It’s difficult to imagine that some of the bloodiest and destructive battles of the Civil War took place in the peaceful countryside of Virginia. When Union Gen. David Hunter received orders to lead his Army of West Virginia through the Shenandoah Valley and into Lynchburg in 1864, he led a campaign of destruction that leveled farmland, homes, railroads and even the Virginia Military Institute.
A Virginia Civil War Trail highlighting Hunter’s Raid and comprising 24 markers along the same route pursued by Hunter and his troops 141 years ago. The trail begins in Staunton and loops to Lynchburg with an eastern branch stretching past Roanoke to Hanging Rock.
The history: Hunter was under orders from Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to capture Lynchburg, an important supply and transportation center for the Confederates, explains Greg Starbuck, executive director of the Historic Sandusky Foundation and chairman of the Hunter’s Raid Trail committee. Three railroads came into the city.
“This was a nexus of activity,” Starbuck says. “If they could capture Lynchburg, they could pretty much doom [Confederate Gen. Robert E.] Lee’s army.”
Once Hunter arrived at the outskirts of Lynchburg, he seized Sandusky, the home of retired U.S. Army officer Maj. George C. Hutter, making the residence his headquarters. The mission failed, however, as Confederate Gen. Jubal Early and his troops arrived in time to surround Lynchburg defensively and drove Hunter out of town.
Today, attractions along the route include Civil War cemeteries, the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, the burial sites of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, Natural Bridge and Avenel Plantation.
For more information: 434/845-5966, www.huntersraid.org.