When Railroads Changed History: Lynchburg, Virginia, June 17, 1864

From 1861 to 1865, the United States of America was in the midst of the Civil War between the northern states and the southern states.  From the first shots fired from Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina and the first major battle in Manassas, Virginia, the Confederate Army pushed the battle all the way north to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania which became the turning point of the war, and the Confederates were pushed back south.  One of the men pushing the Confederates south was Major General David Hunter.  He led his troops through the Shenandoah Valley destroying towns along the way to include two Virginia towns of Lexington where he burned the Virginia Military Institute and the town of Buchanan.  His next target was Lynchburg.

Lynchburg was a town used as a supply center and a hospital for the Confederate army.  Hunter knew that if he were to destroy this city, it could deal a massive blow to the Confederacy.  He marched his troops down and made his headquarters at a place called Sandusky located a few miles south of the city.

The people of Lynchburg had received word of Hunter’s arrival.  There were not many soldiers in town at the time.  They knew that when Hunter and his troops attacked, the city would more likely be demolished.  They enlisted many local to serve as soldiers, but they were not much of a match against David Hunter and his army.

The day was June 17, 1864.  Hunter was planning out his attack.  Meanwhile, the people of Lynchburg were wondering how they were even going to survive.

Tooooooooooooot!  Tooooooooooooooooot!

The trains were arriving.  Troops were being sent by General Robert E. Lee from Richmond by train.  They de-boarded the men and supplies from the train and set themselves into position.  Later that day, the Union army attacked Lynchburg, and they were fought off by the extra supply of the Confederate soldiers.  Hunter was forced to retreat making day one of the battle unsuccessful for the Union army.  Lynchburg was spared destruction.

The next day, noticing that he was overpowered, Hunter decided to abandon Lynchburg and retreated west.  When the people heard the news of the retreat, they cheered.  Their city was spared, and it all happened because of the railroad.

Today, Lynchburg still retains its railroad heritage.  At the Old City Cemetery, you can visit the old train station from Stapleton, Virginia and hear the stories of the people who worked at the depot many of whom are buried in the cemetery.  You can visit Point of Honor which has much history, and it was once the home of the president of the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad.  You can see and old train tower down by the river as well as watch passing trains.  If you get hungry, you can eat at the Depot Grille housed in an old Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Depot with its kitchen in two boxcars.  If you want the full story of the Battle of Lynchburg, you can visit Sandusky, the home of David Hunter’s headquarters and see displays of the Alexandria and Orange Railroad in the Visitor Center.

The next time you are taking a drive past Lynchburg, Virginia, take the time to remember that the railroad is why the city still stands today.

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