Antebellum and Early War Years
If Lynchburg did not operate in the image of the "Yankee" North, it was nevertheless dependent on it for trade. For this reason, most of the city's white residents were decidedly Unionist and skeptical that secession would be in their best economic interests. In this respect, they were like much of Virginia, whose secession convention for months stubbornly delayed taking action. After the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861 and U.S. president Abraham Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion, however, the delegates in Richmond finally voted to leave the Union. The following month, Lynchburg unanimously voiced its approval in a statewide referendum.
The Long Years of War
In April 1862, Confederate president Jefferson Davis authorized a military draft, and resistance to this and the impressment of resources became not only common but also accepted practices. In addition, city residents came to resent the many soldiers who congregated in Lynchburg, blaming them for the rising crime rate and acts of public disorder. Inflation and supply shortages caused claims and counterclaims of speculating, price gouging, and hoarding. The poor suffered miserably, and bread riots that plagued other Southern cities were avoided only because civic leaders donated enough food to maintain some semblance of order.
For Lynchburg's enslaved African Americans, the war meant both extreme suffering and greater autonomy. On the one hand, many enslaved African Americans who had been hired by tobacco factories were either conscripted into the military as common laborers or were left to fend for themselves because they were either too old or too feeble to help the war effort. At the same time, the lack of direct supervision and the preoccupation with the war effort enabled some enterprising slaves to expand the notorious gray market—the tradition of slaves selling stolen goods to even poorer whites—or to run away to the Union lines.
The Battle of Lynchburg on June 17, 1864, briefly restored the city's unity as residents prepared to fend off the forces of Union general David Hunter, who had been charged by Ulysses S. Grant to destroy the canal and railroads at Lynchburg. Confederate troops under the command of Jubal A. Early drove Hunter off, and while his attack had momentarily distracted Lee from his defense of Richmond, his retreat ceded control of the Shenandoah Valley back to the Confederates.
1757 - Lynchburg is founded when John Lynch establishes a ferry service along the banks of the James River.
1860 - Lynchburg has a population of 6,853, including 3,802 free whites, 357 free blacks, and 2,694 enslaved African Americans.
May 23, 1861 - Lynchburg unanimously voices its approval to leave the Union in a statewide referendum.
June 17, 1864 - During the Battle of Lynchburg, Confederate troops under the command of Jubal A. Early drive off the forces of Union general David Hunter, whose retreat cedes control of the Shenandoah Valley back to the Confederates.
April 6–10, 1865 - The state government relocates to Lynchburg. When Union forces chase renegade remnants of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia into the town shortly after the Confederate surrender on April 9, they find a city on the verge of chaos and civic leaders who are eager to make peace.
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First published: January 29, 2009 | Last modified: October 27, 2015