History of Roanoke and Southwest Virginia


The Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia During the Civil War

    The city of Roanoke did not exist during the war.  Salem, the county seat, was the largest town, and the important Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, built in the 1850s, passed through the Roanoke Valley.  Beginning in Lynchburg and ending in Bristol, the V&T, combined with rail lines on either end, formed a vital link between Virginia and the Western Theater.  This, along with the salt, lead, and other products of Southwest Virginia which were carried along this line made the railroad an object worthy of Union attention.  The first major Union effort at occupying the region ended in failure after clashes at modern Pearisburg, Princeton, and Lewisburg in May of 1862.

    The Federals found that logistical difficulties prevented large forces from invading the area, so instead of occupying the region, the Yankees determined to raid it.  Union forces then visited the area on the following occasions.

Toland's Raid - July '63, reached Wytheville

Averell's Raid - December '63, reached Salem

Crook's Raid - May '64, burned railroad bridge over New River

Hunter's Raid or Lynchburg Campaign - June '64, repulsed at Lynchburg, after a rear guard action in Salem, his retreat to WV was nearly cut off at Hanging Rock

Saltville - October '64, attack on the town was repulsed

Stoneman's Raid - Dec '64, Stoneman advances from Tennessee, Battle of Marion, Saltville taken, salt works destroyed then abandoned

Stoneman's Raid  March - April '65 - raiding Union troops loop from NE Tennessee through SW Virginia, then south into North Carolina


Post War History

    With post-war consolidations, the Virginia and Tennessee became part of the Norfolk and Western, for a while under former General William Mahone - of Crater fame.  When a rail line was finally constructed down the length of the Shenandoah Valley, its southern terminus was at Big Lick, a small town in the Roanoke Valley to the east of Salem.  In 1882, Big Lick was re-named and became the new boomtown called Roanoke, complete with rows of brothels, gunfights in the streets, and at least one riot against Mediterranean restaurateurs.  Being the rough mid point on the line between Norfolk and the newly mined coal deposits to the west, Roanoke was a convenient spot for servicing steam locomotives, and the city became headquarters for the N&W and home to their shops.

    In the1940s, Roanoke became the only city in the world with an 88 foot free standing lighted star - on a mountain no less!  Currently, Roanoke has the highest Dr. Pepper consumption on the east coast, the highest per capita ketchup consumption and lowest car insurance premiums in the country - making it a paradise on Earth.  Since 1983, Roanoke has also been home to an excellent Civil War Round Table, one of the most active in existence.




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