150 Years Ago This Week: Battle of Piedmont

June 1864

Far to the west of the armies at the gates of Richmond, Brig. Gen. William W. Averell’s Union cavalry set out from Bunger’s Mills in Greenbrier County, W. Va. to aid Maj. Gen. David Hunter and his plans to lay waste to the Shenandoah Valley, beginning with Lynchburg to the east of the Blue Ridge.

On Sunday, June 5, Brig. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones commanded some 8,500 Confederates when they reached Gen. Hunter’s main Union force at Piedmont, some seven miles southwest of Port Republic. The fighting began early, and was marked with a number of charges and counterattacks. Fighting was severe, and Gen. Jones was killed.

By mid-afternoon, the Union infantry and cavalry routed the Confederate forces; Gen. Hunter then moved his troops toward his next target: Staunton, where he raided civilian property. The name of Hunter was to be as odious to the people of the Shenandoah Valley as the name of Sherman to the people of Georgia. Union casualties at Piedmont numbered about 780, while Gen. Jones’ command lost about 1,600 — 1,000 of whom were captured.

On June 6, Gen. Hunter’s troops occupied Staunton. Near Richmond, at Cold Harbor, there was little activity going on with the armies of Lee and Grant. In Georgia, Gen. Joseph Johnston continued to move his Confederate Army of Tennessee around to try and determine the strengths and weaknesses of Maj. Gen. William Sherman’s Union troops. There was some fighting this day on the railroad at Big Shanty. And still the Union guns in Charleston Harbor continued to pound Fort Sumter, but this symbol of Southern resistance refused to submit.

The following day (June 7), delegates to the National Union Convention, representing most Republicans and some War Democrats, gathered in Baltimore to nominate a candidate for President of the United States. The support for Abraham Lincoln was almost unanimous. The question of the day: Who to nominate for vice-president?

In military action, Maj. Gen. George Meade ordered Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan to take two divisions of his Federal cavalry and strike off on a raid to the west, planning to join forces with Gen. Hunter.

On June 8, Gen. Sherman’s troops sloshed through the heavy rains and thick red mud near Marietta, Ga., north of Atlanta, and prepared to face Gen. Johnston’s troops in combat again. Near Lynchburg, Union cavalry from the Richmond area augmented Gen. Hunter’s force, bringing the total number of Federal troops there to about 18,000.

In Kentucky, on what proved to be his last raid, Maj. Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry captured Mt. Sterling and the Federal garrison there. Some of Gen. Morgan’s unruly troopers robbed the local bank of $18,000; there was some speculation that the money was to go to Montreal to support the Confederacy’s Northwest Conspiracy.

In Baltimore, the National Union party nominated Lincoln for a second term, and Andrew Johnson — a War Democrat and current military governor of Tennessee — as vice-president in place of the incumbent Hannibal Hamlin of Maine.

The platform called for integrity of the Union, quelling of the rebellion, no compromise with the Confederacy and a constitutional amendment ending slavery. The vote was 484 for Lincoln and 22 votes for Gen. Grant; on the last ballot, Missouri delegates threw their support to Lincoln, and the vote was unanimous.

For vice-president, Johnson received 200 votes and Hamlin 150; New York Democrat David Dickinson received 108. On the last ballot, Johnson captured all the votes, making his nomination unanimous. It was never made clear why President Lincoln dropped Hamlin from the ticket. Lincoln himself said that he wanted to have an open choice.

The week closed with a stunning Confederate victory at Brice’s Crossroads south of Corinth, Miss., a classic battle of infantry against cavalry. In Virginia, at Trevilian’s Station in Louisa County, another cavalry engagement was not the success as the one in Mississippi, but Union troopers were forced to change their plans. More on these engagements next week.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.