The fighting at Lynchburg late in the afternoon of June 17, 1864 pitted infantry from General George Crook’s division against the Confederate cavalry brigades of Col. William Peters, (Grumble Jones former command); Col. William “Mudwall” Jackson and Gen. John Imboden under the overall command of the latter.
The Southern Cavalry deployed just west of Lynchburg near an old Quaker meeting house. Imboden checked the advance of Gen. William Averell’s cavalry who turned the fight over to Crook. He promptly attacked and drove back the Confederate horsemen. The History of the 91st Ohio Infantry provides a descriptive recollection of the first day’s battle at Lynchburg:
“June 17, we arrived within six miles of Lynchburg by 10 A.M. and rested until 3 P.M. We then moved to attack the rebels. The 91st Regiment was in the front line of battle, just to the right of the main pike leading into the city. It support in the second line of battle was the 9th West Virginia ; the 12th Ohio was on the right of the 91stt in the front line. On either side of the pike there were woods to protect the troops in their advance except immediately on the right and directly in front of the 91st, here was an open field through which the 91st was compelled to charge, an in which the rebels had built rail pens. As the 91st emerged from the woods into this field, they found themselves upon an elevated part of the field where the rebels played upon them with their artillery. In the middle of this field was a depression, and tat the farther side was another elevation upon which the rebel artillery was placed.
It seemed a terrible ordeal to attempt the passage of this field while the artillery frowned death and those rail pens were filled with angry rebels. Not withstanding, the 91st charged over this field and through a terrible storm of shot and shell, driving the rebels from their defense, capturing two pieces of artillery, and pressing their entire line back to their inner line of defenses. We had the misfortune in this engagement to lose our commanding officer. Col. Turley was severely wounded while in the discharge of his duty, and lt. Col. Coates succeeded to the command of the regiment.”
The 91st Ohio was well supported in its assault and did not act alone, being joined in the attack by Col. Jacob Campbell’s brigade of Pennsylvanians and West Virginians as well as the troops noted in the history. Although the attack was successful, the opportunity to capture Lynchburg had been lost thanks to the bold delaying actions of Confederate Brig. Gen. John C. McCausland, who had contested Hunter’s advance from the moment he left Staunton, to Lexington, at Buchanan, over the Blue Ridge and on the road to Lynchburg. McCausland bought the time needed for Lt. Gen. Jubal Early to arrive late in town late in the afternoon of June 17, with the vanguard of the Army of Northern Virginia’s vaunted Second Corps. As Imboden’s horsemen retreated in confusion toward Lynchburg pursued by Crook’s infantry, Early led Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur’s division forward to restore the line. Shaking his fist in the air, “Old Jube” shouted defiantly to the Federals (and derisively toward Imboden’s beaten troopers as well), “No more buttermilk rangers after you now, damn you!?
Early’s arrival saved Lynchburg from Hunter’s grasp. The vital rail and supply center would remain securely in Confederate hands.
For more on the 1864 Valley Campaign read: