Charlottesville's Living Civil War Legacy | HistoryNet MENU

Charlottesville’s Living Civil War Legacy

By Claire Barrett
8/16/2017 • HistoryNet

On Saturday, August 12, hundreds of protesters poured into Charlottesville, Virginia, bringing to the fore the legacy of the American Civil War and turning the otherwise typical university town into a deadly flashpoint between white nationalists and counter-protesters. Lost in the violence was the core debate over removing public monuments and symbols of the Confederacy, as Charlottesville leaders planned to do by ordering the dismantling of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Here are some fast facts about the city during the Civil War era.

1. Charlottesville, with a population of about 3,000 people, remained on the fringes of the war. Perhaps the only noteworthy conflict was a skirmish on the northern outskirts of town on Feb. 29, 1864, in the so-called Battle of Rio Hill.
2. The Union forces at Rio Hill were led by Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer. But he of the flowing locks bungled it – perhaps foreshadowing disaster 10 years later at Little Big Horn. At Rio Hill, Custer and his 1,500 soldiers attempted to raid a Confederate camp, but Custer mistakenly believed an accidental explosion was enemy artillery fire and fled with his troops, chased out by members of Confederate forces under command of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.
3. The University of Virginia, like Charlottesville itself, escaped the war’s ravages. The student body, however, answered the call of the Southern cause. Strong supporters of secession from the Union, about 500 of the university’s 600 enrollees in 1861 joined the Confederate army, as did more than 2,000 alumni.
4. UVA’s enrollment plummeted in the war years. In 1862-1863, there were 46 students enrolled. Only eight went on to graduate, but the university never closed.
5. Charlottesville also contributed to the cause through industry, producing swords, uniforms and artificial limbs. Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood was so pleased with his Charlottesville-made right leg that he declared, “The Charlottesville leg is far better than the French one.”
6. Charlottesville was site of medical facilities, including a hospital, that treated wounded and sick Confederate soldiers. Ultimately, Charlottesville General Hospital treated 22,700 patients during the Civil War and employed 300 people.
7. African Americans outnumbered whites in Charlottesville at the time of the Civil War. In Albemarle County, of which Charlottesville is a part, 55 percent of 26,615 residents were African American. Of those 14,512, all but 606 were slaves. Today, about 107,000 people live in the county, 81 percent of them white and 10 percent African American.
8. Charlottesville surrendered to Union forces. Despite Custer’s retreat at Rio Hill, he and Gen. Philip Sheridan formally accepted the town’s surrender on March 3, 1865. Little more than a month later, Lee surrendered the Confederacy to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in a ceremony at Appomattox Court House, about 60 miles south of Charlottesville.

Sources: HistoryNet, Encyclopedia of Virginia

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