Emory & Henry Remembers the Saltville Massacre

Katie Graves, Guest Contributor • kigraves16@ehc.edu

On Tuesday, February 6, the Inclusion & Dialogue Center sponsored a student-led lyceum event: Remembering the Saltville Massacre: Hurt and History at E&H. Students presented research, artwork and a panel discussion to examine the oft-forgotten historic event that occurred on campus during the Civil War.
Following the First Battle of Saltville on October 2, 1864, wounded Union soldiers of the 5th Regiment Colored Cavalry were hospitalized in the building we now know as Wiley Hall.

Soldiers of the 5th Regiment were comprised of freedmen, ex-slaves, and current slaves serving in the Union army.

Notorious Confederate outlaw Champ Ferguson and his men raided the hospital less than a week later on October 7 and murdered 22 soldiers from the 5th Regiment. 37 were left wounded, and 53 went missing.

E&H senior and organizer of the event Emma Grace Thompson has been researching the Saltville Massacre for two years as part of her Honors thesis and plans to study attitudes toward race and slavery in Southwest Virginia for her Master’s thesis.

Thompson said, “Whether there was 1 victim or 25 victims, the lives that were lost here have value and meaning, and I think acknowledging that loss would acknowledge the painful and often racially-fraught history of Emory… I think that will help to heal the contentiousness that sort of haunts us to this day.”

E&H junior Sam Page created an artistic display of every name of the African American soldiers who lost their lives during the Saltville Massacre “for the dream of a better life.”

Page discussed his time-consuming and laborious process in creating the piece. “I actually felt good about doing it by hand,” he said. “I feel like these men did not get a burial, they didn’t get a funeral, their lives weren’t easy, so putting this together could not be easy.”

Page later said during the panel discussion, “These are names that could be our names. That’s how important this is. That’s how close to home it really is.”

E&H junior Morgan Cahill, who was born and raised in Glade Spring, attended the event. She said, “I live right down the road from Saltville and had never heard of it… I took away a lot of new information that is very relevant not only where I’m from but where I go to school. I had no idea that there was any kind of situation this bad or that these kinds of things were happening – gruesome, war crimes were happening where we are right here.”

Audience member Steve Thompson said, “I think it’d be the right and honorable thing to do for the university and school to honor them [the 5th regiment]. They’ve got a story to be told, so if there’s an opportunity to talk about what they did and what they accomplished and a little bit about that, we need to get folks to see that. We need to talk about what they did and not just about the fact that they gave their lives.”

In her final semester at E&H, Emma Grace Thompson is actively taking steps to get recognition of the Saltville Massacre on campus through the National Register of Historic Places by the US Department of the Interior.

She said, “I think that it’s historically dishonest to pretend like historically significant events didn’t happen here, or to ignore them as though they hold no weight. The Saltville Massacre is an important historical event within the SWVA region and Appalachia itself and I think that, because it happened here, we ought to recognize it.”

The event ended with a moment of silence to remember and honor the victims of the Saltville Massacre, and afterwards, audience members were encouraged to write note cards to the victims with the message “Rest in Power.” The live video of the lyceum event can be found on the Inclusion & Dialogue Center’s Facebook page (@IDCenterEHC).

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