Monday, October 15, 2007

The news froze our blood

Marchant's spiritual resources were soon tested. Less than a year after he bought out his father, the end of the war brought defeat to the South and disaster to the Charlottesville Factory. By the last days of 1864 the spectre of final conquest was settling in on the Confederacy. Union forces ranged widely over the heart of a crippled South, and rumors of impending ruin swept through the town of Charlottesville during the early days of 1865. But they fell on incredulous ears until the beginning of March when it was learned that Federal troops under General Philip Sheridan, having defeated General Early, were advancing from Waynesboro, only a day's ride to the west. "The news froze our blood..." recalled an inhabitant. "We had heard of Sheridan-of his ruthless plundering--burning of dwelling houses and all the fiendish acts which characterized his raids in the Valley of Virginia. We dreaded his approach." These fears, as it turned out, were justified. "My orders," General Sheridan later wrote, "were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad, the James River Canal, capture Lynchburg if practicable, and then join Major General Sherman in North Carolina, or return to Winchester." In overall strategy, this meant tightening the trap on Lee at Richmond; to the people of Charlottesville it meant destruction of property, humiliation, and final defeat. --Harry Poindexter

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