Library 101: Emory & Henry Civil War History

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Posted on: Thursday, October 24th, 2013 by Jody Hanshew

In another installment of some brief history of Emory & Henry College, here is a little bit of information about how students and the campus were involved in the Civil War.

Despite the rural location, students were much aware of what was happening on the political scene.  According the Encyclopedia Virginia (www.encyclopediavirginia.org) “students campaigned on behalf of the Constitutional Union Party, a political refuge for cautious border Whigs and nativists who were intent on preserving slavery but alarmed by the belligerence of fire-eating Democrats and Northern Republicans”.  After the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, the news about shots being fired at Fort Sumter, and the secession of Virginia from the Union, the college was closed and students were sent home in April of 1861.  (Vejnar 13)

As far as student participation as soldiers in the war there is limited information about them.  One former student, James Ewell Brown (Jeb) Stuart, is one of the most recognized figures in the Confederate army.  Stuart came to E&H in 1848 as an “irregular” student.  That status was given to students who showed academic promise but didn’t have the necessary academic credentials.  Stuart was able to prove himself and was given a recommendation to West Point by E&H President Collins in 1850.  (Stevenson 206-207)

General William E. (Grumble) Jones graduated from E&H in 1844 before going on to West Point.  Because of his familiarity with the college, he requested use of the dormitories for training the Washington Mounted Rifles but the trustees refused.  (Stevenson 92)

During the Civil War, the faculty remained on campus.  The Confederate government took over the campus in 1862 to establish a hospital, Emory Confederate States Hospital, for the care of wounded, both Confederate and Union.  The College was reimbursed $4,000.00 for the campus use and sold supplies to the Confederate quartermaster corps.  (Encyclopedia Virginia)

Very little battle action was seen in SW Virginia, but the Battle of Saltville was a very important one, both to the South and E&H.  Saltville supplied much of the salt to the South after Union shipping blockades limited supplies. Salt was critical for preserving food before refrigeration.

Union forces retreated from their attempt on October 2, 1864 to take over the salt works leaving behind their wounded.  These wounded prisoners, including some from the Fifth United States Colored Cavalry, were brought to the hospital at Emory.   After several days of treatment, a group of Confederate raiders, under the command of Capt. Champ Ferguson who was known for his violence and brutality during the war, came in and killed several of the wounded Union soldiers.

205 of the Confederate dead are buried in the Holston Conference Cemetery located on the hill across from the college.  Union soldiers that were buried in a mass grave there were moved in 1938 to the National Cemetery in Tenn.  (Vejnar 16)  There have been reported sightings of ghostly figures of soldiers in both Wiley and the cemetery, but that is a story for another column.

The archivist for the college and the Holston Conference, Robert Vejnar, has put together a display about these events.  It can be seen in the lobby of the library for a few more weeks.

All this information, and more, can be found in the following books:

  • Increase in Excellence: a History of Emory & Henry College, 1836-1963 / George J. Stevenson.  LD1751.E372 S8
  • Legacy & Vision: a Pictorial History of Emory & Henry College / Robert J. Vejnar.  LD1751.E372 V45