Saltville Historical Foundation
September 20, 2004
Re 7th Annual Memorial & Remembrance Service
Dedicated to the Soldiers of the 5th & 6th U. S. Colored Cavalry
Where: Battlefield Overlook, Saltville VA
When: October 2, 2004 at 7:00 p.m.
Contact: Bill Archer (304) 327-2811 or E Jones (276) 646-2010
The Seventh Annual Memorial and Remembrance Service dedicated to the Soldiers of the 5th and 6th United States Colored Cavalry who were killed October 3, 1864 during and following the Battle of Saltville, will be held at the Battlefield Overlook on Buckeye Street in Saltville, VA on October 2, 2004 at 7:00 p.m.
The memorial service will consist of a series of gospel music tributes intertwined with prayers and remarks by Rev. Gary Moore. The service will conclude with the reading of the names of the men of the 5th & 6th Colored Cavalry still listed as “missing in Action”, the lighting of luminaries, and the playing of “Taps”. For further information, contact Bill Archer (304) 327-2811 or E. Jones (276) 646-2010.
On October 2, 1864, a group of African-American soldiers of the 5th and 6th United States Colored Cavalry, were ordered by General Stephen Burbridge to dismount and make a charge of Chestnut Ridge into a heavily fortified Confederate position built to defend the northeast entrance to Saltville, Virginia. At the time, Saltville was the primary salt-producing location for the entire Confederacy, and the effectiveness of the Federal blockade of Confederate ports made Saltville even more strategically important. Salt was valuable as both a seasoning as well as a meat preservative in the mid-19th century.
Through the course of a fierce battle on Chestnut Ridge, the soldiers of the 5th and 6th USCC performed valiantly in battle. Later that evening, General Burbridge ordered his troops to set bon fires in Broady Bottom. Then, through the dark of night, he withdrew his force from the field, leaving the dead and wounded soldiers of the 5th and 6th behind.
On the following morning, October 3, 1864, a few Confederate soldiers, acting independently and against the orders of their commanding officers, went among the wounded soldiers of the 5th and 6th USCC, executing them either on the battlefield or in the Hospital of the South at Emory and Henry College.
Although historians disagree on the number of African American Union Army soldiers massacred, with estimates ranging from one or two dozen to as many as 155, newspaper accounts, military records and diaries of that event support the contention that a massacre took place.
Local legends hold that the men of the 5th & 6th were carried to a sinkhole near the battlefield and put in a mass grave.
While there were a few freemen among the ranks of the 5th and 6th USCC, most of the 600 men were recruited straight from slavery into the ranks of the Union Army. At the most, the soldiers only had two or three weeks of training before being committed to battle at Saltville. Although they were the object of ridicule from their white comrades on the march to Saltville, their valor in combat earned them great respect following the attack.
The memorial service is being held to ensure that the sacrifice of these soldiers who were executed only because of the color of their skin is never forgotten and with a prayer that it will never again occur on American soil. It is in their memory that this ceremony and service is being held.