonel. He led the 4th Virginia Infantry Regiment at the battle of Cedar Mountain after General Widner was killed. On an expedition of the regiment to Smithville, West Virginia, he received a wound to his thigh. His health deteriorated, leading to his eventual resignation from the Confederate Army. Colonel Ronald practiced law in Roanoke after the war. A short time after suffering a stroke, he died on July 1, 1898, and was buried in Blacksburg's Westview Cemetery. Colonel Ronald has one of the most enigmatic tombstones in the cemetery; on its face is the quotation, "I have suffered."

Another notable soldier was Dr. Harvey Black, a physician in Blacksburg before the war began. His grandfather and great uncle had given the land on which Blacksburg was built. Dr. Black enlisted in the 4th Virginia Regiment when it was formed in April 1861. He became the brigade surgeon and was soon promoted to the surgeon in charge of the Field Hospital, 2nd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. Dr. Black related his war experiences to his wife in a series of letters. He was one of the attending physicians at the amputation of Stonewall Jackson's arm at Chancellorsville. His concern and care of the hometown boys endeared him to local citizens. After the war, he returned home to his practice. He was a leader in getting the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College located in Blacksburg and later became head of the mental hospital in Williamsburg. On October 18, 1888, Dr. Black died from cancer in a Richmond hospital and was brought home to be buried in Blacksburg's Westview Cemetery.

The Reverend William P. Hickman was not a native of Blacksburg, but in the 1860 census he and his family were recorded as living in Blacksburg. He was the minister of the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church. Reverend Hickman was preaching at the New Dublin Presbyterian Church when word arrived that the Yankees were coming. He encouraged his church members to help repel the enemy, and he himself went to the battlefield at Cloyd's Mountain, where he was wounded. According to accounts, he was refused aid because he was dressed as a civilian and considered a "bushwacker." His parishioners went to the battlefield the next morning and moved him to a nearby house where he later died.

Two of the Preston brothers from Blacksburg also deserve mention. James Francis Preston was the first colonel of the 4th Virginia Infantry. He led his Blacksburg boys and the other men at the Battle of First Manassas. Colonel Preston was wounded in the hip, and his health declined. He returned home, where he died and is buried with his ancestors in the cemetery at Smithfield.

James Preston's brother, Colonel Robert Taylor Preston, lived at Solitude, which still stands beside the Virginia Tech Duck Pond. He organized a group of men known as the Preston Battalion of Virginia Reserves. Comprised of young boys and old men, this group was charged with defending the home front. When Colonel Preston learned that the enemy was approaching the area, he wrote a broadside calling for the men of Roanoke and Montgomery counties to join together to repel the enemy. The people of the area had great faith that Colonel Preston would protect them.

Another outstanding Blacksburg soldier, Captain Jonathan B. Evans, had moved to Blacksburg from Hanover County. He had relatives in the area and evidently felt at home here. Evans was a storekeeper, living and working in Mr. Lybrook's home when the 1860 census was taken. Evidently, he was a very popular fellow because when the companies of the 4th Virginia were formed in Blacksburg, he was mustered into Company L as a second lieutenant. He soon rose in rank to first lieutenant and then to captain . Evans also led the battalion when General Terry was absent. Captain Evans was killed at the Battle of Payne's Farm on November 27, 1863, a battle in which the 4th Virginia suffered great losses. In a letter to Dr. Black on November 29, his wife, Mollie, mentioned that Cull Spickard (the local saddler) and Mr. Lybrook were going to bring home the remains of Captain Evans. In her December 12, 1863, letter, Mollie reveals that some Yankees were riding through and stopped at the Thomas Jones home, stole food, and took Captain Evans' uniform. Captain Evans' body was brought home to Blacksburg. He was buried in the Prices Fork area in a marked but lost and lonely grave beside Old Mill Road. On September 7, 1895, the Confederate veterans in Blacksburg formed their camp, naming it the Jonathan B. Evans Camp of Confederate Veterans, thus preserving his memory. M. B. Bennett was the first commander.

While Blacksburg did not endure big battles or suffer the devastation of its farms and homes as did other areas of the South, its citizens did suffer the maiming and deaths of loved ones. The economic depression that followed the war created the same problems here as elsewhere in the South. However, the populace called on the same grit and fortitude that their Scots-Irish and German ancestors had utilized upon seeking a better life in America.


Dorothy H. Bodell, a native of Blacksburg, graduated from Virginia Tech and is a retiree from University Libraries. Mary Elizabeth Lindon, who has spent most of her life in Blacksburg, graduated from Radford University and is a retired school teacher. They both have a strong interest in local history and especially in Civil War history.

Why Are
We Here?
Blacksburg Social
Life and Customs


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