Battle of Lewisburg
| THE BATTLE OF LEWISBURG LEWISBURG WAS SCENE OF DRAMATIC CLASH IN 1862
By J. W. Benjamin
On May 23, 1862, soldiers of the North and South met in battle in the little town of Lewisburg.
The victorious Union commander, Colonel George Crook, passed the first important milestone in a military career which led eventually to "fame as enduring as the hills" earned fighting the Indians when Geronimo was running amuck.
The gallant Confederate leader, Brigadier-General Henry Heth, continued to serve the Southern cause and fought through to Appomattox and the surrender there April 9, 1865.
The late Andrew Price, indefatigable traveler and historian, commented: "Of all the battlefields that I have studied, I know of none quite so dramatic as Lewisburg (where the battle was), fought in a mountain town, before breakfast, and combining rifle shooting, artillery fire, infantry charges, and cavalry, all in a sleepy little city whose inhabitants awoke to hear the cannon boom and the rifles speak, and who had no time to do anything in the way of escape until it was all over."
Lee, with Wise and Floyd, had been in the Kanawha Valley the previous year. Now Federal forces held the region, rich in salt. In 1862 the North wanted to carry the war across the mountains into central Virginia. The South was anxious to regain the Kanawha Valley, west of the Greenbrier Valley. Lewisburg was in the middle.
Crook, then a colonel and brigade commander was known as the Grey Fox, a popular sobriquet of those days applied to more than one crafty officer. Crook had prepared well for the coming campaign. He had drilled his men hard all winter. He had built covered sheds so snow storms and bad weather in general would not interfere with the training. He commanded the first really hard-boiled army ready for action on either side of the conflict. Crook and his men were ready.
When he marched from Meadow Bluff along the turnpike, he was allowed to pass with all the politeness due a body of troops with such evident fitness to take care of any situation that might arise.
Crook was moving actually in support of General J. D. Cox, then encamped at Flat Top. Crook advanced to Lewisburg on May 17. Only a small force of Confederate cavalry was in the town and Crook took possession with little if any opposition.
Then he sent part of his forces in the direction of Covington. They succeeded in capturing some supplies and they destroyed a railroad bridge at Jackson River, but found there was actually no enemy nearby to fight. It was undoubtedly a disappointment to the young commander.
However, Crook's forces also learned that another West Pointer, Colonel Henry Heth, who had put his abilities at the service of the South, was approaching the present Midland Trail (U.S. 60) over the present Seneca Trail (U.S. 219), marching from the Narrows area through Monroe County and on by way of the Organ Cave road, to enter the turnpike at Caldwell
Henry Heth would have liked nothing better than to cut off Crook from Charleston and points west. Crook hurried back to Lewisburg to avoid this embarrassment. Heth kept right on coming.
He crossed the Greenbrier at Caldwell on May 22 and drove in Crook's pickets. Under cover of darkness, probably very early in the morning, Heth established his lines. He was on the eastern crest above the sleepy little town of Lewisburg.
In those days Lewisburg had a population of about 800, six stores, one newspaper, three churches and one academy. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals met here regularly, and in the first red brick building built west of the Alleghenies the jurists could consult a well-stocked library-a library, incidentally, whose books were to be one sought-after prize in the Battle of Dry Creek, fought Aug. 26, 1863. The library building, after a colorful history, has been restored and is now the Greenbrier County Library and Museum.
Next to it stood the famous Frazier's Star Tavern, where visitors to the court were wont to put up for their stay in the town. This beautiful old building Is in use today on the Greenbrier College campus
Actually, in 1862 Lewisburg was about as much of a city as one could find on all the western waters.
Heth's left was placed on a line about where Holt Lane runs today, from Washington Street (Main Street) south to the Ronceverte Road (U.S. 219). His center stretched north on land lying above present Lee Street, behind the junior high school, and his right was in a wheat field on what is now the back drill and athletic practice field of Greenbrier Military School.
Lee Street runs at a right angle to Washington Street, and in those days there were stout log fences along the upper side of Lee. But Heth did not move his men down far enough to gain the protection of the logs. Instead, they sought shelter in the wheat, which offered some secrecy but little protection from Union bullets.
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