The Civil War in Greenbrier County: An Overview

Greenbrier County was not immune to the hardships of war. Over 2,000 Greenbrier County men fought for the Confederacy throughout the course of the war, the vast majority enlisting within the first two years. Located on the James River and Kanawha Turnpike, once a major stagecoach route, Greenbrier County saw an estimated 60,000 Union and Confederate troops move through the area— at times meeting in a number of engagements and often setting up encampments across the countryside.

CONFEDERATE SYMPATHIES
One of the largest and wealthiest counties in western Virginia, Greenbrier County had no desire to split from the commonwealth of Virginia and form a separate state. No Greenbrier County delegates attended the First or Second Wheeling Conventions, which began the movement toward West Virginia statehood, and Greenbrier, like other southern and eastern counties, became part of the newly formed state for strategic reasons. Despite new political boundaries, most of the citizens of Greenbrier County remained southern sympathizers, with 81% of eligible men enlisting with the Confederacy. Greenbrier County was even home to a number of Confederate Post Offices, operating at various times in Frankford, Lewisburg, and White Sulphur Springs.

LOCAL ENCAMPMENTS
With the Shenandoah Valley to the east, the Kanawha Valley salt mines to the west, and the railroads of southwestern Virginia close by, the Greenbrier Valley was a strategically important location for both armies. Throughout the war, troops spent anywhere from a few nights to a few months camped on the farms across the valley.

The Blue Sulphur Spring Resort

The Blue Sulphur Spring Resort

The Blue Sulphur Spring Resort, once located 12 miles outside of Alderson, closed in 1859 and was used as a campsite and hospital throughout much of the war. Most notably, a Confederate regiment from Georgia camped at the spring in the Winter of 1863. Not accustomed to the climate, approximately 100 of them became ill and died. They were buried high on a hill about 200 yards northwest of the Blue Sulphur Spring. In 1864, Union troops burned, either deliberately or by accident, all that remained of the former Blue Sulphur Spring Resort with one exception—the Greek-style springhouse.

SALT PETER CAVES
During the Civil War, one of the Greenbrier Valley’s greatest contributions was saltpeter which is used in the manufacture of gunpowder. Saltpeter, archaically spelled “salt petre,” is a nitrate mineral found naturally in local caves. In Greenbrier, Monroe, and Pocahontas counties, 28 caves have been discovered that contain definite evidence of saltpeter mining.  Saltpeter was obtained by filling wooden hoppers with the “peter-dirt” and leeching water through the dirt. The water would come out of the hopper and be collected to boil down with lye to convert the cave nitre into true saltpeter or potassium nitrate. Gunpowder was made by mixing 75% true saltpeter, 15% sulphur, and 10% charcoal.

A hopper from Crowder's Cave used in the production of Salt Peter

A hopper from Crowder’s Cave used in the production of Salt Peter

Saltpeter was particularly important to the Confederacy, who needed to use domestic resources to supply their army with gunpowder. The Greenbrier region, part of Confederate Nitre District Number 4, produced a large amount of saltpeter which was transported to Union, in Monroe County, then to Dublin, Virginia to be loaded on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, and finally to the large powder mill in Augusta, Georgia. Constant raids by the Union Army slowed the manufacturing of saltpeter in the area. Although some caves were mined under the supervision of the Confederate government, others were mined by private individuals— often those too young or old to enlist, or those wanting to make a profit on the high prices paid by the Confederate government. 

Advertisements

Homes Tour Takes to the Country

The Greenbrier Historical Society’s biennial Lemonade and Lavender Homes Tour has been expanded this year and is featuring homes in the countryside of the Greenbrier Valley as well as the Town of Ronceverte.

Storm and Montgomery Cabin 033

Being held on June 7, 8, and 9, 2013, the event will open with a gala held at the historic James Jarrett House at Fairhill.  From 5-7 p.m. guests will be able to tour the house by candlelight, observe a display and demonstration of historic carriages by Raymond and Lynn Tuckwiller, and enjoy refreshments, including wine provided by Watt’s Roost Vineyards, down by the pond and waterfall.  Advance tickets will be needed for the gala and are available at the Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg, or the Greenbrier Convention and Visitors Bureau, located at 200 West Washington Street in Lewisburg.

FAIRHILL

                       FAIRHILL

On Saturday, June 8, the more traditional homes tour will include Spring Valley Farm—Page Dickson; The Montgomery Cabin—Herbert and Katy Montgomery; Maple Hill—James Jeter; The Cedars—Pamela Bergren and Border Crow; and the James Jarrett House at Fairhill—Margaret and David Hambrick.  The Second Creek Mill and broom factory will also be open for exploration and the purchase of local products.  Most of these properties are on working farms and located on one lane country roads so care should be taken while driving and visiting.  Tickets will be available at each location as well as the North House.

Spring Valley Farm

                Spring Valley Farm

Maple Hill

                             Maple Hill

A CD providing history of the area will be available as an addition to the tour on Saturday.  Compiled from information in the Greenbrier Historical Society Archives by Kyle Mills, Americorps worker, and narrated by volunteer Lanny Howe, the various tracts will provide a historical setting for the areas through which visitors will pass on their way to the homes.  The CD will describe two loops—the Blue Sulphur Loop and the Second Creek Loop—and is arranged to begin in the parking lot of the Greenbrier Historical Society/North House Museum.  It will be available where tickets are sold.

On Sunday afternoon, the Homes Tour will feature the Town of Ronceverte.  Tickets, available in advance or at Edgarton, where tours are available and lemonade and cookies will be served, will provide admission to the sanctuaries of 3 historic churches as well as a self-guided walking tour of the town.  Visitors will be invited into the newly restored businesses to see how historic preservation can be economically viable as well.

Margaret Hambrick, President of the Board of Directors of the Greenbrier Historical Society, said, “There are interesting, historic, and elegant homes, churches, and businesses throughout the Greenbrier Valley and we are so pleased to be able to share these.  We are grateful to the owners and volunteers who are making this homes tour possible.”

For more information, contact the Greenbrier Historical Society at 304.645.3398 or info@greenbrierhistorical.org or Like us on Facebook!