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Battle of Saltville ~ Saltville VA

We headed out to see the 145th Anniversary of the Battle of Saltville, on a gorgeous, but muggy Saturday. It was one of those gorgeous days that are rare in mountains of Southwest Virginia, when you feel the humidity creeping over your body like a wet blanket all day. Fluffy white clouds punctuated the sky, but never brought relief in a cooling thunderstorm, holding the heat in instead.

We had heard so much about the Battle of Saltville since moving here, that we were expecting a great reenactment. We have attended several great events put on by the Southern Guards Battalion, the co-sponsor.

After an easy ride up Interstate 81, and a few miles of gentle mountain roads, we arrived in the town of Saltville. Tons of history in this little town, you can easily plan a day of it.

Parking is away from the actual event, and the local police were actual driving people in on school buses and golf carts! Such a deal, we were thrilled to get such a nice ride!

We headed into camp in time to catch the very end of the living history session, "Meet the Generals." General Lee was passionately telling his life story, sadly talking about leaving Arlington and seeing it for the last time. General Lee (David Chaltas) always speaks with quiet conviction, utter humility and kindness. He is a gentleman of the first order, doing a phenomenal General Lee impression. Every time we hear him, we learn new things about the Civil War, the Lees, and life during the War in a divided America. Kids sat enthralled, listening carefully, awed by the history unfolding and quietly watching the Confederate troops drilling under the trees just yards away. The war was becoming real in their minds and hearts, which is the goal of every good reenactor.

After hearing from the Generals, we went out exploring the Saltville site. A long salt marsh wrapped around the Union camp. Tents bustled with activity, US flags flying proudly, and cannon to defend their position. A low field separated the Union camp, with mountains behind it.

The Confederate camp was at the other end, flags also proudly flying, guarded by cannon. Both bristled with soldiers and stories, people who love history and love sharing it with the crowds. The original Battle of Saltville was fought on October 1 – 3 October 1864.

Visitors walked through the camps of both sides and lingered in the living history areas of the South. A blacksmith hammered away, skillfully fashioning a horseshoe, while telling stories of blacksmithing. He would pound on the shoe, dip it in water, pound more, dip in water, as the shoe began to shape. Blacksmithing is grueling, hot work, and he was chipper and in high spirits, with crowds of people around him enjoying his work, on the muggy hot day. He even sold his handmade creations right there on the spot.





After seeing the blacksmith, we roamed through the crisp white tents of Civilian Town. The period correct colloidal silver photographer was busy at work on flat ground, capturing images of soldiers and civilians alike. The Butterworth Brigade, a lively group of Southern soldiers, played music as folks walked through camp. The doctor was busy showing folks Civil War medicine and the "modern" surgical techniques and tools of the war. Booksellers, historical societies and soldiers all gave additional information.

Under a big tree, we finally found the answer to all of the strife in Saltville. Why did both sides fight so vehemently for this little mountain town? A living historian in Civil War attire was stirring a large black pot, vividly illustrating how salt was processed. Salt was incredibly important during the war, used to preserve food and in tanning leather.  She quietly explained the process of refining salt. Rather than explain the whole process, we highly recommend you attend and see for yourself how it is done, it is utterly fascinating!

It was soon time for the battle. We hopped the bus back to our car, grabbed our chairs and giant, frozen bottles to rehydrate, and scouted out the best view of the battlefield. The battle was in a field next to a long road, with crowds lined up along the entire length of the battlefield. General Lee, acting as safety officer, hustled up and down the line, explaining the battle and making sure spectators safely stayed out of the way.

From our vantage point, we watched the Union Army creep out of their camp, slowly edging toward the Confederates. They hid in tree lines, the forest and anything that would conceal their advance.

The Confederates had sent a scout up to survey reports of Union activity. Scrambling over the field, he rushed back to alert the troops, who quickly entrenched behind fences and rocks. The Union advanced and the battle began. At the first crack of cannon fire, a lone heron sped away from the smoking cannon. The troops fought over the long field, both sides having soldiers fall. Nurses peppered the fields, offering assistance, a cool drink of water and assessing battle wounds. The chaplain followed, reading last rites over the dead and dying, against the din of cannons thundering off the mountains and the ever present gunfire volleys between the two sides. It was a great battle, pulling you right into the heart of it.

Just as quick as it started, it was over. Taps rang across the mountains, singing through the trees. The great call "RESURRECT" boomed out and the soldiers raised to life again, from death on the battlefield.

Family details to plan for. Bring a chair or blanket to sit on. Plenty of space for picnicking, so feel free to bring lunch and enjoy on the beautiful battleground perimeter. "Facilities" were of the portable variety, but well stocked, clean, with hand sanitiser, and plenty of them! They incredible folks who put this on had running water at this reenactment! Still a good idea to bring some wet naps for general clean up.

The City of Saltville Virginia puts on the reenactment. The 13th War Between the States (Battle of Saltville) Reenactment will be on August 17-19, 2012. Check with the City of Saltville for more information! Currently have this link for 2012 information.