The early morning hours of May 23, 1862 brought the horror of war to the residents of the small, mountain town of Lewisburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). A brigade of Union troops, commanded by Colonel George Crook, had occupied the heavily Confederate leaning town less than two weeks earlier. Now, Lewisburg felt the fury of a battle waged in her streets. Bullets flew in every direction. Cannon balls whistled overhead and occasionally struck the homes and other buildings of the town. Confederate soldiers, some of whom grew up in Lewisburg, fought and died in their hometown.
A few hours later, 240 Confederates were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. The victorious Union troops suffered the loss of 93 men killed, wounded, and captured. Confederate Brigadier General Henry Heth, with a superior force, now found himself forced to retreat in complete disarray. Colonel George Crook would soon be promoted to brigadier general, largely because of his conduct at Lewisburg.
This carefully researched book by historian and author Richard L. Armstrong contains 248 pages, 34 images, and 13 maps (including a detailed map of the town the day after the battle by Captain Hiram F. Devol of the 36th Ohio Infantry). The cover features the beautiful painting of Lewisburg in the 1850s by renowned landscape artist Edward Beyer.
Lewisburg, now a part of the state of West Virginia, is the county seat of Greenbrier County, and is named for Revolutionary War period General Andrew Lewis. A previous winner of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” award, the town offers many quaint shops, restaurants, galleries, and other attractions. Walking tour brochures, including one focused on the Battle of Lewisburg, are available at the Greenbrier Valley Visitors Center, located downtown on the corner of Washington and Court Streets.
Book Review: Book Chronicles Forgotten Union Victory in West Virginia
It has been said that the Civil War was fought in 10,000 places from the coast of France to St. Albans, Vermont, from the Caribbean to the far West. Indeed, many of the military engagements that took place during the Civil War will never reach the history books. One of those engagements was the battle of Lewisburg, West Virginia, fought in the Kanawha Valley on May 23, 1862. The battle of Lewisburg occurred as a result of maneuvering by several Union forces in western Virginia in the spring of 1862. Although often overshadowed by Jackson’s Valley Campaign, these forces worked in coordination to secure western Virginia for the Union. Moving his forces through the Kanawha Valley, Brig. Gen. Jacob D. Cox hoped to link up with a larger force under John C. Fremont near Princeton, Virginia. One of Cox’s brigades, however, under George Crook was sent towards Lewisburg. There on May 23, 1862, they were attacked by 2,200 Confederates under General Henry Heth. Crook and his brigade held their ground, sustaining eighty casualties, while inflicting over 200 casualties on the Rebels; the battle only lasted twenty-seven minutes. It was a decisive Union victory, but was overshadowed by Union losses in Jackson’s Valley Campaign.
In this book, Richard L. Armstrong has done a fantastic job of creating a micro-history of the engagement. It is evident that Armstrong knows West Virginia history and the history of the Lewisburg area. He begins with laying out the context of the campaign and its place in history. Many detailed maps highlight the approach of the armies to Lewisburg and how the battle unfolded. The maps are a very important part of the text and are some of the best this reviewer has ever seen. In addition, many illustrations of the participants in the fight at Lewisburg highlight the text. Furthermore, Armstrong has conducted significant research into the lives of the men who fought there, providing details of both Union and Confederate casualties, and photographs of them. A detailed battlefield tour guide concludes the text. The book was researched almost entirely from primary sources, and many manuscript sources grace Armstrong’s bibliography.
In all, this book is a model micro-history of a forgotten Civil War battle. Armstrong has done a highly commendable job of writing a detailed history of the battle of Lewisburg. The book is detailed, richly researched, and informative. The superb maps and detailed biographies of battle casualties add to the importance of this work. This book is highly recommended for those wanting to read about the importance of West Virginia to the Union cause, or those wanting to read a model battle history.
The Civil War News